The Copenhagen Fashion Summit, widely regarded as the premier conference on sustainable fashion, is fast approaching on May 15 and 16. And I’ve been approached a few times by friends and business acquaintances who are wondering if they should go.
Full disclosure: the Summit funded my trip last year so I could write a couple of freelance articles about my time there. They have not yet reached out for this year, but I would be happy if they did. In any case, what follows is my honest opinion.
At issue is the time –– if you live outside Europe, then it’s a trek –– and the high cost. Copenhagen itself is a charming but pricey city, as Scandinavian cities are. You won’t find a decent Airbnb room for less than about $90 per night, and you’ll be shocked at the price of food. (The sustainable beauty and fashion shopping is amazing, though.)
That is just travel costs. At issue here is the price of entry to the conference itself. Tickets start at €500 for general admission and €1,000 for a premium ticket and then go up from there depending on the size of your company. And then there are add-ons, like the celebration dinner (€95) and the Pulse Masterclass (€45) where they go over the details of the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report that they will release at the Summit.
So, will you be able to wring over $1,000 in value for yourself out of the Summit? Let’s figure it out.
The Kind of Activities That Happen at the Summit
The most important thing to note about the Summit is that it is not a conference of workshops and breakaway sessions. There are not side rooms with panels on, “How to Increase Customer Aquisition Using Sustainable Keywords” or “Pitching VCs Your Social Good Enterprise.” That would be an awesome conference (and someone should totally put that on if it’s not out there already).
At this two-day event, aside from a couple dinners and the Pulse Masterclass, all the keynotes and panels happen in one opera-house sized room. And they all consist of Very Important People discussing Big Ideas.
This year’s topics include:
The business case for and against sustainability
Can the EU lead the way?
Wages: What should fashion brands do?
Is blockchain the traceability game-changer?
How can we ensure the best welfare standards for the animals in our supply chain?
Notice the “we” in that last one. Not “you.” This is not instructions, but explorations of the most complex issues that are bedeviling even the most powerful fashion brands in the world. So if you are a small brand and you’re looking for inspiration and information on growing your business while keeping it sustainable, this event will not get you there. What it will do is cram your head full of lofty ideas and questions and debates around the future of fashion.
But anyway, you don’t need a ticket to see all that. They live-stream the entire thing online, so you can watch right from your laptop.
OK, so if you’re not there for the main show, why would you go at all? The short answer:
The Networking Is Incredible
The connections that I made last year at the Summit were absolutely insane. It’s a space where you see the Editor-in-Chief of a famous fashion magazine glide by, have a quick chat on the escalator with the Director of Strategy for one of the top five biggest brands in the world, or find yourself at an intimate dinner at the multimillion-dollar waterfront home of a Danish designer.
To put it plainly, every important brand, magazine, consultant, venture capitalist, nonprofit, influencer, or entrepreneur who cares at all about sustainability in fashion is at the Summit.
(PS. Here’s what you should pack if you’re going to Copenhagen in May. Throw in a cocktail dress and fancy heels if you’re going to the summit.)
For example, I had been reading about and trying to get in touch with Linda Greer, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) for a couple years, but she had been on a sabbatical. When I saw her name listed as a person I could interview while there, I jumped at the chance. We totally connected, and now I can (and do) reach out to her with my science-heavy questions. This article came out of my time there, and I still reference it a lot in online discussions. I walked through the Innovation Forum, a space where nonprofits, material companies, and technology startups showcase their solutions to fashion sustainability, and drew upon what I found there just this past week to write my rundown of vegan leathers. I still talk a lot to some really cool people I met there.
So, everyone agrees that the networking in Copenhagen cannot be beat. Of course, you can just show up to Copenhagen around that time, without buying a ticket, and then go to a casual dinner or two with some friends in the scene. I know someone who did that because she was in the area, and she doesn’t regret it.
But for the conference itself, in terms of whether you should pay at least €500 for an entry ticket, the question I want to put to you is:
Are You Ready for That Level of Networking?
I’ve heard small business owners complain that the ticket prices are too high and that the Summit is too exclusive. My response to that is: if the ticket price is too high for you, then you wouldn’t get what you need out of the summit.
Let me tell you a little story to illustrate. I stopped at the boot of BioGlitz, the pioneering startup making biodegradable glitter, and talked to the founder for a while. I was having fun smearing it on my cheekbones, and kept talking about festival fashion. She finally stopped me, visibly frustrated. “Yeah, festivals are great and I’m happy to provide that alternative. But I’m here because I’m talking to [one of the biggest brands in the world] about providing all the glitter they use for their fashion.”
So that is it in the nutshell. For the Summit to really be worth it for you, you need to be ready to make those connections. If someone very important sat down next to you, would you stutter out some praise and then clam up? Or would you introduce yourself, tell them your elevator pitch, and secure their business card and a promise of a follow-up?
If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be ready to sign some deals. If you’re a journalist, you need to have an assignment from a publication everyone has heard of. If you’re a fashion brand, you need to be doing some serious sales. (Just look at the ticket tiers – the cheapest one is for brands doing less than €50 million in turnover a year.) If you’re an influencer, you need to have some partnerships under your belt with multinational brands. If you’re a consultant, you need to have experience at one of the Big Five. I could go on, but you get my drift.
The Summit is not for fun. It’s for business. Everyone there is trying to make systemic and large-scale change. That’s not to discount what you are doing if you’re an emerging designer or micro-influencer. You’re valuable to the ecosystem, and you might get there someday. It’s something to aim for, in fact.
But you asked me if it’s worth it for you to go to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. And my answer is:
Only if you’re ready.