UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the Fashion Industry

Fashion is not a sector that exists by itself. The fact is that the fashion industry is not unlike any other key economic drivers; it is a key component of a global economy and certainly an important sector.

On 25 September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a ‘plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity’. The agenda includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDG’s) for 169 targets, which should inspire action at the national, regional, and international level over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the Earth. Goals span from ending poverty to ensuring healthy lives, achieving gender equality, promoting sustainable economic growth and decent work, reducing inequalities, and taking action to combat climate change.

17 sustainable development goals



Why Fashion?

Considering that the fashion industry is one of the largest employers in the world, especially of women, with some estimates that women make up roughly 80% of the supply chain, it makes sense that fashion and apparel are involved in not only sustainability discussion– but development- where the sector is a powerful driver of job creation.

And not for nothing, fashion is a $2.5 trillion-dollar industry and considered a top user of natural resources and polluter of the communities in which it operates. It’s not surprising then that fashion as an industry is now having a moment, especially in the sustainability dialogue.


Fashion and the UN

Looking ahead, the United Nations is increasingly interested in engaging new and dynamic sectors to play a part in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Changing the production and consumption patterns of the fashion industry would have a domino effect on many aspects of development and provide a visible and meaningful contribution to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The fashion industry in particular offers two entry points for action: top down (as governments and business corporations have the power to foster change), and bottom up – as we as consumers do have a choice to make when buying a garment and can therefore influence the production and market.

However, to make a real change both approaches need to be combined, and at the moment government- and business-led initiatives to make the sector more sustainable are scattered, unco-ordinated, and often address only one side of the problem. Similarly, the market of sustainable fashion is limited to small businesses, is not well-marketed and remains mostly unknown.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development thus offers a unique opportunity to bring sustainable fashion to the forefront of the international debate and to demonstrate the contribution it could make to the achievement of many of the sustainable development goals.


Brands missing out on £820bn opportunity by not pushing sustainability

New research from Unilever shows a third of consumers want to buy sustainable products and would purchase more if their benefits were made clearer.

The FMCG giant questioned 20,000 adults across five countries about how sustainability impacts their purchasing choices. It then backed up their claims using information on real purchasing decisions.

It found that 33% buy a product because they believe it is doing social or environmental good. Plus one in five say they would choose a brand if its sustainability credentials were made clearer on packaging or in marketing. That equates to a €966bn (£817bn) untapped opportunity, according to Unilever, given that the size of the marketing for sustainable goods is €2.5tr (£2.1tr).

The research backs up previous claims from Unilever that sustainability is becoming an increasingly important part of consumers’ purchasing decision. Chief communications and marketing officer Keith Weed has previously admitted there is a “say-do gap” but the survey suggests this is closing.

And separate research from Harvard Business Review and Ernst and Young showed that companies with a strong sense of purpose are able to transform and innovate better, while it also helps to improve employee satisfaction.

Brand must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.

Despite the findings, the trend for purpose-led purchasing is greater among consumers in emerging markets rather than those in developed. Some 53% of shoppers in the UK and US said they feel better when they buy sustainable products, compared to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.

There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly consumers in emerging markets are more likely to be exposed to the negative impacts of unsustainable business practices such as poor air quality or water shortages. And secondly there is more societal pressure to buy sustainable products in emerging markets than there is in the UK and US.

Weed says: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, the very opposite is true. To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.

“They must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.”

Marketingweek 01/2017

ASOS, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co, Marks & Spencer set 2025 deadline to source 100% sustainable cotton

More than a dozen of the world’s biggest clothing and textile companies have signed a pledge to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 in a deal brokered by the Prince of Wales.

The pledge is supported by the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit and aims to reduce the environmental and social impacts of cotton farming.

Organic Cotton farmers before ginning

Chetna Organics

All 13 brands must publish information by 2018 on their progress toward reaching their target.

The global cotton market is currently valued at £12 billion, according to Soil Association.

Aiming to reduce social and environmental implications of cotton farming will produce a whole plethora of benefits.

