My torrid affair with fashion has spanned years, 25 years to be exact. In college, I wrote a monthly fashion column – it was pretty much the low down on the latest trends and my take on the latest fashion shows; London Fashion Week was my jam. I shopped at ASOS and Zara weekly. It was a dream, one involving faux fur, sunglasses and many, many pairs of heels. It was a nightmare masquerading as a daydream. I woke up from that nightmare when I decided to investigate this jarring claim: “your beloved Zara clothes were made in sweatshops.” To my horror, I discovered a myriad of ethics and environmental violations that I was complicit in as a consumer of fast fashion. Once I learned where my favorite ruffled dress came from, I began to question where it went after it was no longer in season. I knew I was a part of the problem, and I was determined to “fix” the fashion industry.
In my undergraduate studies, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies, assisted the theater department as assistant costume designer, and authored my fashion column and now defunct style blog. I merged my academic background with my unquenchable thirst for all things fashion by pursuing my Master of Global Affairs degree with a focus on sustainable and ethical fashion. My master’s thesis was titled “Corporate Social Responsibility For A More Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Brand.”
My favorite fashion icebreaker is the following set of questions designed by me to sink my teeth into unsuspecting fashion consumer’s attention:
- Do you wear clothes?
- How much did your clothes cost?
- Who made your clothes? How much were the people who made your clothes paid?
- What will you do with the clothes you are wearing today next year? If you donate your clothes, where do they go?
- What happens when your clothes eventually make their way to the landfill?
The fashion industry is a global industry. Everyone who wears clothing is an actor in the sector. According to the World Bank, 10% of all carbon emission is from the fashion industry. The fashion industry poses global environmental and societal risk, thus making fashion an issue of international security. In this series, I will explore fashion that is sustainable and ethical on both the community and global level.
In my two years of research, I have applied the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to all the information I gathered on the sustainability and ethics of fashion. The United Nations SDGs are 17 goals outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Program: “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are an urgent call for action by all countries—developed and developing—in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth—all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
This series will reference four SDGs outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Partnerships Platform, SDG action #28041, SDGs For Better Fashion: quality education, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, responsible consumption and production, and climate change.The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals For Better Fashion are my personal guiding posts for navigating the fashion industry as an actor in both a personal and professional capacity.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 is quality education. SDG 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. SDG 4 is a core component of the fashion industry because it has a direct correlation with the societal impact of fashion and how the industry will move forward in terms of production and design.
Gender equity in education is a key focus for SDG 4, as women generally bear the brunt of garment production and are typically not encouraged to have technical or vocational skills. Providing educational opportunities for women and minority communities, including technical skills and craftsmanship, will give these communities opportunities to have higher-paying jobs and leadership roles for which special skills are required. Gap, a multinational corporation which owns many other fashion retailers, exemplifies its commitment to SDG 4 through its P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program. The program gives women foundational life skills, technical training, and support they need to advance in the workplace. Gap reported a 4.7% promotion rate for P.A.C.E. trained women compared to 1% among their peers, according to a sample set of 90 facilities. Programs such as P.A.C.E offer women opportunities which will have a chain effect of positive growth for society.
Quality education in the fashion industry would also ensure that designers and product development teams in the industry are informed on sustainable design and production.
SDG 4 does not just apply to core actors of the fashion industry. Consumers are also actors in the fashion industry and must also have access to quality education on the ramifications of their decisions as a consumer of fashion, consumer education is critical because without knowledge of sustainability, consumers lack the ability to make educated decisions when playing their roles in the fashion industry. Kering, a global luxury group based in France manages the development of a series of renowned houses in fashion, leather goods, jewelry, and watches: Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Brioni, Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo, Qeelin, Ulysse Nardin, Girard-Perregaux, and Kering Eyewear. In 2018, Kering and London College of Fashion launched fashion and sustainability open-access online courses in efforts to educate and empower consumers. The online courses combined videos, podcasts, exercises, and discussions. The courses cater to professionals, students and the general public interested in promoting sustainable practices. I am currently enrolled in the course, “Fashion and Sustainability” by Kering and the London College of Fashion. Educating designers, product development teams, and consumers evens out the sustainable fashion playing field, everyone is educated about sustainability and can be held responsible for their contribution to the fashion industry.
Kering’s “collaborate” pillar also aligns with SDG 4. The pillar requires education via sharing knowledge and training. In 2017, Kering created a supplier-training platform, which upholds Kering’s leadership standards, and shares best practices. Kering is a partner of the National Association for the Development of Arts and Fashion (ANDAM) Fashion Award. Every year Kering hires graduates of Parsons BFA Fashion Design Program, selected through the Kering and Parsons Empowering Imagination competition. Kering’s engagement with students and educating the general public about sustainability is a positive impact on society because it offers quality education for all actors in the fashion industry.
Through my research I have developed a series of recommendations to exemplify SDG 4 in regards to sustainable and ethical fashion.
Educating textile farmers and garment workers is imperative and the first step to building a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry. By ensuring farmers are provided with quality education about the negative health and economic implications of the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms seeds to farm textiles, and the environmental harm farming practices can have, textile farmers are more likely to seek out sustainable farming alternatives such as regenerative farming practices. Educating garment workers about sustainability and ethics and their rights as core actors in the fashion industry is also imperative, so that the people whom without the industry cannot function are safe, protected, and paid fairly.
Fashion students must also be educated about sustainable practices, sustainable design methods,sustainable textiles, and innovation in the fashion industry. Informing our next generation of creators will create lasting change in the industry and move it towards more sustainable practices
Brands can also educate other brands by sharing the progress they have made and the tools and best practices they have employed. This will educate other brands about sustainability and ethics practices and make it easier for the industry to grow and learn.
Finally, the biggest actor in the fashion industry, the consumer, must be educated to the highest degree about their consumption and the permanent effects of their purchase power. Everyone who wears clothing is an actor in the fashion industry, everyone who wears clothes should know where their clothes came from, how much the garment workers were paid and should know where their clothing will go once their “done” with them.
And that folks, is SDG 4 For Better Fashion.
Hawa is a sustainable and ethical fashion consultant, and a member of Seeds Platform as a leader. When Hawa is not talking about fashion, she is either thinking about fashion or devouring romance novels.
Find Hawa at:
Seeds Platform https://seedsplatform.com/getMember/367