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How Copenhagen Became the Most Sustainable Fashion City

Copenhagen Fashion Week is aiming to be zero waste by 2022.

There’s no denying the fact that out of all the fashion weeks out there, Copenhagen has arguably become one of the most exciting ones, not only for the colorful and witty brands, but for sustainability. Happening twice a year, typically in late summer and January or February, Copenhagen Fashion Week brings together well-known sustainable names like Ganni alongside newcomers like Gestuz and Rixo, and then mainstream power players like H&M.

Yet even with many Danish brands opting for sustainable initiatives on their own, the formal Copenhagen Fashion Week organization is pushing brands to be more responsible when it comes to eco-friendly matters. In January 2020, for example, Copenhagen Fashion Week outlined a sustainability action plan unlike another other fashion week had ever done before. According to the plan, brands have three years to meet 17 sustainability standards ranging from zero-waste set designs to using at least 50% organic or recycled textiles in collections. The plan also stated that brands should not destroy unsold clothing (a surprisingly common practice in the industry) and that the entire Copenhagen Fashion Week event should be zero waste by 2022.

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“This Sustainability Action Plan is at the core of our vision for Copenhagen Fashion Week, as we are dedicated to ensuring proactive change is being made across the creative industry towards more responsible solutions,” Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion, tells Departures.

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As the Spring 2021 season of Copenhagen Fashion Week is set to begin, many brands are re-thinking how they do fashion shows. This season, due to the pandemic, will be completely virtual. Sustainable brand Skall Studio has opted to release a video using only friends and family as models. “That’s kind of sustainable for us, that it's not something very big and something very new,” explains co-founder Marie Skall. “I think for us, it was important to make it very intimate, for people who know Skall Studio.”

But beyond that, Skall Studio has been one of the earliest examples of sustainable fashion in the Danish landscape. The sisters behind the brand use organic cotton, organic linen, recycled wool, and make and produce in Denmark, since they founded the brand six years ago.

“We started when nobody was talking about sustainability,” explains Skall. “We just feel that it has to be something new, something that wasn't seen before in Denmark or Scandinavia. Of course there was Stella McCartney, but it was not so normal to see a sustainable fashion brand in Denmark. It was very important for us, but it was very difficult for us when we started because there were no organic suppliers and no suppliers could help us recycle.”

Luckily, things have changed and the city has unofficially made sustainable fashion their signature. Skall credits the overall lifestyle in Denmark as being one of the deciding factors of how Copenhagen became definitively the most sustainable fashion city. “In Denmark, we have been talking so much about sustainability,” she says. “It's also in the food industry, and how you treat the animals. It’s getting so normal now that if you have a fashion brand, you have to do something.”

Copenhagen is definitely on the map as a sustainable fashion city for trend forecasters, too. “More recently, Copenhagen has become well-known for being sustainable in fashion and lifestyle because of forward-thinking politicians and a wealthy citizenry that, as a whole, is high on Maslow's Hierarchy, which is to say they have their own basic needs secured and are now looking out for the greater good,” says trend consultant Daniel Levine. “It's fascinating that we can see the same Copenhagen aesthetic is imbued throughout the culture; from agriculture and architecture to energy production, textiles, furniture and, of course, food.”

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Similarly, Ganni, the trendy label known for its playful colors, mixed prints and oversized collars, credits the lifestyle in Denmark as encouraging fashion brands to become more sustainable. Run by husband-and-wife duo Nicolaj Reffstrup and Ditte Reffstrup, for Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring 2021, the brand will be presenting a video with three different women performing live, inspired by Ditte’s inspiration based on music. “Music has always been a source for inspiration,” she says. “And I think it started when I was a kid and I lived in this small town and I remember sitting there in my room and watching music videos, it was something that really opened my eyes. It gave me such an inspiration for both the way that I dressed, but also the way it allowed me to dream.”

According to the designers, 80% of their ready-to-wear collection is currently sustainable with either certified organic or recycled materials, and the brand also built its own Responsibility Board to help the brand in becoming even more sustainable. Then there’s the Ganni Lab Instagram account, which acts as a platform for the brand to talk about its sustainable initiatives.

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“I think in many ways, sustainability is kind of baked into Copenhagen life,” says Nicolaj. “Behaving responsibly and catering for the common good is a core component in our culture and the society we build. We cycle everywhere. We use a lot of local ingredients in our food, we create fun and entertaining projects that also have a social component, like for instance, a power plant with a ski slope on top of it.” Adds Ditte, “The Harbor is literally so clean that you can swim in it. And you see people doing that everyday.”

“I do hope that people can see that for me, fashion is still important for me,” says Ditte, of the upcoming collection. “Fashion is still a place where you can have fun and express yourself. And I hope that it will give people that inspiration.”

“It's amazing to see how many brands are trying to be as sustainable as they can,” adds Skall. “Maybe it takes 10 years or two years, but they really fight for it now, and that's so cool to be a part of also because the customers understand it and want it, and we can feel it.”