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Everything the fashion industry needs to know about COP28

By Rachel Douglass


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COP28 Sustainable Fashion Show - San Francisco’s Gelareh Alam. Credits: COP28 UAE Communications.

As the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCC) COP28 draws to a close, FashionUnited is looking back on all of the notable events that took place over the two week period, many of which hoped to define the sustainable future of fashion. Held in Dubai, this year’s COP climate summit brought together delegates from 199 parties to continue in the mission of outlining steps to limit the rise of global temperatures.

Out of those attendees and participants were a large number of individuals from the fashion industry, each hoping to aid in such decision-making through panel discussions, presentations and newly established partnerships in order to bring forth solutions.

ASBCI, N Brown and Style 3D discuss COP expectations

Conversations surrounding fashion’s place at COP already began prior to the event. A webinar held by digital fashion solutions company Style 3D posed the question: “What does the fashion industry hope to achieve from COP28 this year?” It was up to participants Gary Know, vice chair of the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI), and Joseph Mountain, the sustainability lead at British e-tailer N Brown, to deduce an answer. The duo both spoke on the need for consumer feedback and concrete action when it comes to achieving goals, as well as where the industry needs to be scaling back in order to ensure sustainable long-term growth.

European Parliament discusses shift towards sustainable products

Just days ahead of COP28, similar discussions were ongoing at the European Parliament, where key figures in the EU fashion industry gathered for the ‘Fashionscapes of Transformation’ event. Next to highlighting fashion’s role in fulfilling the Paris Agreement, participants also stressed the importance of phasing out fossil fuels in fashion-related policies. Commenting on the topics at hand, Alessandra Moretti MEP, said: “I’m convinced that the fashion industry can set an example for other industries in taking decisive actions in line with global climate goals, particularly as the world gears up for COP28 and also in light of the European Parliament’s announcement last week of making a fossil fuel phase out. The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulations, which I have the honour to be the reporter of, plays a pivotal role in this path, and in reshaping the fashion industry towards sustainability.”

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Bestseller and H&M Group to invest in Bangladesh off-shore wind project

In fact, collaborations are a key part of what the conference is all about, as evidenced in a joint agreement made by fashion industry leaders to fund the first off-shore wind project in Bangladesh. Danish fashion conglomerate Bestseller and Swedish fast fashion giant H&M Group established the deal alongside Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) and developer Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) in a bid to “significantly increase the availability of renewable energy” in the manufacturing country.

Now in the early-stages of development, the project is expected to commence in 2028 and would have a reported capacity of around 500MW, supporting the country in reaching its goal of supplying 40 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2041. Speaking on the initiative, Bestseller CEO, Anders Holch Povlsen, said in a release: “By pledging to invest significantly in the offshore wind park in Bangladesh, we can support the availability of renewable energy in one of our key manufacturing countries and aim to reduce climate emissions from our supply chain. It's a responsibility we share with the global fashion industry, and we encourage other fashion companies to share the opportunity with us.”

We Wear Oil campaign by Sophia Kianni, Fossile Fuel Fashion Campain and Vogue Arabia. Credits: Public Opinion, Fossil Fuel Fashion Campaign.

Climate activist launches ‘We Wear Oil’ campaign alongside Vogue Arabia

In response to the controversial claims made by COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, who suggested there was “no science” to support the need to phase-out fossil fuels, Iranian-American activist, Sophia Kianni, took to social media to share a campaign to raise awareness of fashion’s intrinsic link to such damaging materials. Kianni’s ‘We Wear Oil’ initiative was established alongside Fossil Fuel Fashion Campaign and Vogue Arabia, and called on the industry to take accountability for the promises made in the Paris Agreement and ultimately rule out materials created using fossil fuel-based fibres. Imagery and videos from the campaign see Kianni caked in “oil” as she speaks on the use of synthetics and the harm they have caused, and continue to cause, on the environment.

Stella McCartney’s Sustainable Market concept arrives at COP28

Continuing in her efforts to bolster the presence of sustainable start-ups and circular solutions, British designer Stella McCartney brought her Sustainable Market concept to COP28, building on its latest edition which had previously served as a backdrop for her Paris Fashion Week show in September. The exhibition-like concept, this time dubbed ‘Innovating Tomorrow’s Solutions’, highlighted 15 next-gen pioneers including regenerative agriculture platforms and plant-based alternative producers, some of which are already long-standing partners of McCartney’s eponymous brand. During the event, the designer further spoke on the key achievements published in her latest Impact Report, as well as the details of a new PETA campaign and the launch of a biologically recycled parka jacket, made in collaboration with Protein Evolution.

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Stella McCartney hosts sustainable market exhibition at COP28. Credits: Stella McCartney.

Fashion Revolution demands further transparency for production, targets and regulations

COP28 attendee Fashion Revolution was a prominent participant in the climate event this year. However, while the organisation regularly took to the stage to share its voice, it also continued the conversation outside of the occasion. In an open letter to fashion brands and policymakers, Liv Simpliciano, policy and research manager, called on both to ensure that transparency and corporate accountability on environmental and human rights issues were more widely addressed, either through binding regulations or furthering access to information.

