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How Fashion Became One of Denmark’s Biggest Exports


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This August, fashion editors and buyers from over 120 of the world’s most influential fashion publications and retailers flew to Denmark to voluntarily sit in the pouring rain on wet stools.

Was there an immersive new trend with an incoming moniker coined “water-core” to be had? No – but then never rule anything out in fashion. Painting a slightly different scene from the candlelight and calm for which this particular mid-summer event is usually associated with, they were there to embrace the elements at Copenhagen Fashion Week (CPHFW).

It’s not surprising given that little keeps the fashion pack from attending the Danish capital’s bi-annual January and August showcases these days. After the established New York, London, Milan, and Paris fashion-week stalwarts, Copenhagen is now widely regarded as “fashion’s fifth city”. That plaudit came from Vogue Business this year, but a chorus of leading fashion critics – running the gamut from i-D to the Financial Times, Hello! To High Snobiety – were also under those umbrellas singing from the same hymn sheet.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 11: Guests seen outside Ganni during Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2023 on August 11, 2022 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images)
Copenhagen is now regarded by some as “fashion’s fifth city.”Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Why? With its 18-point sustainability criteria that each designer must meet to be invited to take part; multiple avenues of investment open to designers that facilitate a diverse offering; and proven It-girl credentials thanks to the likes of global phenomenons like Ganni, Stine Goya and Saks Potts, Copenhagen Fashion Week has created a showcase that has struck a cross-continental chord.

The statistics show as much. CPHFW reported that this summer’s Spring-Summer 2024 showcase saw a seasonal online media exposure growth of 117.5% as it stretched from its regular three-day schedule to four to cater to 31 shows. The event also clocked up over a million more social-media impressions compared to the same time last year.

Those numbers align with the recent upward trajectory seen in the export of Danish fashion which, according to data analytics organization Statistics Denmark, has grown 84% over the last 10 years (as opposed to an 8% rise in domestic sales). That means fashion now accounts for 5% of the total export of Danish goods.

That CPHFW has —and continues to — invest heavily in its pool of emerging talent is frequently listed as the reason for this growing success.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 10: Models walk the runway at the Ganni show during the Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024 on August 10, 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Alena Zakirova/WireImage)
Brands like Ganni, whose Spring-Summer 2024 show is displayed here, now enjoy global recognition.Alena Zakirova/WireImage/Getty Images

Acting as an incubator for not just Danish but all Nordic fashion designers looking to take their first steps into a notoriously challenging industry, it fosters an unprecedented number of collaborations with government-funded and independent arts organisations to provide designers with the mentorship, investment, all-important press coverage and retailer exposure to get off the starting block.

Well-known Danish brands that have achieved global levels of recognition, such as Ganni, Stine Goya, and Cecilie Bahnsen have all experienced the support of the Copenhagen Fashion Week body as they grew their business to success. Where they have blazed a trail, the council is paving a way for more to follow.

To do so, CPHFW works with the non-profit initiative ALPHA to support designers immediately after graduation with its panel of industry experts, led by director Ane Lynge-Jorlen. Ten brands are selected to present their graduate work at its awards show held during fashion week.

This year, CPHFW partnered with retailer Zalando to create the Copenhagen Fashion Week x Zalando Visionary Award that, amongst a long list of mentorship opportunities, provides a prize of 50,000 euros (around $54,000) for business development and an additional 35,000 euros ($38,000) to produce a show.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 9: A model walks the runway at the OperaSport show during Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024 on August 9, 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Matt Jelonek/Getty Images)
There’s a range of new talent present in Copenhagen, supported by bursaries and financial prizes to help young designers meet the cost of shows.Matt Jelonek/Getty Images

There are other initiatives too, such as a bursary scheme providing four brands less than five years old, with finance for up to three seasons.

It adds up to a support network that is unmatched by the other fashion capitals and is invaluable to the designers in building their businesses.

“The Danes have made a concerted effort to partner closely and work like one unit rather than separate their agendas,” says Ida Petersson, Womenswear and Menswear Buying Director at online fashion retailer Browns.com which has shown continued support for Danish designers.

“Copenhagen being a fashion hub (means) the world’s gaze is keenly fixed on Denmark,” Awa Malina Stelter told CNN in an interview. Stelter co-founded zero-waste Danish brand Opera Sport with Stephanie Gundelach in 2019. “(Fashion Week) is a crucial platform as it attracts a global audience through which we gain exposure and build relationships with key players in the fashion industry.” As a result, Stelter shared that the brand has experienced “substantial year-on-year financial growth” ranging between 50 to 80% annually.