Collaboration across the sector is needed to bring about transformative change, said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer at Kering: “Working together with other companies who are also committed to using 100% sustainable cotton will help create a strong market signal to improve the methods for cotton cultivation and contribute to reducing the overall impact of the sector.”


Sustainability: The New Age

Consumer demands for sustainability are also having a transformative effect on the demand for natural resources. Today, green concerns have an impact on the purchasing decisions of almost all consumers.

Given that the supply, demand and price of natural resources are at the core of business, natural resources and material risks pose a threat for all companies in all sectors.

Environmental concerns

Environmental concerns contribute to the demand for some materials at the expense of others. A prime example is the changing energy mix, with coal in decline at the expense of renewables and natural gas.

Similarly, the increased pressure to replace the use of toxic materials such as lead in batteries with lithium drives demand for specific niche materials. From 2010 to 2015, lithium production increased by 30% globally.

There is also an increasing emphasis on recycling and pressure for manufacturers and retailers to use less packaging.  The introduction of a five pence charge for single-use plastic carrier bags in the UK is one example. In 2012, the government estimates that over seven billion single-use plastic bags were given out by supermarkets alone in the UK. Since the change in legislation, some retailers are claiming decreases of up to 80% in the number of bags used.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2016 report, identifies natural resources at the top of the agenda. Four of the five risks of highest concern for the next 10 years, identified by 750 members of the World Economic Forum’s global multi-stakeholder community, are related to natural resources and sustainability. Water crises top the list, with 40% of respondents identifying them as amongst the top five risks for the next 10 years.

The Top Five Global Risks of Highest Concern for the Next 10 Years

The Top Five Global Risks of Highest Concern for the Next 10 Years

Source: Global Risks Perception Survey 2015, World Economic Forum.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The supply and demand of natural resources give rise to a range of business risks:

Operational risks

Companies may struggle to secure supplies of key inputs and this could disrupt production. In addition, flow-on effects from natural disasters or climate change can resonate around the world and affect supplies of raw materials. Difficulties around managing high or volatile commodity prices also fall into this category.

Reputational risks

The public perception of a brand or a company as a whole can be damaged if the business is exposed as using unsustainable sources of materials or damaging ecosystems or habitats. For instance, a company consuming large amounts of water in a water-stressed locale runs the risk of bad publicity.

Regulatory risks

Governments may legislate to protect supplies of critical materials or prohibit the use of environmentally damaging resources—for instance, the European Union has specific directives on recycling, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive that sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods.

Market risks

Market risks can include changes in consumer trends and demands. Consumers may switch to a competitor’s more efficient or more sustainable products and services as a result of increasing awareness and interest in environmental matters. For instance, consumer demands for sustainable sources of palm oil have forced many food and drink manufacturers to switch to sustainable sources or alternatives to palm oil.

These risks combine to create the new normal for companies, which must act to secure their supplies of key natural resources whilst also accommodating the increased demand for sustainable practices from government and consumers alike.

How can companies manage these risks?

Companies should conduct thorough studies of their reliance on key raw materials, constantly reviewing and updating plans and processes.

The simplest way for businesses to manage the risk is to make the most efficient use of their critical resources. Recycling and substitution offer additional ways for companies to manage their supply of raw materials.

At the more extreme end of the range of options available is a complete or partial change of business models to incorporate ideas such as retaining ownership of products and leasing them to clients and customers or introducing take-back and re-manufacturing schemes and switching to sustainable raw materials.

Euromonitor, Sustainability and the New Normal for Natural Resources, 2016
McKinsey & Company, Sustainability & Resource Productivity, 2014


Global Consumer Trend: “Good-For-Me”

Green concerns centre on self and family

Concerns about climate change are widespread among global consumers, particularly those in regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia where environmental shifts are already noticeable. However, when money enters the equation, consumer concerns and willingness to pay move from a global view to one much closer to home.

