The fashion world is craving Scandinavian labels for their aesthetics and commitment to quality. Yet, labels and fashion weeks have not strategically integrated sustainability or deepened ethics into their brands.
With competing fashion weeks like Berlin Fashion Week leading the way towards a greener understanding, why are the Nordics not following their values as forward-thinking countries in the fashion industry?
The paradigms of fast and slow fashion
The fashion industry is two-fold. With the rise of mass production of clothes in the 20th century, fashion houses started to produce more collections than four seasons would traditionally allow.
So-called micro collections make consumers buy the latest trends. The Spanish corporate Zara has confirmed to produce up to 52 collections a year. Almost a new collection every week.
Not only does fast fashion work with an increased speed of production, but has further been accused of unethical supply chains. Hazardous chemicals, as well as child labour, are some scandals of many. The Swedish retailer H&M has without exception produced their textiles under similar working conditions in the past.
In 2013, more than 1100 people died when a textile factory, namely Rana Plaza, collapsed in Bangladesh. The countermovement of slow fashion embraces quality and longevity of textiles. A more conscious production values all humans within the supply chain. Certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or Fair Wair ensure that scandals such as Rana Plaza mentioned above will not happen again.
However, the Scandinavian narrative of quality and effortless design still does not always meet the definition of slow fashion. The case of Copenhagen Fashion Week versus Fashion Summit With the pleasing example of Copenhagen, Scandinavian fashion weeks are gaining increased international recognition and coverage by international magazines such as Vogue or Highsnobiety.
Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki are also on the international radar. Fashion insiders such as Manpeller appreciate those for the above mentioned simplicity and quality. Nevertheless, neither the organizers of Copenhagen Fashion Week nor the majority of labels relate to sustainability.
With hundreds of brands exhibiting their collections at the main showrooms CIFF and Revolver, a bare minimum have dedicated themselves to sustainability.
Luckily though, Copenhagen can counterbalance these disturbing results. The Global Fashion Agenda organises the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, “the world’s leading business event on sustainability in fashion”, according to own statements.
Bringing together industry experts and other stakeholders, particularly labels do not have the opportunity to present themselves the way they can at a fashion week. The summit does not include showrooms to exhibit new collections but instead focuses on stage talks.
Some weeks prior to Copenhagen, Berlin has run their multiple showrooms at Berlin Fashion Week. Labels of all styles and price ranges have presented their upcoming S/S 2019 collections in front of an international audience.
The concept NEONYT is the platform for fashion and sustainable innovation. Green labels present their new collections and with no surprise, some sustainable Nordic labels have found their way here; R/H Studio from Helsinki, Dedicated, Eduards Accessories, as well as Swedish Stockings and the shoe brand Ten Points, have taken the initiative.
Hesitancy hindering the breakthrough
Not only the Nordic brands struggle. At Copenhagen Fashion Summit, more than 1300 industry insiders from over 50 countries have come together and talked about the key theme Take it from words to actions.
One of them being Paul Dillinger, representing Levi Strauss & Co, he questions the fast-paced production lines and asks openly: “If six out of ten garments end up in landfills, should we have made those six garments?”. Despite an obvious answer, things seem to not change. With sustainability being a strong force, many brands seem to fear the unknown and do not know where to start.
Dio Kurazawa explains how “we kind of have to open our doors and just say we know that they are not where we would like them to be. But the fact that they come and have the discussion is already a lot”.
His consultancy, The Bear Scouts, assists conventional and influential labels to transition towards a better understanding of quality within the supply chain.
The DNA of Scandinavian brands
“We know consumers, especially the younger generation- wants to see products made with dignity, from beginning to the end”, says Orsola De Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution.
With Scandinavian fashion weeks receiving more and more international visitors as well as international brands exhibiting, these need to reconsider their DNA. And this counts similarly to fashion labels themselves. Understanding that quality within the whole business model can create a competitive advantage, Berlin Fashion Week has clearly shown the path forward.
Instead of resting on the global perception of Scandinavia being forward-thinking and proactive, fashion weeks and the majority of labels seem have not yet understood how value-driven sustainability can become a competitive advantage.
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