“Being named as a new talent on the CPHFW New Talent programme (provided) bursary support to be able to do a fashion show,” concurred Nicklas Svovgaard in an interview with CNN, Svovgaard – who was the recipient of the 2022 Wessel & Vett Foundation prize made his much-lauded debut in August with his an ode to Victorian costumery realized using sustainable weaving techniques. “I’m so happy to share that this fall we are launching with a big online retailer which is so exciting,” he added.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 09: A model walks the runway at the Stine Goya show during the Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024 on August 09, 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Alena Zakirova/WireImage)
Stine Goya is another Danish brand whose reach has ballooned outside of Denmark.Alena Zakirova/WireImage/Getty Images

P.L.N, a label that was launched in 2021 by Peter Lundvald Nielsen (and was also a recipient of the New Talents prize), has had a similar experience. “The funding has been a great investment to lift us as a brand,” says its COO Olivia Danielsson. “We also have some great people to seek advice from who have a lot of experience in the industry – making the right strategic decisions can be crucial. The wrong ones can break you and the right ones can make you.”

For the Danish Arts Foundation, its investment is based on more than just commercial gain, but facilitating creative expression.

“We can see value and potential in their work, and we would love to experience it fully developed in the future,” Anne Damgaard, leader of the Danish Arts Council Committee for working grants told CNN in an interview. Damgaard was herself a fashion designer who received support from the foundation when she was starting out.

“We think that it can enrich and challenge the field of design and crafts and fashion, and we think it can challenge and enrich broader society as well,” she continued. “Fashion is able to contribute with much more than keeping us warm, decent, and good looking.”

As the fashion industry awaits a new compulsory EU framework for sustainable practices, Copenhagen remains the only fashion week to have autonomously implemented strict criteria for ethical and sustainable practices. Its roster of designers famed for using vintage, deadstock, recycled, and repurposed fabrics in their trend-setting collections are increasingly finding favour with a huge demographic of consumers both inside and outside of Denmark looking to holding brands to account and enjoy wearing the latest cult trends.

“The work that Cecilie Thorsmark, the CEO of (Copenhagen Fashion Week) and her team have delivered to set up Copenhagen Fashion Week as a leading beacon for sustainability sets them apart,” says Petersson. “In turn, it has inspired other European fashion councils to review their practices.”

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 08: A model walks the runway at the P.L.N. show during the Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024 on August 08, 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Alena Zakirova#1115415#51C ED/WireImage)
A model walks the runway at the P.L.N. show during the Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring-Summer 2024.Alena Zakirova/WireImage/Getty Images

Thorsmark, who is currently on maternity leave, told Monocle magazine last year that it was the reason she took the position in the first place. “I felt there was potential to challenge the purpose of fashion week in general … and see if we could … use our platform to actively speed up the transition in the industry.”

Community is also key to the success here. Every person interviewed for this article credited the Danish sense of collaboration and comradery over competition as a main contributing factor to their drive and success. Helping to provide people with the opportunities to succeed is as much a hallmark of the Danish Fashion Council as it is the wider egalitarian societal mindset in Denmark.

Case in point, it’s not just the fashion bodies that invest in emerging brands, but established designers with the means to promote their younger counterparts, too.

Elisabett Stamm, who won the Copenhagen Fashion Week x Zalando Visionary Award in January 2023 for her eponymous brand STAMM, found her first retailer in a fellow Danish designer and long-term legend of the fashion scene in Denmark, Henrik Vibskov.

“(Vibskov’s) Henrik Vibskov Boutique represented STAMM from the first collection and it’s this kind of support an emerging brand and designer needs,” Stamm told CNN in an interview. “It’s sometimes like everyone wants to discover something first, but who actually has the courage to go first?”

Others have done it, too. Stamm joins wunderkind brand (Di)vision that was recently mentored by Ganni co-founder Nicolaj Reffstrup in experiencing support from a fellow Dane to create brands whose purpose is as democratic in facilitating creativity as it is to purchase at sale point.

Collectively, it spells fashion that speaks to a consumer who wants to put their money into something meaningful and be part of a look-good, feel-good club. Not to mention a sentiment that gets people on their fashion-week seats – wet or otherwise – to spread the word.

Source: CNN


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