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.
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.