Simpliciano criticised the current lack of action when it comes to defunding new fossil fuel projects, as well as fashion’s tendency to use COP and other platforms to outline “glossy” new commitments that later run past their time frame or fail to communicate what they actually achieve. She added: “In the absence of disclosed evidence, it is difficult to understand if the fashion industry is turning things around. We don’t need more commitments – we need more progress.”

GFA presents industry’s progress towards net-zero

In light of these demands for more transparency, it appears that some leading organisations in the industry are already taking note. Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) used its platform at COP28 to highlight the progress the industry has made towards a net-zero future, in what was its second edition of The GFA Monitor. Data collected by the GFA revealed that the majority of its 900 participants support industry alignment on 27 action areas proposed by the organisation. Yet, while 88 percent of respondents had claimed to have set targets to adopt responsible purchasing practices, only 63 percent had confirmed to be measuring progress when it came to these targets, despite brands and suppliers expressing support to reach calibration on this matter.

GFA Monitor 2023. Credits: Global Fashion Agenda.
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LVMH outlines new alliances and refreshed deals to bolster efforts

Luxury conglomerate LVMH said that it was “more committed than ever to its environmental targets”, and stepped up its game this year through a series of new initiatives and collaborations dedicated to protecting biodiversity and the environment as a whole. Among its ongoing efforts, the group signed a new agreement with the Foundation For Amazon Sustainability (FAS) to combat deforestation, striving for the goal of regenerating five million hectares of wildlife habitat worldwide. To support the project, LVMH said it would be making a one million euro donation. Alongside this, the multinational further pledged its allegiance towards soil preservation initiatives increasing soil carbon storage capacity and published the results of its partnership with Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA) introduced at COP27, through which it said it had identified and trained 500 farmers around Lake Chad, among other achievements.

Chalhoub Group and LVMH come together to define targets of Emirates-based retail

LVMH had also struck up a deal with property firms Chalhoub Group, EMAAR Malls Management, Majid Al Futtaim Properties and Aldar Properties PJSC, forming an alliance that would aim to formulate sustainability targets for the Middle East retail market. The cooperation hopes to work together on the understanding and management of energy consumption across their properties, stores and common areas, alongside the development of an eco-design checklist, among other initiatives.

Leaders in Italian fashion talk about the country’s efforts towards a sustainable future

In contrast, Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) came together for a day of talks and panels to discuss the country’s own responsibility in the realm of sustainability. The event was led by chairman of the CNMI Carlo Capasa, who, in his own talk, outlined some future developments that were a part of the fashion organisation’s sustainability roadmap. These included a collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the development of digital passports and its cooperation with the UN Ethical Fashion Initiative on defining ESG specifics for the fashion industry as a whole, in order to ensure comprehensive assessments.

Capasa was joined by a league of other industry players, including executives and management from the likes of Milano Fashion Institute, Gucci, Diesel, Prada Group and Michelangelo Pistoletto Foundation. Gucci’s Antonella Centra, executive vice president, general counsel of corporate affairs and sustainability, spoke on the importance of creating synergies across the luxury sector, a sentiment that was also shared by Diesel’s sustainability ambassador, Andrea Rosso. For Prada Group, meanwhile, sustainability and social responsibility senior manager, Pamela Bussi, said that education was key to generating change and used the opportunity to highlight some of the luxury group’s partnerships, namely with UNESCO.

COP28 Sustainable Fashion Show - Shantnu & Nikhil. Credits: COP28 UAE Communications

COP hosts first Sustainable Fashion Show

In what was a first for COP and a further affirmation that fashion was one of its central focuses, the event hosted its first ever Sustainable Fashion Show at the Al Wasl Plaza. International designers took to the stage to show their collections all in the name of sustainability – as well as inclusivity, as seen in the diverse selection of models. While India’s Shantnu & Nikhil displayed a line that aimed to promote the circular economy, for which the limited number of garments could be exchanged for store credit, UAE-based Yello By Zein AlTawil offered up pieces utilising renewable and biodegradable fabrics. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Gelareh Alam exhibited the brand’s own range of made-to-order items.

Fan bases rally against luxury groups

Outside of COP, it appeared that the general public also wanted in on the conversation. In an attempt to do so, fans of K-pop [a term referring to Korean pop music] rallied together on social media to call for tangible climate action. Led by Kpop4Planet and linked to the ‘Unboxed: High Fashion, High Carbon’ campaign, the online movement criticised the industry for its lack of concrete action towards achieving net-zero targets, with fans urging luxury fashion houses to make moves that go beyond gestures and celebrity ambassadorship. Noting that many of their K-pop idols were already aligned with these brands, participants said they were now seeking such collaborations to involve more actionable commitments that tackled environmental concerns.

Better Cotton, Textile Exchange and Oeko-Tex among new partners in small business initiative

Six sustainability standard organisations in the textile sector have come together to support small businesses in selling to new markets. The move was made alongside the climate change conference and involved a partnership with the International Trade Centre (ITC). The deal involves sharing the sustainability credentials of small businesses in the UN Certified Business Registry. Among the collaborating organisations were Better Cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Oeko-Tex, Textile Exchange, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC). All those participating will ultimately publish related sustainability credentials by early 2024 via the ITC Standards Map, an online repository of sustainability standards and initiatives.

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Circular Fashion
Sustainable Fashion