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Copenhagen Fashion Summit
By Malene Birger curated for the Design Challenge at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016@copenhagenfashionsummit

How Copenhagen is pioneering a sustainable fashion future

A new green city outside the Danish capital is set to mix fashion, art and ethical design

Earlier this month, over 1500 people from around the world descended on Copenhagen to talk fashion and sustainability at the world’s biggest conference on ethics in the industry. From Nike to Selfridges, Patagonia to Parley for the Oceans, the day of talks and panels played host to names from some of the most established and innovative names in fashion, all united with the agenda of finding a way to make the industry less toxic. 

Because it is toxic, undoubtedly. After oil, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world – with wastewater from dye plants being dumped into rivers, harmful pesticides used to coat cotton and dangerous greenhouse gasses given off with the production of artificial (and non-biodegradable) fabrics like nylon. 

“In the beginning, the reputation of sustainable fashion was very ‘hippy’, but now there’s a lot of designers who are doing quite fashionable collections that are sustainable or aim to be” – Kristian W. Andersen, CIFF

Supporting the summit was CIFF, or the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair – a tradeshow that features emerging designers including Grace Wales Bonner, Tigran Avetisyan and Haal. Last summer, they introduced Raven Projects, a new showcase to give a platform to sustainable and socially responsible brands, prioritising creativity that proves there’s much more to responsible fashion than hippy hemp (as Imran Amed, founder of The Business of Fashion said at the forum, “Good design is sustainable design”).

“Just because you're sustainable you're not automatically in the show – our job is to curate the best,” explains Kristian W. Andersen, CIFF’s Fashion & Design Director – who says that he’s witnessed a boom in the amount of people making clothing that is both aesthetically strong and ethically conscious. “In the beginning, the reputation of sustainable fashion was very ‘hippy’, but now it’s very interesting – there’s a lot of designers who are doing quite fashionable collections that are sustainable or aim to be, they have a motivation to make products clean.” 

Andersen is currently heading up plans to build a sustainable city outside of Copenhagen, where designers, architects, and artists will be able to have residencies and studio spaces. “Since it’s all new, we can plan it really well, construct it in a greener way,” he shares of the space, which will be called Bella Kvarter and form the home of CIFF.

Still, despite the increased focus on Copenhagen as a sustainable hub, the motivation for CIFF’s projects goes deeper than conforming to a trend. “It’s not just something we think we should do because now it’s ‘cool’. People in this city are quite proud that it’s been going on as a natural thing for a long time,” says Andersen, who explains that being green is a fundamental part of Danish society and community – and that seeing the royal family, top CEOs or politicians cycling to work is totally standard. 

CIFF’s plans are all to celebrate fashion that doesn’t hurt the earth, and those who inhabit it. “The more people you have, the more they talk,” Andersen says. “You can’t ignore that.”