Though the role of the apparel industry in sustainable development has not made it into the final Rio+20 text, it was the topic of conversation among the fashion industry representatives at the “Changing the World Through Fashion” Summit hosted by the Nordic Fashion Association, along with ABIT, Novozymes, and The Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building.

Rio+20, Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Summer Rayne Oakes, H&M, Gucci, PPR Group, Danish Fashion Institute, Holly Dublin, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Jonas Eder-Hansen, Osklen, Oskar Metsavaht, Katharine Hamnett, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Brazil

The author at the Rio+20 Fashion Summit.


Representatives from PPR Group, H&M, Gucci and others gathered to share dialogue on the state of the industry. The always outspoken Katharine Hamnett, known for her equally outspoken T-Shirt slogans, from “Clean up and Die” to “No More Fashion Victims,” outlined some of the greatest victims in fashion, from farmers bearing irreparable costs of pesticide poisoning to taxpayers bearing heavy costs of U.S. cotton subsidies. For the members in the room, not all from the fashion sector, these stark statistics were heard for the first time.

The industry is starting to heed to the social and environmental costs associated with doing “business as usual.”

But the industry is clearly starting to heed the social and environmental costs associated with doing “business as usual.” Holly Dublin, director and special advisor of sustainability at PPR outlined Puma’s Environmental Profit & Loss findings, which are guiding an overall initiative internalizing externalities and gathering baseline data on environmental impacts along the entire supply chain of each of their brands.

“What you don’t measure, you can’t manage,” Dublin said. The difficult factor, she continued, is not necessarily measuring impacts – but figuring out who will pay for the real costs. “Operations you have control over, but you tend to lose control along the way. One must have interaction with the government and civil society to help figure out who picks the tab.”

The framework and methodologies around the Environmental P&L will be open-source, a practice that is becoming quite common throughout the industry. Open-source tools were first seriously implemented by the Outdoor Industry Association’s “Eco Index,” which has paved the way for a “Sustainable Apparel Index.” This topic was briefly covered in the presentation that I gave on the history and future of sustainable design – and one echoed by Jonas Eder-Hansen, development director of the Danish Fashion Institute. Eder-Hansen had just arrived back from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition gathering in Hamburg, which he described as both “exciting” and “hopeful.”

Currently one-third the apparel and textile industry’s global output is throwing its weight behind the Sustainable Apparel Index, which shows that the fashion industry is beginning to take its impacts very seriously. But as Oskar Metsavaht, founder and designer of the Brazilian label Osklen noted, this “needs to become the new luxury.” Brands, such as Osklen, are beginning to take the necessary steps not only to reduce their impacts, but also have a positive influence on society – such as preserving cultural craft and biodiversity, which will continue to be big topics of conversation—and hopefully—practice in the coming years.

+ Rio+20 Fashion Summit