The hardline Danish trend changing the future of fashion

Paris gave us dresses with lion’s heads and luxury labels worth billions of dollars at the haute couture shows, but unassuming Copenhagen has challenged the style capital’s premier position by looking beyond backstage.

Copenhagen Fashion Week has finished its first season where labels such as Ganni and Mark Kenly Domino Tan, a favourite of Crown Princess Mary, had to meet 18 requirements around sustainability and production, or face removal from the program.

Designer Emilie Helmstedt takes a bow at the Helmstedt show during Copenhagen Fashion Week on February 2. The event has dramatically improved its already impressive green credentials.Credit:Getty

“There’s a big picture thing here about responsibility,” says Australian author Clare Press, a member of Copenhagen Fashion Week’s advisory board. “Representation matters; climate action matters. Fashion weeks aren’t just about showing collections to buyers these days.”

“We’ve spent too long considering sustainability as an optional extra.”

With the United Nations reporting that fashion contributes up to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, the Danish fashion showcase now demands participating labels use 50 per cent certified deadstock, upcycled, recycled, preferred or new-generation materials in their collections.

Commitments to diverse model casting, refusing to destroy unsold stock and runway sets that are zero waste, are minimum requirements for participation.

“Thinking back 10 years, no one really noticed if a fashion week was wasteful and excessive – although I’m sure it was,” Press, founder of The Wardrobe Crisis podcast, says. “Remember the Chanel spaceship? There’s more scrutiny today.”

“I’d love to see Australian fashion events adopt these or similar criteria.”

Copenhagen Fashion Week chief executive Cecilie Thorsmark guided the Danish fashion industry through the changes over three years, with only one label failing to make the cut this season. Kit Willow, the designer of sustainable fashion brand Kit X is ready for Australian labels to start a similar journey towards environmental responsibility.

“Events should provide guidelines to brands to instigate change,” Willow says. “It’s better to take them on a journey, guide them and educate them on what they need to do so that it becomes a learning process, rather than just saying you’re in or out from the very beginning.”

“I believe Australia could be a leader in the sustainability movement globally. Because of the exposure we have to unusual weather patterns we should be leading the way in change.”

Fashion designer Kit Willow wears one of her sustainable new T-shirts.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Kit X has launched a range of zero waste, unisex T-shirts with Zoltan Csaki, founder of made-to-order brand Citizen Wolf, who sees the Copenhagen initiative as instrumental for change.

“Without government regulation of the fashion industry it’s essential that other platforms like Copenhagen Fashion Week fill the gap that exists,” Csaki says. “There’s been plenty of talk about doing the right thing but this industry is beset with greenwashing.”

Organisers of next month’s Melbourne Fashion Festival are paying attention.

“We admire the actions taken by Copenhagen Fashion Week and will investigate how we can improve our participation standards to reflect the broader evolution of the global fashion industry,” says Caroline Ralphsmith, MFF chief executive.

At Australian Fashion Week, held in Sydney in May, progress has been made by working with an external sustainability consultant but there are no plans for stringent designer entry requirements.

“Sustainability is at the forefront of planning for Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, and we have made progress enacting positive change in many categories,” says Natalie Xenita, vice president at IMG Asia-Pacific, which facilitates the event. “There are currently no requirements for participating designers to meet sustainable development goals however we actively encourage designers and all our event partners to take steps towards a more conscious future of fashion.”

Both events host panels dedicated to sustainability as part of their programs.

“Fashion week in Australia is a long way off trying to influence sustainability on the design side,” Press says. “I’d like to see us move beyond the panel discussion as the sustainability moment next season.”

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