How Did Copenhagen Fashion Week Become The Most Eco-Friendly (And Coolest) One?

James Cochrane

Copenhagen Fashion Week has made a name for itself as one of the world’s leading biennial fashion events.

In the space of just a few seasons, Copenhagen now seems to have no reason to envy the four fashion capitals—New York, London, Milan and Paris—all thanks to its singular energy and creative ferment. Since its first edition in 2006, Copenhagen Fashion Week has come a long way since its first edition in 2006, guided by a certain authenticity while ensuring the development of numerous measures for increasingly responsible fashion. While the Danish quality of life includes a fair work-life balance, family also occupies an important place within the creative direction of Danish labels. “We’re both daughters, sisters, mothers and wives, and every time we create a new piece, our starting point is always in step with our own needs. We are a label with strong values, and family is one of them, especially when it comes to casting our shows. For the one held last January at the Design Museum in Copenhagen, Marie’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law took part, as well as some for Skall’s close friends, including Mariann, an employee at our store,” explains Julie Skall, co-founder of Skall Studio. Since 2014, she and her sister, Marie, have been developing a new, more durable kind of fashion through a timeless wardrobe featuring a neutral color palette and delicate details, designed to be passed down from generation to generation.

Le sac Bou du défilé Ganni automne-hiver 2023-2024

Many labels have relented to the requirements of Copenhagen Fashion Week. These are not simple pieces of advice but rules put in the place over the past few years to ensure that the event respects today’s ecological reality, without forgetting the creative side of things. A successful transformation brilliantly headed up by Cecilie Thorsmark, who took over Copenhagen Fashion Week in 2018 from Camilla Frank, who had been named two years earlier thanks to her strong fashion expertise gained throughout her experiences as editor in chief at several Danish medias. For Cecilie Thorsmark, graduate of Copenhagen Business School, it was the logical next step. At the time, she was the Director of Communications of Global Fashion Agenda, a nonprofit organization promoting collaboration between fashion industry players on sustainability issues founded in 2016 by Eva Kruse, who was also CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week from its first edition in 2006, until 2016. First unveiled in 2020, this action plan to encourage sustainability within Copenhagen Fashion Week imposes 18 minimal requirements on labels registered on its calendar, covering six key areas: strategic direction, design, smart material choices, working conditions, consumer engagement and runway production. The Fall/Winter 2023-2024 season became the very first to meet these requirements in their entirety, after two years of experimentation, but there is still a lot to be done, on both a small and large scale. “Looking at the current system, it would be disingenuous to claim that it is totally sustainable. However, it is possible to take responsible steps towards reducing fashion’s impact on people and the planet. A holistic approach must not only ensure less harmful practices in the production of new clothes, it must also explore new business models and practices that extend the use of clothes, such as rental or repair services. Thanks to this, we will be able to observe a cultural change in the way we consume, thus slowing down the pace of the fashion industry,” say Cecilie Thorsmark. In this vein, Europe aims to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050 with its Green Deal, supported by a new strategy for sustainable and circular textiles from 2030.

Since 2006, Copenhagen Fashion Week has come a long way, guided by a certain authenticity while ensuring the development of numerous measures for increasingly responsible fashion.

Saks Potts automne-hiver 2023-2024James Cochrane

And Copenhagen seems to be ahead of the game. This season, it was imperative for labels on the official Fashion Week calendar to have at least 50% of their collection certified as made from next-generation sustainable, recycled or recyclable materials. The creative duo at the helm of Danish label Saks Potts—which owes its success to its very nineties coats, now complemented by a complete minimalist and sensual wardrobe—met the challenge with flying colors. “We managed to reach 70%. The remaining 30% that doesn’t meet this requirement mainly involved certain cotton couplings of the highest quality,” emphasize Barbara Potts and Cathrine Saks, who comply with the exercise without considering it to be necessarily inevitable. To meet these and other commercial and environmental demands, young designers are competing in ingenuity.

A. Roege Hove automne-hiver 2023-2024 James Cochrane

Such is the case with the label A. Roege Hove, whose conceptual monofilament knitwear is produced without waste and in a range of sizes that is limited, yet suitable for all bodies, embodying the link between inclusivity and eco-responsibility. Ganni, launched in the early 2000s by the couple Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup, is the figurehead of Danish fashion exports, with playful, colorful and accessible pieces that capture the very essence of Scandinavian style. “We’ve managed to present a collection made entirely from certified materials for Fall/Winter 2023-2024. But there’s still so much work to do, the scope for improvement is endless. Our next goal is to achieve an absolute 50% reduction in our carbon emissions by 2027, by investing in innovative materials, developing emission reduction projects within the supply chain and phasing out leather, among other things.”

Recently, Ganni unveiled Bou, a bag developed from vegetable cactus leather and orange peel. But the Danish brand isn’t limiting its involvement to just its wardrobe. For its Spring/Summer 2022 runway show, Ganni set up shop in a venue in keeping with its commitments: CopenHill. Part climbing wall (the world’s tallest, stretching 85 meters high and 10 meters wide), part ski slope and part waste incinerator, this architectural gem was awarded World Building of the Year in 2021. Young designers are also subject to the requirements listed above, and willingly submit to the exercise. Such is the case with (di)vision, the It label founded by brother-and-sister team Simon and Nanna Wick, whose patched, unisex 2000-2010 wardrobe continues to win over Gen Z. The finale of their latest show, Dressed for Disaster, where model Sarah Dahl appeared dressed in a stained tablecloth embroidered with cutlery in the style of a formal gown, went completely viral. The duo have made upcycling their strength, but admit to certain difficulties when it comes to combining creative desires with eco-responsibility.

“Our approach has always been to create from what already exists. That’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning. Far too much static stock, vintage clothing and other materials already exist and should be used to produce new products. Working this way often means that our pieces are limited, and that we have to make a lot of creative compromises: we can’t make exactly what we want, and we have to use what’s available,” explains Simon Wick.

The Garment automne-hiver 2023-2024 Philip Messmann

Some brands wish to go further, beyond the idea of simply eco-responsible fashion. Sophia Roe and Charlotte Eskildsen not only envision a timeless wardrobe, devoid of any idea of seasonal trends, in a neutral chromatic palette, but also work for a preserved ecosystem, even thousands of kilometers away from Denmark. “We have a responsibility to understand and reduce our impact on the environment, and that’s why we wanted to help the SeaTrees organization preserve the mangroves in the region of Biak Island, Indonesia, by planting 4,340 trees, providing a habitat for fish and other wildlife, protecting the coastline from erosion and enabling the storage of 5 to 10 times more CO2 per hectare than tropical rainforests.” There’s no doubt that Copenhagen wants to set an example, shaking up codes while displaying a 360° commitment. And the presence of Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, at the Fall/Winter 2023-2024 shows is perhaps no coincidence. Will the Danish creative scene succeed in exporting itself beyond Scandinavia’s borders? With their strong communities on social media, all over the globe, it is a safe bet that many labels will follow in the footsteps of Ganni, which retains its position as an international reference, and Cecilie Bahnsen, whose romantic dresses with their distinctive lustrous fabric have been seen everywhere in the French capital for several seasons now.

Translated by Jack Pownall.

This article was originally published on Vogue France.

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