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News article20 December 2023European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency6 min read

Rewatch the final event of the COSME project S4Fashion to find more about the lessons learnt and recommendations about sustainable practices in fashion

On 6 December 2023, more than 60 people attended the Final Event of the COSME-funded project S4Fashion, titled “Next4Fashion: Unlocking New Sustainable Pathways.

Unlocking New Sustainable Pathways Conference NXT4FASHION; In the framework of S4FASHION, with the collaboration of SMALL BUT PERFECT, Fashion for Change, Circular InnoBooster

The audience included fashion experts, representatives of EU institutions, experts in fashion, sustainability and innovation, policy makers, businesses, academia, and emerging sustainable and circular fashion initiatives and creative hubs.

The event was hosted at MAD, a creative hub that helps creators and entrepreneurs to define a sustainable business model in the early stages of their activity, offering solutions in financing, product development, manufacturing, sales as well as digital awareness and future branding.

Watch the recordings of the event

The event was organised by the S4Fashion consortium with the support of the other three EU COSME projects funded under the same call on circular fashion, namely: Circular Innobooster, Fashion for Change, and Small but Perfect. From 2021 to 2023, these initiatives have been driving sustainable practices in fashion, involving 25 European organisations coming from 15 member states and covering all European regions. The projects provided direct support to about 120 promising sustainable business ideas in fashion industry with high potential for innovation. The ideas came from transnational partnerships where at least one member was an SME, a designer or a start-up. The support included capacity building as well as technical and financial support to enable the scaling-up of innovative applications, products, processes, or ideas for sustainable and circular fashion.

During the event, all the four projects presented their most useful outcomes, top policy recommendations, and the future exploitation of the knowledge gained during the life cycle of their projects.

Highlights of the event

From the European institutions,

The Member of the Parliament, Mrs Eleni Stavrou, highlighted the importance of including human rights when dealing with sustainable and circular fashion.

Mrs Cecilia Nilsson-Bottka, Legal and Policy Officer of the Unit “Tourism, Textiles” of the Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) presented the policy context.

Mrs Ilona Lelonek Husting, Policy Officer of the Unit “Proximity, Social Economy, Creative Industries (DG GROW) elaborated on sustainable fashion support programmes promoted by the European Commission.

Mr Igor Kalinic, Head of Sector “Competitiveness and Internationalisation” of the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA) presented the role of the Agency in supporting these initiatives.

From the projects,

Representatives of the four projects presented the highlights and elaborated on lessons learnt and policy recommendations. Common points highlighted by all coordinators included the importance of creating a community, the essential nature of mentoring and capacity building (business models, investors), the role of local hubs in facilitating peer interaction and potential partnerships, and the need for a transnational network with online resources (toolkits and methodologies, pool of experts) that connects all parties and monitors impact.

Three of the partnerships supported by the S4Fashion project showcased their results, offering insights into the integration of sustainability and circular principles into innovation policies, sectors, and funding schemes within the fashion industry. They shared their entrepreneurial journey, demonstrating their evolution throughout the S4Fashion project over the last three years.

From other organisations, further insights were provided by

Mrs Lisa Lang (EIT Climate kic) and Leida Leida Rijnhout (World Fair Trade Organisation) contributed to the policy dialogue covering existing green policies, gaps, and solutions. The externalities of green policies and their impact on the Global South was also briefly discussed.

Background information

The four projects were selected for funding under the call for proposals “Accelerate and scale up innovation applications for a sustainable and circular fashion industry”. The objective of this call was to enhance the competitiveness and improve the environmental performance of European fashion industry by building capacity and supporting small businesses (SMEs, designers and start-ups) in the sector, to become more sustainable and turn their business model into a more circular one.


The project aimed to empower SMEs to introduce new sustainable and circular economy products, services, methods, tools and business models for the fashion industry. The objective was to identify and amplify the best and up to date practices for a greener fashion sector.

The idea was to mainstream sustainability and circular economy processes in Fashion industry by elaborating a strategy of demonstration, dissemination, and amplification of its impact through an evidence-based approach. This was achieved by providing grants to 25 selected pilots as well as by supporting a much larger number of organizations, thus building a system of “transnational sustainable fashion laboratories”. These fashion laboratories functioned as arenas in which to test methodologies for the introduction and/or the refinement of ideas and business models for sustainability in Fashion Industry and to measure their impacts. These sets of methodologies, tools and evidence were disseminated and amplified through a strategy of continuous dialogue and engagement of different target audiences based on: 1) the demonstration and communication of the pilots’ results; 2) an open and collaborative learning process on sustainability methods and tools; 3) the co-production of new knowledge and guidelines drawn from empirical evidence.

Fashion for Change

The project aimed at providing financial and technical support for the small businesses in the industry, enabling acceleration and scale-up of innovative applications, products, processes, and ideas for sustainable and circular fashion. The project focused on four main objectives:

  • To build a hub of SMEs, designers and start-ups aiming for sustainable fashion, facilitate cross-border/transnational cooperation to foster the transfer of knowledge and best practice on circular fashion, and identify major obstacles for the sector to become more sustainable and circular
  • To develop models to support companies to share knowledge and experiences to become more efficient in terms of resources
  • To organise capacity building and support activities for SMEs, designers, and start-ups in the fashion industry willing to become more sustainable and turn their business model into a circular one by launching a Growth Programme providing technical and financial support and enabling scaling of innovative applications, products, processes, or ideas for sustainable and circular fashion.
  • To maximize the project`s impact by disseminating the results, promoting the hub actors (SMEs, designers, and start-ups), initiatives, innovative ideas to the broader public, fashion industry, investors, and policymakers, and ensuring the sustainability of the activities

Circular Innobooster

The project aimed to transform companies in the fashion and textile industry into sustainable, circular and regenerative ones. It applies a progressive and innovative approach, taking into account a holistic and systemic perspective of the circular economy based on regenerative business design principles, human process designs and community participation models. The aim was to use circularity in its broadest sense, balancing the environmental, social and economic dimensions. The project emphasised interregional cooperation, helping companies in knowledge transfer. Their work also focuses on a diverse range of participants, from freelance professionals to innovative start-ups and SMEs in need of transformation. The goal was to cover the entire value chain from raw material to the final product, including what happens with the materials once their useful life has concluded, closing the circle of the value chain.

To make it work, Circular InnoBooster launched CirCoAX, the circular collaborative and cooperative co-design accelerator. The accelerator provided expert mentors and a business support scheme, including technical and financial support, to help participating partners in the emerging expansion of innovative applications, products, processes, new models, new brand building strategies or sustainable circular fashion and textile concepts.

Small but Perfect

The project sought to ‘accelerate the accelerators’ by working alongside business support organisations, such as fashion weeks, fashion councils, industry bodies such as manufacturing and textile associations, accelerators and incubators, hubs and studio spaces, fashion districts and financing/investment schemes, to embed circularity, social sustainability and environmental sustainability into their business support and showcasing initiatives.

Over its 30-month duration, the project developed a network for SMEs making this transition and organisations that support them, such as business incubators and accelerators, to exchange knowledge, learning and best practices to produce a broader systemic change in the fashion SME sector. A specific policy network will be developed through a series of policy dialogues with the recommendations from them will be published.


Publication date
20 December 2023
European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency