The United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion will be officially launched March 14, during a media event of the 4th U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.
While different U.N. institutions have tried to encompass fashion in various sustainability initiatives, this will mark a more comprehensive approach to address all aspects of a sustainable fashion industry. Just as consumers have learned about the environmental farm-to-table choices, sustainability supporters are hopeful that greater awareness about the need for sustainable fashion will lead to changing the consumption and production habits.
The Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is comprised of U.N. and specialized agencies, including Connect4Climate-The World Bank Group, Ethical Fashion Initiative-International Trade Centre, FAO, ILO, U.N. Climate Change (UNFCCC), UNECE, U.N. Environment, U.N. Global Compact, U.N. Office for Partnerships and other groups, according to Michael Stanley-Jones, the co-secretary of the new alliance. The objective is to “coordinate the U.N. system’s response to the challenges that the textiles, fashion and accessories sectors face in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he said.
Stanley-Jones said, “Fashion is cross-cutting, so to capture the opportunity that fashion presents, the U.N. and its partners need an integrated approach that cuts across individual Sustainable Development Goals to realize the multiple benefits offered by the 2030 Agenda…Fashion demands a comprehensive, integrated approach, one that stretches our understanding of joint action by producers, consumers and governments. Fashion is sustainable development’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity.”
In advance of the U.N.’s Economic Commission’s “Fashion and the SDGs: What Role for the U.N.?” forum last year in Geneva, organizers noted how the $2.5 trillion industry is the second highest user of water worldwide, generating 20 percent of global water waste. The production of one shirt requires 2,700 liters, which is comparable to the amount a person drinks in 30 months. In addition to the environmental impact, the fashion industry is linked to labor, gender and poverty issues, which are also outlined in the SDGs. The U.N noted how one in six people in the world work in fashion-related jobs, with women comprising 80 percent of the labor force throughout the supply chain.
“Everyone wears clothes, everyone wants to look and feel good, and everyone wants a healthy environment in which they and future generations can thrive.” Stanley-Jones said. “The U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is committed to making this a future that leaves no one behind.”
Engaging with stakeholders on an ad hoc basis, the Alliance is in contact with a wide range of stakeholders, including African Fashion Fund (Ghana), Commonwealth Fashion Council (U.K.), Conscious Fashion (Kenya), Ellen MacArthur Foundation (U.K.), Fashion for Conservation (U.S.), Lakmé Fashion Week (India), Neonyt (Germany), Sustainable Apparel Coalition (U.S. and the Netherlands), Stanley-Jones said.
Having been cooperating with the office of the U.N. Secretary General for the past nine years, Fashion 4 Development will be involved with the launch in Nairobi in March, said F4D founder Evie Evangelou. She said her group will be working with U.N. partnerships to make this a successful alliance with our expertise and patronage to the U.N. for the past nine years.
In addition, another event is being planned to drum up interest in sustainable fashion initiatives at the U.N. in New York, Evangelou said.
F4D Solutions’ managing director Jeanine Ballone said, “No one has really gotten a clear voice about how to move forward with sustainability, environmental and social causes. That means not just apparel but home furnishings, accessories, beauty, hair and a whole spectrum of things. It’s not only about what’s going on with the supply chain but also how do we bring people together as a whole coalition to decide on objectives, benchmarks and things like that?”
She said, “You have so many splinter groups — the Sustainability Coalition, Fashion for Good and all these other people. Everyone is kind of doing their own thing. That’s what we were discussing with the U.N. How do we start bringing collective ideas together?”
The U.N. Environment and International Trade Center are serving as the Alliance’s co-secretariat. During the U.N. Environment Assembly from March 11 to 15, the aim will be “to raise the profile of recent achievements by Alliance members such as the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action released by UNFCCC last month, and to galvanize Member State support for creating a robust multistakeholder strategy to address comprehensively the fashion agenda for sustainable development.” Stanley-Jones said.
Karen Newman, a public and private consultant who has worked at the U.N., said, “Obviously, this is a pretty clear signal that everybody needs to start working collaboratively on the 2030 Agenda. For member states, they can also focus on finding a strategy to work with this sector as a whole. It is an industry that has kind of been neglected yet it touches upon all of the SDGs — certainly women in the supply chain, water, transport, improving livelihoods.”
She continued, “I think it will allow for greater standards and to help transform this complex industry. It’s happened — it’s just been happening in silos. Now all of the agencies are getting together and are sharing what they’re working on. There’s also been a great push from other actors and stakeholders that are also working on the issues.”