European fashion councils are taking the idea of “more EU” very seriously. This week, 21 national and regional fashion councils from 18 countries across the continent are launching what they call the European Fashion Alliance.
The member countries of the European Union have a wide variety of versions of the traditional fashion council, the bodies typically created to represent the interests of the industry at the governmental level, as well as to support initiatives such as fashion weeks and promote the local talents.
There are the likes of Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, founded in 1958, with around 150 members today, and France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, founded in 1973, now with around 100 members. . These are big and important arbiters of apparel design and manufacturing operating in the heart of the world’s fashion capitals. Then there are also smaller organizations like the Bulgarian Fashion Association, which promotes and connects designers from the Eastern European nation and launched in 2019.
Now all these bodies come together under one umbrella organization, the European Fashion Alliance. And they are taking many pages out of the organizational manual of the EU in Brussels.
The alliance will have a rotating presidency that changes at regular intervals; It will also eventually have minimum standards that members must meet in order to join, and the body’s funding will work in the same way as EU budgets, with each member paying a share depending on its size and national budget.
The project has been on the drawing board since 2018, explained Scott Lipinski, CEO of Fashion Council Germany, in an exclusive interview with WWD. His organization has been one of the main promoters of the new alliance and will hold the first of the rotating presidencies until the end of 2023.
Lipinski explained that the idea came after an EU-funded initiative called United Fashion, which brought together various fashion councils, along with brands and designers. “I was so happy to see the whole exchange,” Lipinski recounted. “One of the goals of that project was to create a new type of alliance or [fashion] Council on a European basis”.
But four years ago, the initiative really didn’t work. “It was too heavy,” Lipinski argued. There were complex questions about the venue, the manifestos and whether to include hundreds of brands and designers. “We ended up with a monstrous great idea,” Lipinski said. “It was overwhelming.”
But there had already been support from the highest levels of European politics for this type of body. “So we learned from our previous experience, and then we picked up the phones and started making calls,” Lipinski said. The Fashion Council Germany also hired Elke Timmerman, the Brussels-based project manager behind the United Fashion project.
After a two-day summit of fashion councils in Frankfurt in March this year, Timmerman and Lipinski have what they call the Frankfurt Agreement, the founding document of the European Fashion Alliance. The 31 organizations that attended agreed that a smaller alliance that could evolve more organically would be a better way to start.
Although only 21 of the original 31 attendees are currently members, other organizations are also willing and more are likely to join once bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, Timmerman explained in an email.
“We are very pleased to be part of the European Fashion Alliance,” said Pierre-François Le Louët, president of the Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin, in a statement about the launch. “I am sure that together we can harness the influence of our industry around the world and promote sustainable and inclusive actions.”
Although an official manifesto is yet to come, several core objectives are already evident. One of the objectives of the alliance is to represent the European fashion industry at EU government level.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU’s decision-making body, gave a keynote speech at last summer’s New Bauhaus conference in Frankfurt, where a fashion alliance was again discussed.
“He said that what we needed was a voice from the European fashion industry,” Lipinski noted. “And then Dr. Christian Ehler [member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education] it has also been something of a driving force. He told us: ‘We don’t know what they want because we don’t have an organization that we can approach to discuss policy. So please create this network.’”
The apparel industry anticipates more policies and laws related to the fashion and textile sectors in the coming year. The alliance must have a seat at the table when decisions are made and eventually plans to present unified industry positions on major legislative issues such as sustainability.
“We all know that we are one of the biggest polluters on earth,” Lipinski admitted. “So there is an urgency to make real changes there.”
In addition, more EU funding than ever is being spent on the continent’s creative industries and the alliance is likely to have an opportunity to advise on where the money could be best spent. In the last six-year EU budget for 2021 to 2027, funding for culture and creative industries increased by 50% compared to the last six-year budget and now amounts to €2.44 billion.
In addition to political advocacy, the European Fashion Alliance is also about transnational networks. The body plans to meet around certain themes, such as craftsmanship, innovation, best practices and national specializations, as well as to encourage cross-border projects and more networking.
There has already been some success here. Even at the earliest meetings, smaller European fashion councils were taking inspiration from larger ones, Lipinski noted.
More than two years ago, the German Fashion Council commissioned a report on the relevance and size of the German garment industry so that they could take it to their own government to convince them that the sector was worth paying attention to.
“Some of the smaller [fashion councils] they also demand to be heard,” Lipinski said. “So that was maybe one of the first learnings that a couple of these countries had. They said, ‘Okay, tell us how you did that. Because we also want to be heard by our government to make them understand how important our sector is’”.
Asked if he worries there could be infighting and perhaps even competition between alliance members, for example because one country wants to hold a fashion week at the same time as another, Lipinski dismissed the idea.
“Isn’t that a bit of an old myth?” she asked. “I mean, I sat down with Copenhagen Fashion Week the other day and said let’s do something together. And the French and the Italians are friends; they exchange ideas all the time and are in constant conversation. It’s not about egos, it’s about getting things done.”
The next meeting that will involve all members will be a digital summit in July and then a face-to-face one in October. But managing expectations is important, Lipinski said. The European Fashion Alliance has just been launched, he warned, and the results may not be seen until early next year, at the earliest.
In the distant future, the German-Scottish CEO’s main wish is that the alliance has made a positive difference.
“We might not be giving it [any new EU policy or law] a name. It may not be us who apply it either. But if we could say we’re the ones behind some worthwhile policies that made our industry more future-proof, I’d be proud,” Lipinski concluded.