Berlin and Copenhagen: the new sustainable fashion capitals

Morgane Nyfeler

By Morgane Nyfeler14 février 2023

On the fringe of the four main fashion weeks, two alternative cities are coming under the spotlight as they position themselves as leaders in sustainability and innovation with the goal of setting new industry standards.

Copenhagen Fashion Week introduce a Sustainability Action Plan with 18 minimum standards that all show schedule brands must conform to. Picture from VORN show in Copenhagen (Daniel Faro for Nowadays)

Nothing surrounding the glamour and ephemeral nature of fashion weeks can be called sustainable. For only a handful of minutes of catwalk presentation, a great amount of waste is created, from paper invites to water bottles and to the single-use materials going into gigantic show sets. That’s without counting the impact of thousands of editors and buyers travelling from city to city during the month-long fashion season, which a research has measured at about 241,000 tons of carbon emitted in a year.



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A multi-faceted, sustainable fashion week

202030 - The Berlin Fashion Summit promotes activism, innovation and experimentation (Britta Leuermann)

Unlike other major fashion events, Berlin Fashion Week, which kicked off mid-January, was a place for activism, innovation and experimentation. On the first day, a fake adidas presentation was staged by activist duo The Yes Men to denounce the exploitation of factory workers in Cambodia which set the tone for the four following days. The designers who took part in this edition of Berlin Fashion Week all had a common agenda focusing on environmental consciousness, fair pay, slow fashion and responsible practices. And for the first time, brands could present immersive collection experiences at the Berlin Metaverse – an experimental platform showing the newest possibilities within fashion tech and how it aligns with circularity.

Berlin’s cool kids combine ethics with a rebellious spirit

VORN – The Berlin Fashion Hub works towards sustainable development and social responsibility in the industry (Daniel Faro for Nowadays)
#Damur, a high-end streetwear fashion brand, was founded by the designer Damur (Shih-Shun) Huang, based in Berlin, Germany (Kasak Jankiewicz)

Set in a multitude of underground locations, from industrial halls to the cellar of the city’s town hall, fashion shows presented in various formats were dotted around the city and the overall mood that came out was one of energy and creativity. Berlin is indeed a very innovative, diverse and open-minded city with a legendary art and club culture that directly influences the young up-and-coming brands flourishing in this setting. “As a brand we embody the Berliner attitude within our designs and with our desire to challenge the labels society impose on us,” said Damur Huang, the designer behind the non-conventional brand #Damur. “But our show also reflected our sustainable ethos and aim to tackle unneeded waste; the fabrics used were upcycled from previous collections and the flowers repurposed for our set would otherwise have been thrown out.” Other labels such as LML Studio, SF10G and Namilia, which made its first appearance after showing several times in New York, are directly reflecting the current zeitgeist and the people on the streets, while adding another layer of genuine sustainability, experimentation with recycled materials and exploration of gender fluidity and diversity to their collections.

Optimism found in partnerships

In parallel of the shows, the ‘202030 – The Berlin Fashion Summit’ was held to gather change-makers and share solutions for the industry’s transformation on a corporate and cultural level. This 5th edition’s topics “Regenerative Business” and “Regenerative Culture” guided the different panels and presentations by brands such as UGG and Armed Angels, which called for economic, cultural and ecological action.

VORN Fashion Hub at the Berlin Fashion Week AW23, NEWEST runway show (Andreas Rentz Getty Images for Nowadays)

“Strong alliances to solve the issues of our time and our future are more important than ever before,” declared the organizer Magdalena Schaffrin who is also behind the VORN Fashion Show working towards sustainable development and social responsibility in the industry. Together with her styling team, they selected 400 young designers and famous brands that went through a Sustainability Quick Check by studio MM04, before combining their pieces together in new avant-garde looks. “Berlin is still growing as a new fashion city and we’re all part of that growth together as a community collaborating to develop our likeminded sustainable practices,” added Huang whose designs were included in the show.

Copenhagen Fashion Week raises the sustainability bar

With a roster of trendy Scandinavian brands such as Ganni and Stine Goya, Copenhagen Fashion Week has become a highly regarded event which is now known for its concrete efforts to reduce the industry’s impact on the planet. According to its 2020 sustainability action plan, all brands on schedule must meet 18 minimum requirements covering six key areas, from design to show production and working conditions, which will be reviewed on an annual basis to reflect the changes happening in the industry. The event has also set targets to reduce its own environmental impact by cutting 50% of its emissions and offsetting the rest of its activities.

Nurturing emerging designers

Copenhagen Fashion Week is also dedicated to offer a springboard for emerging brands through its CPHFW NEWTALENT programme set to promote Nordic talents on a global scale.

Latimmier is a new ready-to-wear label founded by the Finnish fashion designer Ervin Latimer (Latimmier)

Every season, three to four designers receive monetary and mentoring support as well as a slot on the official show schedule. “As a young and new brand, it’s vital to receive this type of exposure and it’s a great validation of our mission and vision,” explains Ervin Latimer who received the NEWTALENT Award for his label Latimmier. “CPHFW aligns with our social and ecological values perfectly as well, which we hope will become a natural part of the fashion business.”

Meet Tatiana Chumak, who founded the Ukrainian label TG Botanical in 2021 (Tetyana Chumak Designer TG Botanical)

In parallel, Copenhagen Fashion Week continued its partnership with the online fashion marketplace Zalando on its Sustainability Award to recognise brands with a sustainable strategy and dedication to responsible practices and innovation. Founded in 2021 as a clothing line at the crossroads between technology and nature, Ukrainian label TG Botanical took part in the CPHFW Presentation & Event schedule twice before joining the shows this year as a Zalando Sustainability Award Finalist. “This is an incredible chance to promote our philosophy and contribute to changing the mindset of the modern fashion industry,” explains the founder Tetyana Chumak. Given the growing role Copenhagen Fashion Week is now taking on the global fashion map, hopes are high that the main fashion capitals will follow suit in the green transition of the industry.

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