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Today anyone can be a fashion trendsetter and consumers are increasingly conscious of their choices. But buying from big high street brands doesn't always mean sacrificing on sustainability The so called "fast fashion" industry is sometimes perceived as solely responsible for inherently unsustainable working conditions in low wage textile manufacturing countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. At the Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit on 24th April, a heated panel discussion was held about luxury brands versus high street brands, or as some people like to call them, "fast fashion" brands. On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, who is to blame? Firstly, let's look at the term "fast fashion". Wikipedia says it's "a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly in order to capture current fashion trends. Trends are designed and manufactured quickly and cheaply to allow the mainstream consumer to take advantage of current clothing styles at a lower price." It's evident that the term "fast fashion" is no longer contemporary as changes have taken place in the fashion industry since the above was true. These days, high street brands like H&M and Topshop present their seasonal collections during Fashion week, at the same time as the luxury brands, giving them no time at all to "copy" the catwalk as they are part of it themselves. And everyone in the fashion industry knows that luxury brands and high street brands more than occasionally use the same suppliers. Factory workers are paid the same salary to produce luxury goods as so-called "fast fashion", and under the same conditions. And H&M's designer collaborations, produced by the company's regular suppliers, prove that the cost of producing high-end designer collections needn't be high. The reason big brands like H&M have reasonable prices are their large orders, clever logistics from years of experience and development, and the fact that H&M fashion is sold without middlemen and in H&M's own stores. Generally, seasonal trends are less important today than a decade ago. An unlimited online information flow makes anyone a fashion expert, as opposed to the past when only a lucky few had access to fashion shows. Consequently, fashion today is more about individual style. It's about how you interpret fashion news and information and how you make it work for you. This gives clothes and trends longevity. It's a liberating and creative era in the history of fashion. Today consumers have access to fashion news the same way fashion media and buyers have, and great fashion is available at affordable prices so people can build the wardrobe they want. Fashion has become democratic. But doesn't fashion democracy mean disposable fashion - clothes so cheap that you over-consume? The fact is, most people can't afford to buy high-end designer brands. A coat or dress at €2000 is simply not an option for most fashion lovers, regardless of the garment's beauty, quality or fit. And the quality isn't necessarily that much better - if at all. Today's fashion consumer is well-informed, with a growing awareness of sustainability. They want to know how, where and by whom products are produced. And why pay 10 times the price if you don't need to? Very few fashionistas are snobbish about brands anymore. It's considered smart to get a good deal and even smarter to look stylish for less. Styling and creativity is key, and you hold on to your fashion finds so you can wear them over and over again, with different accessories and in different combinations. When you no longer want a piece you hand it in to the Red Cross or to H&M to be recycled. H&M's global garment collecting initiative, with collecting boxes in all H&M stores around the world for customers to hand in their unwanted clothes, has been a great success. Customers can hand in any item of any brand, in any condition, in return for a discount voucher. Marking the first anniversary of the program, a small collection of denim garments partly made from cotton recycled from the company's own garment collecting initiative was launched - closing the loop in fashion. Another initiative is H&M's fair living wage strategy, where the company collaborates with factory owners, factory workers, governments and other brands to secure a living wage for workers in the fashion industry. The fashion giant has committed to improving buying routines by for example, placing orders at low peak production periods to avoid factory workers' working overtime. In fact, H&M's production time – from concept to merchandising – is at least a year. With a number of concepts for women, men, children and baby as well as cosmetics and home concepts, H&M is like a shop within shop with many different brands catering for a diverse clientele. Some of the most trend sensitive concepts divide their collections into fashion basics, current fashion and experimental trends. Trend sensitive styles are ordered in limited quantities to test the market, and if they become a hit production capacity is prepared to repeat orders. Then production is very fast, but only when repeating orders. Today's big brands can be compared to yesterday's department stores. The only difference is that all collections carry the same label, and are released throughout the seasons; spring, high summer, autumn and winter holiday, rather than just four times a year. Retailers have learnt that customers want news in-store and with an increasing focus on web shopping the importance of engaging with customers through inspiring communication is important. Luxury brands should be celebrated and supported because they keep the dream of fashion alive. And those that still focus on superior quality and craftmanship are the backbone of tradition. But creativity is everywhere today, and anyone can become a fashion icon. Only a few fashion players dare to look at the future of fashion, however, because the only way to get there is through social and environmental sustainability work and that requires commitment throughout an entire organization. It also requires investment that may not pay off for many years to come. Here some high street brands are at the forefront whereas many luxury brands remain oblivious or simply don't have the resources. Today we expect the products we want to be available and affordable. We just need to be smarter, produce and consume sustainably. And we need to collaborate, at all levels of the industry. This means we have nothing to gain in even comparing or debating about the luxury industry against the high street brands. Because we're all in it together.