Unlocking the Next Level: Insights from the Global Fashion Summit 2024

The 15th anniversary edition of the Global Fashion Summit (GFS) 2024 served as a significant gathering for industry leaders, policymakers, and innovators, aiming to discuss and strategize the future of fashion. 

Among the attendees was Paul Polman, whose keynote address emphasised the need for stronger leadership within the industry. Leading brands like H&M Group, Kering, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Ganni, VF, PVH, Tapestry, and others were present, along with startups such as Syre, TrusTrace, EON, Weturn, Circular Fashion, and Reverse Resource. Additionally, organisations like Euratex, the Social and Labour Convergence Program, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Circular Economy Foundation, and UNEP contributed to the discussions at the summit.

This year’s theme, “Unlocking the Next Level,” emphasised the urgent need for systemic change and bold leadership to tackle the pressing issues of sustainability and industry transformation. Here are my key takeaways from the summit.

1. The Sustainability Paradox

Despite years of efforts, the fashion industry’s sustainability outcomes have worsened over the past 15 years. This is because the speed of growth is higher than the speed of transitioning towards net zero and circularity. 

The GFS recognized that it has successfully highlighted the importance of sustainability and brought it from a sideline conversation into the mainstream. However, it also acknowledged that the actions taken so far are not enough. Significant investment gaps remain, and the industry must intensify its efforts to achieve meaningful progress.

2. Regulation and Policy: Necessary but Not Enough

Regulations are crucial for driving sustainability, but they alone cannot solve the problem. Sustainability must go beyond compliance, requiring a broader, more profound commitment from leaders, brands, investors, suppliers, and extended stakeholders. The European Union and French regulations are steps in the right direction, but they alone will not get us to net zero. It is important to keep that in mind and to move beyond mere compliance.

3. Leadership Crisis

A recurring theme at the summit was the need for bold, value-driven leadership. During his keynote on the morning of day one, Paul Polman aptly put it, “We don’t have a sustainability crisis; we have a leadership crisis.” Leaders must guide their organisations with vision and intent, fostering a culture of accountability and innovation

4. Intentional Collaboration

Effective collaboration requires clear common goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). Too often, the call for collaboration is used as a cover for inaction. Successful partnerships should be purpose-driven and have crisp expectations. The industry needs fewer, but more effective, collaborations to drive meaningful change.

One example of this was the announcement of the partnership between Fashion Pact, Apparel Impact Institute, Guidehouse, DBS, H&M Group, Mango, Gap Inc., and BESTSELLER on The Future Supplier Initiative.

The initiative brings brands to jointly fund decarbonization projects in mutual suppliers. The purpose is to minimise borrowing costs for factories, offering technical assistance and creating long-term business relations.

5. Systemic Change and Circular Economy

The concept of circularity was emphasised, with innovative solutions like seaweed-based textiles by Phycolabs and textile-to-textile recycling ventures such as the recent H&M Group and Vargas Holding venture Syre, gaining attention. However, achieving true circularity requires systemic change and substantial investment in new technologies and infrastructures.

6. Performance Beyond Profit

The performance of the fashion industry should not be measured solely by stock market success. As Paul Polman highlighted during his keynote, “True progress involves creating equitable value for all stakeholders, from farmers to factory workers to consumers.” This means investing in sustainable practices that prioritise long-term environmental and social impacts over short-term financial gains.

7. Consumer Education and Engagement

Consumers play a crucial role in the fashion ecosystem. Educating them on sustainable practices, such as textile collection and recycling, can play an important role. By involving consumers in efficiently sorting garments before returning them, take-back programs can streamline their processes. Currently, these programs receive a wide range of garments, including both resellable items and textiles considered as waste. Educating consumers about sorting garments effectively could enhance the efficiency of these initiatives. 

However, relying on consumers to drive the shift to sustainability is insufficient. “I have zero confidence in consumers,” said Peder Michael Anker Jørgensen during a panel discussion reflecting on the results of the past 15 years.

8. Innovative Business Models

The summit highlighted the need for innovative business models that prioritise sustainability. Companies must explore circular business models such as renting, reselling, and repairing products. While these models add complexity, they also offer opportunities for creating sustainable value and driving consumer loyalty. 

Startups such as Wecobi turn overstock into revenue and marketing opportunities while creating consumer loyalty.

Photo: Global Fashion Summits.

The Path Forward

Moving forward, the fashion industry must embrace regenerative leadership and foster collaborations that go beyond mere compliance. There is a pressing need for investment in sustainability and the development of technologies that can facilitate systemic change. The industry must move from a mindset of “less bad” to one of “net positive,” where businesses give more than they take.

How about the fashion?

The fashion showcased at the summit was predominantly characterised by neutral tones such as whites, beige, and blacks, with occasional pops of red, yellow, and blue.

However, it was the creations of indigenous designers like Naomi Glasses in collaboration with Ralph Lauren and Dayan Molina from Brazil that truly made an impression, adding a unique and vibrant touch to the event.

What I missed from the Summit

Thinking back on the Global Fashion Summit, one thing that stood out was the lack of discussion about artificial intelligence (AI) in fashion. Given the summit’s focus on reaching new heights, I expected more talk about how AI could change the game. 

AI isn’t just about automating tasks—it’s a powerful tool that can help pinpoint sustainability issues, manage risks, and spot opportunities. These are all crucial factors in balancing short-term profits with long-term sustainability goals. 

But it’s not all smooth sailing. Introducing AI into an industry that relies heavily on designers, content creators, marketers, and customer service could shake things up. There’s a need to adapt to these changes. By grappling with these challenges and fully embracing AI’s potential, the fashion industry can pave the way for innovation while staying true to its commitment to sustainability.

Additionally, I was particularly surprised by the absence of investors at the summit. Given the pressing importance of directing investment towards a net-zero shift, I hope to see more participation from investors next year.


The Global Fashion Summit 2024 underscored the need for bold leadership, intentional collaboration, and the need for larger investments for systemic change to drive the fashion industry towards a more sustainable future. The journey is challenging, but with the right vision and commitment, the industry can unlock the next level of sustainability and innovation.


By Nina Shariati, Founder and CEO of Circular Transparency