“We have to have this conversation and we have to be held accountable,” said Stella McCartney, speaking yesterday on day two of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and perfectly summing up the overriding aim of the annual event. The fashion designer and activist who was in conversation with the former editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, pioneered a revolutionary stance to sustainability in the fashion industry, and her namesake brand has been unwavering in its commitment to ethical practices since its launch in 2001.
McCartney believes her company is responsible for the resources it uses and the impact it has on the environment, and is constantly exploring new ways to become more sustainable, from design and store practices to product manufacturing. However, as she explained to Graydon Carter in front of the summit’s audience, she believes that it's textile innovation and technology that hold the key to more responsible fashion practices today, and to moving the industry towards an increasingly sustainable future.
While the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is perhaps best known for its focus on environmental issues, championed by the likes of McCartney, it is also keen to raise awareness of the social and ethical issues affect the world of fashion, an industry that employs some 60 million people worldwide. And speaking as part of a panel discussion on ‘Being a model in the #MeToo economy’ was casting director James Skully, who has been very vocal about issues pertaining to underage models, lack of diversity, unhealthy body image and bullying and racism in the business.
Having spent more than 30 years in the fashion industry, Skully was familiar with the hidden abuses that have now come to the attention of the wider public largely as a result of the #MeToo movement. Instrumental in jumpstarting the creation of the Kering/LVMH model charter for the protection of models in their employment, he spoke about the cliques that had essentially prevented vulnerable employees from speaking out in the past, and how now that everyone is very aware of the problems the focus is increasingly, and thankfully, on industry solutions.
The issue of awareness was also touched upon by Paul Dillinger, the vice president and head of Global Product Innovation and Premium Collection Design at Levi Strauss & Co. “We know that there’s a consumer who cares,” he said, speaking as part of a panel discussing ‘The new textiles economy’. He then went on to explain how a jean jacket the company has been selling for over 50 years sold out in four days when it was launched on sustainable menswear site Outerknown, simply because its consumers are acutely aware of environmental issues and value the information the site shares regarding the production of each garment and the planet.
The former fashion designer was also refreshingly candid about the challenges of sustainability, and called out current industry practices saying, “If 6 out of 10 garments are thrown away, should we be making those 6? And how much better would the 4 have been?” And he was also critical of policymakers, believing that they need to be playing a key part in levelling the playing field. “Knowing that it (sustainability) can be done but knowing how difficult it is to do” perhaps requires regulation to ensure expectations are met, he said.