Survey results confirm that consumers are more likely to be willing to pay for “good-for-me” product features that have a perceived tangible benefit to personal health and wellness, such as organic or non-GMO. While recyclable and eco-friendly product features may boost the buyer’s feeling that they are doing something to help the environment, there is not such great willingness to pay extra for those environmentally-focused features. Understanding that not all green features are the same in the eyes of consumers is crucial for any brand or company offering products in this space. By highlighting direct, personal benefits, companies can entice shoppers to pay a value-added premium for certain green products, particularly foods.

Environmental Concerns and Willingness to Pay for Green Features. Euromonitor 2016

Organic Cotton Market is Growing Year after Year

Soil Association Certified Organic Textiles From clothing to personal care, and cotton to wool, sales for organic textiles continue to grow. This year, the Soil Association Certification licensees increased sales by 16%.

The organic cotton market is growing. Latest figures from Textile Exchange show a 67% growth in the global market which is worth US $15.7 billion globally. We expect growth in organic cotton towels, mattresses and homeware items as more hotels and spas brand themselves as organic. There’s also greater global awareness of the need to have more available good quality organic cotton seeds.

Organic fashion ranges are becoming more available. As well as price, lack of availability of organic fashion has stopped the market growing in the past. But this is changing. People Tree is available in selected John Lewis stores and Frugi now has ranges available in department stores and online. Seasalt, a Cornwall-based women’s fashion company, is also in John Lewis and has a growing number of high street shops.

Sales of organic baby clothes are booming. New parents have a strong tendency to opt for organic for their babies and toddlers. This is true for sales of food, beauty and, increasingly, in textiles. Parents feel that organic cotton that hasn’t been subjected to as many harsh chemicals and pesticides is a better choice for their little ones.

Campaigns and brands are raising awareness of sustainable fashion. Fashion Revolution Day is an annual campaign which brings organisations from different parts of the supply chain together to raise awareness of ethical fashion and those that are not so ethical. It was launched following the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013.

Soil Association, Organic Market Report,  2016


Textile Alliance Shows Progress

The alliance is getting close to deciding on producing clothes without any toxic substances.

The members chose to take over the regulations from Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC). The list of MRSL thus also of the alliance are above the legal regulations REACH.

A big step forward shows the alliance in its progress of going international. Discussions are ongoing for example with producers from Bangladesh to reduce overtime and to make work places a safer place.  The agreed goal of the alliance is to pay living wages. At this stage the standards are set and the ILO is in conversation with the alliance to help finalizing the standards.

Update German Textile Alliance Assistant secretary Dr. Bernhard Felmberg

Textile Alliance Assistant Secretary Dr. Bernhard Felmberg speaking at Ethical Fashion Show

Sustainable Fashion Show Berlin celebrates its 10th edition

ethical fashion show

This week Berlin showcased many national and international fashion brands. Part of the Berlin fashion week was the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin celebrating its 10th anniversary.

With 168 brands, 30 nations from Europe, Asia, Africa and America the show was bigger than ever before.

Conventional retailers are showing more and more interest the organizers were noting.

Austrian conventional retailer Herman Strobel said that last season was the first time that they have ordered from organic and fairtrade fashion brands, finishing with the comment that these styles have sold out in just a fews weeks time.

Tchibo mentioned that their sales were consistant after introducing organic cotton ranges to their customers.

Global Lifestyle Monitor UK: Seeking Sustainable Apparel

About 1 in 4 UK consumers actually seek out sustainable clothing for themselves.
The main sustainability concerns are animal and plant extinction, child labor, depletion of natural resources and the growth of our population.
If a product is not sustainable nearly 3 in 4 UK consumers would blame the industry for producing clothing in a non-sustainable manner.
Brands interested in touting their sustainable advancements may also want to tout their commitment to cotton, the fiber that is viewed by about 2 in 3 UK shoppers as being the most trustworthy, comfortable, reliable, and sustainable.



Contact us for sourcing sustainable apparel.



The survey result from April 2016 was done by the Council International and Cotton Incorporated’s Global Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a biennial consumer research study. In the 2016 survey, approximately 10,000 consumers (i.e., 1,000 consumers in 10 countries) were surveyed.

