The world is on fire. And at Copenhagen Fashion Week, there was no running from the facts.
In her opening speech at Denmark’s Thorvaldsens Museum, CPHFW chief executive Cecilie Thorsmark recognized the escalating “climate crisis,” the horrifying “humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” the forthcoming elections in both the United States and the European parliament that “should be striking fear in all of us”—and urged those who stand on “privileged ground in this industry” to take responsibility.
“To many people, our industry looks like a bubble of glossy dreams far away from reality,” she said. “Sometimes it is. And we simply cannot ignore this privilege. It comes with an obligation. To speak up, and to act.”
Thorsmark’s call to action follows years of dedicated attempts at advancing the industry. Since she took on the role of chief executive in 2018, she has been pushing for greater transparency and more robust structures of accountability in an otherwise largely unregulated industry.
Her most progressive plan to date has been the introduction of 18 sustainability requirements—known as Minimum Standards—that all brands showing at CPHFW must adhere to, an initiative that was first announced in 2020. The criteria spans six focus areas: strategic direction, design, smart material choices, labor and working conditions, consumer engagement, and show production. Over three years, brands were encouraged to attend seminars to better understand each focus area, and some even joined a pilot program to get a head start at minimizing their planetary impact. The whole process is reliant on self-reporting from brands, an assessment method that has drawn criticism in other contexts like with B Corp certification. It’s why Thorsmark and her team “spent time with each brand individually in respect to their standing against the framework where we provided feedback and suggested actions,” she said.
As of yet, no other fashion week has attempted to implement similar regulations on the brands they show, and set an example for what a more responsible system could look like. And it’s not just the brands that are held accountable for their social and environmental consequences at CPHFW. Every year, the organization puts out a report that offers a status update on its own action plan, which outlines 220 short-term targets.
It was only in 2023, after countless guides, toolboxes, training sessions, and workshops, that Copenhagen Fashion Week enforced adherence to the Minimum Standards, excluding one brand from showing at last year’s Fall/Winter shows. Now—12 months on—are efforts to make the week-long event more sustainable paying off?
“Our first criteria of success was to get all brands onboard and to execute a fashion week with a full schedule to begin with, which required the set up of new processes, partnerships, and relationships,” Thorsmark told Atmos. “For the Minimum Standards, we measure success mainly by brands’ ability to live up to them and the process to get there. That also means that measures of success are not tied to each standard separately but to the full framework.”