European fashion councils are taking the idea of ”more EU” to heart. This week, 21 national and regional fashion councils from 18 countries across the continent are launching what they call the European Fashion Alliance.
European Union member countries boast a wide variety of versions of the traditional fashion council, the bodies typically set up to represent industry interests at the government level, as well as to support initiatives such as fashion weeks and promote local talent. .
There are the likes of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, founded in 1958, with around 150 members today, and the French Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, founded in 1973, now with around 100 members. They are great and important referees of the design and production of clothing operating in the heart of the fashion capitals of the world. Then there are also smaller organizations like the Bulgarian Fashion Association, which promotes and networks designers from the Eastern European nation and launched in 2019.
Now all of these bodies are coming together under one umbrella organization, the European Fashion Alliance. And they are taking a lot of leaves from the EU organizing playbook in Brussels.
The alliance will have a rotating presidency that changes at regular intervals; it will eventually also 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 fee depending on their 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 was one of the main engines 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 several fashion councils, along with brands and designers. “I was so happy to see all the exchange going on,” said Lipinski. “One of the goals of that project was to create a new type of alliance o [fashion] advice on a European basis “.
But four years ago, the initiative was unsuccessful. “It was too heavy,” Lipinski said. There were complex questions about headquarters, posters, and whether to include hundreds of brands and designers. “We ended up with a monstrous idea,” Lipinski said. “It was overwhelming.”
But there had already been support from the upper echelons of European politics for this type of body. “So we learned from our previous experience, and then we just grabbed the phones and started making calls,” Lipinski said. Fashion Council Germany has also hired Elke Timmerman, the Brussels-based project manager behind the United Fashion project.
After a two-day fashion council meeting 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 participating organizations 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 the bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, Timmerman explained in an email.
“We are very happy 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 on the launch. “I am sure that together we will be able to harness the influence of our industry around the world and promote sustainable and inclusive actions.”
Despite the fact that an official manifesto is yet to arrive, several key objectives are already evident. One of the alliance’s objectives is to represent the European fashion industry at the EU government level.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU’s decision-making body, gave a speech at last summer’s New Bauhaus conference in Frankfurt, where a fashion alliance was again discussed.
“He said 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 was also something of a driving force. He told us: ‘We don’t know what you want because we don’t have an organization we can approach to discuss politics. So please create this network ‘”.
The apparel industry plans further policies and laws related to the fashion and textile sectors in the coming year. The alliance is expected to have a seat at the table when decisions are made and ultimately plans to present unified industry positions on important legislative topics such as sustainability.
“We all know that we are one of the biggest polluters on the earth,” admitted Lipinski. “So there is an urgency to make real changes there.”
Furthermore, more than ever EU funding is going to the continent’s creative industries and the alliance will likely have the opportunity to advise on where to best spend the money. In the last six-year EU budget for 2021-2027, funding for culture and creative industries increased by 50% compared to the last six-year budget and now stands at € 2.44 billion.
In addition to political advocacy, the European Fashion Alliance is also about transnational networking. The organization plans to meet on topics such as crafts, innovation, best practices and national specializations, as well as to encourage cross-border projects and more networking.
There has already been some success here. Already in the first meetings, the smaller European fashion councils were inspired by the larger ones, Lipinski noted.
More than two years ago, the Fashion Council Germany commissioned a report on the relevance and size of the German garment industry so that they could take it to their government to make them understand that the industry was worth paying attention to.
“Some of the little ones [fashion councils] They also ask to be heard, “Lipinski said.” So that was perhaps one of the first lessons that a couple of these countries had. They said, ‘OK, tell us how did you do it? Because we also want to be heard by our government. to make him understand how important our sector is’ “.
Asked if he worries that there might be infighting and perhaps even competition between alliance members – say, 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, the other day I sat down with Copenhagen Fashion Week and said to 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 ego, it’s about getting things done. “
The next meeting involving all members will be a digital summit in July and then an in-person one in October. But it’s important to manage expectations, Lipinski said. The European Fashion Alliance has just been launched, he cautioned, and the results may not be seen until early next year, soon.
In the distant future, the main wish of the German-Scottish CEO is that the alliance has made a positive difference.
“We may not give it [any new EU policy or law] a name. We may not even be the ones to enforce it. But if we could say that we have been behind certain valuable policies that have made our industry more future-proof, I would be proud, “concluded Lipinski.