French, Italian and German fashion groups start the European Fashion Alliance – WWD

French, Italian and German fashion groups start the European Fashion Alliance – WWD

European fashion councils are taking the idea of ​​“more EU” seriously. This week, 21 national and regional fashion councils from 18 countries on the continent are launching what they call the European Fashion Alliance.

European Union member countries have a wide variety of versions of the traditional fashion council, the bodies normally created to represent industry interests at the government level, as well as to support initiatives such as fashion weeks and promote local talent.

There are names like 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. They are great and important arbiters of clothing design and manufacturing 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 connects designers from the Eastern European nation and launched in 2019.

Now, all these bodies are coming together under one umbrella organization, the European Fashion Alliance. And they are pulling out a lot of sheets from the EU organizational manual in Brussels.

The alliance will have a rotating presidency that changes at regular intervals; eventually it will 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 share depending on its size and national budget.

Scott Lipinski, CEO of Fashion Council Germany.

Scott Lipinski
FCG/Nela Koenig

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 a key driver 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 together with brands and designers. “I was really happy to see the whole exchange happening,” Lipinski said. “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 failed. “It was very heavy,” Lipinski argued. There were complex questions about headquarters, manifestos and whether to include hundreds of brands and designers. “We ended up with a huge monstrous idea,” Lipinski said. “It was overwhelming.”

But there was already support from the highest echelons of European politics for this type of body. “We learned from our previous experience, and then we picked up the phones and started making calls,” Lipinski said. 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 this March, 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 the best way to start.

While only 21 of the original 31 participants are currently members, other organizations are also willing and more likely to join once bureaucratic hurdles are overcome, Timmerman explained in an email.

“We are delighted 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 confident that together we will be able to leverage the influence of our industry around the world and promote sustainable and inclusive actions.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the New European Bauhaus conference. © Frankfurt Fashion Week.

Despite the fact that an official manifesto is yet to come, several core objectives are already apparent. One of the goals 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 speech at last summer’s New Bauhaus conference in Frankfurt, where a fashion alliance was discussed again.

“She said what we needed was a voice from the European fashion industry,” noted Lipinski. “And then Dr. Christian Ehler [member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education] it has also been a kind of driving force. He told us, ‘We don’t know what you 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 is expected to have a seat at the table when decisions are being made, and eventually plans to present unified industry positions on key legislative topics such as sustainability.

“We all know that we are one of the biggest polluters on Earth,” admitted Lipinski. “So there is an urgency to make real changes there.”

In addition, more EU funding than ever before is going to the continent’s creative industries and the alliance will likely have the opportunity to advise on where the money can best be spent. In the last six-year EU budget for 2021 to 2027, funding for the culture and creative industries has increased by 50% compared to the last six-year budget and now totals €2.44 billion.

In addition to political advocacy, the European Fashion Alliance also deals with transnational networks. The body intends to meet around topics such as crafts, innovation, good practices and national expertise, as well as encouraging cross-border projects and more networking.

There has already been some success here. Even at the first meetings, the smaller European fashion boards were taking inspiration from the larger ones, Lipinski realized.

More than two years ago, Fashion Council Germany commissioned a report on the relevance and size of the German apparel industry so they could take this to their own government to show that the sector was worth paying attention to.

“Some of the little ones [fashion councils] are also demanding to be heard,” Lipinski said. “So this was perhaps one of the first lessons learned by some of these countries. They said, ‘OK, tell us how you did it? Because we also want to be heard by our government so that they understand the importance of our sector’”.

French, Italian and German fashion groups begin

Representatives from 31 European fashion organizations met in Frankfurt, where they agreed to form the European Fashion Alliance.
EFA/Frank Baumhammel

Asked if he fears there could be infighting and perhaps even competition among alliance members — say, because one country wants to hold a fashion week at the same time as another — Lipinski rejected the idea.

“Isn’t this an ancient myth?” he asked. “I mean, I sat at 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 an in-person summit in October. But it’s important to manage expectations, 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 may not be giving [any new EU policy or law] a name. We too may not be the ones applying it. But if we could say that we are the ones behind certain valuable policies that have made our industry more future-proof, I would be proud,” concluded Lipinski.

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