Youth Fashion Summit 2018

Alumni in Action

Ellie Cotlar graduated with an MA in Sustainable Design this spring, but missed the graduation ceremony because she was on her way to Copenhagen, Denmark to participate in the Youth Fashion Summit (YFS).  MA in Sustainable Design students Adja Mesic, Allison Hendricks, Aoife Fahey, also attended the concurrent Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The partnership between Youth Fashion Summit and the United Nations Global Compact challenged the 100 most talented students in the fashion industry to create a framework for the industry on how to reach two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely SDG 3 and SDG 5. Pandora sponsored this year’s event. Ellie shares her experience at this year’s YFS below.


I had the opportunity to attend the Youth Fashion Summit (YFS) in Copenhagen, Denmark. YFS is comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students from around the world; there were 111 students from 36 different countries and 63 different schools.  The students were divided into teams and were either given the UN SDG#3 (Human Health and Well-being) or SDG#5 (Gender Equality). The first three days of the event were spent in breakout sessions with our team, using IDEO brainstorming tactics to put together a narrative and a demand associated with the goal. Each team had one facilitator to moderate the discussion and also one expert to provide feedback and suggestions. On the final day, these narratives and demands were combined into one speech presented at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. After the speech, participants were free to enjoy the other speakers, explore the ‘Innovations Corridor’, and network with the other students and participants at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.

I felt very prepared for the summit because I had spent the last year studying the sustainable design fashion industry for my master’s degree. The goal of my thesis was to create one single definition of sustainable fashion. It was so helpful to understand the overall scope of sustainable fashion design before tackling the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I am thankful for the sustainability foundation I received from MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program and the thesis work guidance from Holly Robbins.

My favorite day of the YFS was the negotiations day hosted at the Pandora offices. Each team met with various stakeholders across the industry. Three representatives from each team served as the negotiators (I was a negotiator). We delivered our ideas from the previous two days of brainstorming and received feedback from different sectors. We met with a representative from the United Nations Global Compact, an EU government official, Trine Pondal Corporate Sustainability Manager at Pandora, a representative from the manufacturing sector, a representative from Fung Group-Fung Academy, and a representative from H&M. It was really interesting to hear their feedback from each sector and a lot of fun to debate our ideas.

Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The summit was a two-day event, but the participants of the YFS only attended the last day. I listened to a series of panels featuring industry leaders, models, designers, and other key decision-makers. Circularity was the big buzzword this year.

My favorite panel was “The New Textiles Economy,” moderated by Ellen MacArthur of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Cecilia Stromblad Brannsten, the environmental sustainability manager of the H&M group, unveiled big goals to become entirely circular by 2030. Unfortunately, she was not able to provide any interim goals or steps to get there, simply saying she doesn’t know how they were going to make it happen.

“We have set a vision to become 100% circular and renewable and it’s a very bold and ambitious goal, and we don’t have all the answers. We don’t know when we will get there or how.”
~Cecilia Stromblad Brannsten.

With all of the mention of circularity, I was surprised that it was not mentioned in conjunction with safe materials. Especially in light of the issues of microfibers, it would make sense that the focus would not just be on keeping cycling materials, but making sure we are cycling safe materials.

During that same panel, Paul Dillinger, VP and head of global product innovation and premium collection design at Levi Strauss, brought up two important points. He reminded the group that creating a circular economy is difficult and it will naturally constrain our overproduction of goods and that government regulation and policy is an important step.

“If six out ten garments we produce every year end up in a landfill or are incinerated within the first year of production, should we have made those six? I know it’s great for everyone’s bottom line to show comp store increases, but in a moment when Cape Town is running out of water, and I know every jean I make conventionally consumes 3,700 liters of water per garment, what moral excuse do I have to make these six extraneous things that are going to be thrown away when four is good enough and how much better could the four have been if the six had never been made.”
~Paul Dillinger.

“Knowing that it can be done, but knowing how difficult it is to do, the incentive may not be ours to come by, it may be a regulatory issue. So that if we level this playing field and make it an expectation that everyone lives up to the standard I think that is when we see real change. Any policy-makers out there?”
~Paul Dillinger.

Both comments were met with great applause. Paul made it a point to remind the audience that the concept of circularity wasn’t a fix that allows companies to continue growth at their current rate. I felt that Paul had some of the most honest moments during the summit, and it seems that the audience members shared his same sentiment.

Another inspiring part of the summit was the Innovations Hall. New innovative companies had a space to share their products (some are already at market, some are not) with attendees of the fashion summit. Innovations included a cellulose-based plastic that is biodegradable from a company called “Mango Innovations.” Another company called “Repack” had designed a reusable packaging for parcels to compact package waste. For the sparkle fans out there, “Bioglitz” developed a glitter made of cellulose (and 1% aluminum) to shine more responsibly. Bioglitz, along with a few other companies, participated in the Global Fashion Agenda’s Fashion Incubator in Amsterdam. It was a great reminder that there is funding out there, and with the right research, it is possible to get the support needed to turn an idea into a company.

Overall the Youth Fashion Summit was a great experience. I am looking forward to seeing the progress and change that was promised at this year’s summit delivered by next year’s summit.

You can watch a video of the YFS here.

[image courtesy of Ellie Cotlar]

Ellie Cotlar

Ellie has worked as a fashion designer in both New York and Los Angeles. She is currently a design consultant for athleticwear brands and collaborating with an NGO to build a sustainable fashion toolkit. Ellie received her MA in Sustainable Design from MCAD in 2018.  She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2004 where she received her BFA in Fashion Design.