Trust in “Green” Labels is Growing

Stricter regulation of labelling products led to a jump in trusting green products.

However consumers remain ambivalent towards ethical and environmental language and claims.

To overcome consumer confusion, marketers may need to invest in educational campaigns or public service announcements aimed at clarifying vague terminology and bolstering trust.

Such efforts should also address the personal benefits of natural and organic products as consumers are most likely to pay more for features they believe will improve their own wellbeing or that of their family.

Certifications lead by indepentent bodies may also boost consumer trust.


Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016: ‘responsible innovation’

Copenhagen Fashion Summit

To overcome major sustainability challenges which face us all the Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2016 asked for new solutions and new business models.

“The main summit was preceded by several days of satellite meetings and discussions by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Youth Fashion Summit and Planet Textiles — making Copenhagen, at least for a few days, the epicentre for everyone and anyone in the fashion industry who is seriously thinking about our environment, the planet and the people who make our clothes” says Business of Fashion (BOF.

Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of BOF also mentions that “integrating the event with royal, Danish government and European Union involvement means one also needs to respect certain protocols which, while a necessary part of the proceedings, slowed down the early momentum of the day with a series of repetitive speeches. Rather than focusing on actions and solutions, these trotted out similar facts and figures, most of which were already well-known to this audience of sustainability experts who were hankering for more concrete actions and debates. “ (BOF)

New innovations were quoted by WWD from Nike and Patagonia.  Hannah Jones, Nike Inc. chief sustainability officer and vice president  cited the example of Nike Flyknit. “The traditional way to make shoes has been to cut and sew. As you can imagine, cutting all of those pieces creates wasted material. Nike Flyknit disrupts this tradition in a radical way. With Flyknit, we knit the shoe’s upper out of individual strands of yarn. As a result, this technology produces 60 percent less waste than traditional cut-and-sew. It has saved 3.5 million pounds of waste since its launch in 2012,” she said, noting that Flyknit is now a billion-dollar business. “We can make money with sustainability,” she asserted.

She also stressed the urge to converge toward a single code of conduct, common monitoring protocols and auditing standards for the industry, in order “to have a real chance to change the industry at an accelerated pace.”

Rick Ridgeway, vice president of engagement at Patagonia, whom Amber Valletta, the summit cohost, introduced as “the real Indiana Jones,” said Patagonia came up with a very high-performance wetsuit made with natural rubber, replacing Neoprene. “It’s as performant as neoprene, or more. For extreme sports, having the highest-performance materials possible is a matter of life or death,” he noted.

During the three days in the run-up to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit the Youth Fashion Summit brought more than 100 students from more than 40 nations who had participated to made their pleas on stage for a brighter future for the fashion industry. Each demand integrated some of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals adopted in 2015 at COP 21 into the fashion industry (…).

Youth Fashion Summit:

With +1,200 participants the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is on of the world’s largest event on sustainability in fashion. It is a nonprofit event organised by Danish Fashion Institute on behalf of Nordic Fashion Association.

The Summit was first held in 2009 during the UN Climate Change Conference – COP15 – in Copenhagen, and again in spring 2012 and 2014.

Slow Fashion is Growing

30% of the German consumers bought at least one sustainable apparel within the last 12 months.

„Slow Fashion Monitor 2016“:  the market research institute Dr. Grieger & Cie questioned German consumers about their buying behaviour and brand awareness for sustainable fashion.

Almost two third of the 1019 interviewees emphasised on sustainably produced apparels. The environmental aspect accounted for 42.6%.

While sustainble production is valued as important the price was only important for 29.8% of the interviewees. 

The buying decision drivers are quality, price and the material. If a tshirt fulfills all sustainability and quality criterias customers in Baden-Württemberg would pay an average of 28.11 Euro.

Brand awareness accounts for only 15.8%. The most popular brands are Waschbär (25,3%), Grüne Erde (24,3%) and Hess Natur (21,9%).