As the Copenhagen Fashion week starts – learn more about this important Danish industry

You may not realise it, but, at some point in your life, you have probably bought clothes from a Danish designed fashion brand. The Danish Fashion industry is a globalised export industry, as no brand can survive based only on a Danish market with a total population of barely 5.8 million.

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By Bente D. Knudsen

Despite being a small country, the Danish Fashion industry is important to the country’s economy. As the fourth largest export industry,when including footwear (think ECCO and Hummel), and the sixth largest without the footwear industry, it is an industry to be reckoned with.

It employs almost 10,000 people in Denmark (within design, sales and marketing), with a further 12,000 employed in the Danish retail trade.

In 2017 the turnover was DKK 45 billion  – of which exports represented almost DKK 29 billion, according to the Danish textile association Dansk Mode & Textil.

It all started in rural Jutland, which up until the 1950s had quite a large textile manufacturing industry.

Increased global competition eventually made manufacturing in Denmark too expensive and the industry was quick to move its clothing production to low cost manufacturing countries.

In the 21st century, manufacturing and sales most often takes place outside of Denmark, however, the industry has kept its offices for sales, marketing, design and administration in-country.

Since the 1990s, a gradual rise in exports has led to the actual position as an important export industry, transforming it from a domestic market based one, to an export market-driven fashion production.

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During the same decade, important mergers and acquisitions has enabled the establishment of three of Denmark’s biggest fashion companies.

The group Bestseller A/S, with brands such as Vero Moda and Jack&Jones, is still by far the largest fashion group, and focuses mainly on mainstream and affordable everyday wear.

The group IC Group was founded after the merger of the Danish companies, In Wear and Carli Gry. Originally based on brands such as In Wear and Matinique, these brands have all been divested.

Instead, contrary to the Bestseller Group, its present focus is much more the premium market segment.

A segment reached through the acquisition of brands such as Tiger of Sweden, By Malene Birger, Peak Performance, and part-ownership of Designers Remix. Of the original brands only Saint Tropez, a so-called fast fashion brand, still remains within the brand portfolio, although it does not fit with IC Group’s present strategic focus.

DK Company is a multi-brand fashion group, who amongst others has taken over brands; InWear and Matinique, and also owns brands such as Fransa, Gestuz, Soaked in Luxury, Karen by Simonsen and B. Young. Their focus is on “value for money and luxury for less”.

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According to Marie Riegels Melchior, from Copenhagen Fashion Institute, Danish fashion is characterised by clothes that should be flexible, not too practical or too fine, too minimalist or too embellished.

It should rather strike a balance, and be suited to the many different situations of modern life, for example; work, café visits, bike rides, at home or out partying.

“This is the case, whatever the brand and that is what makes the Danish fashion industry special,” says Fashion Feature Director at the fashion magazine DANSK, Moussa Mchangama.

He finds that Danish designers are good at designing items made for the modern person who has a life, or more specifically, the kind of life most western people lead, contrary to the expensive luxury fashion focus.

This is the case, whether it is the more commercial brands from Bestseller, IC Companys and DK Company, to the so-called Copenhagen brands; Mads Nørgaard, Custommade, Samsøe & Samsøe, Han Kjøbenhavn, Soulland and Stine Goy.

“All of them focus on wearable items and fashion, which is esthetical and somewhat trendy. However, it does not scream Autumn/Winter XX so loud that you cannot wear it for following Autumn/Winter,”says Moussa Mchangama.

The most important export markets are Denmark’s next-door neighbours. Germany is by far the largest market with exports worth almost DKK 9 billion, almost 2.5 times as much as the second largest market Sweden ( exports worth DKK 3.5 billion).

DKK 1,000 Change 2016 / 2017
1. Germany
8.992.675 +14%

3.568.446 +3%

3. Netherlands
2.638.923 +13%

4. Norway
2.295.880 -1%

5. Great Britain
1.628.697 -1%

1.307.146 +7%

1.211.014 -1%

1.120.249 +12%

9. Italy
1.073.857 +2%

989.601 +1%

Having braced the financial crisis, the industry is ready for more growth. However, according to a recent analysis of the industry by Deloitte, the Danish fashion industry is extremely dependent on access to international exports for growth.

“The industry is well positioned in Germany, the United Kingdom and Southern Europe.

However, it is important that it keeps its focus on being ready to adapt, and looks for new markets, as new trends, as well as the political development, can give large fluctuations in the export.

For instance, it is expected that Brexit will have an important impact on exports to Great Britain,” says Morten Steinmetz, partner at Deloitte.