WHY THE GOALS MATTER TO THE FASHION INDUSTRY

Fashion is an integral part of our lives: we engage with it every day simply by wearing clothes. It is one of the most influential industries in the world, found at the intersection of culture, creativity and self-expression.

But below the surface, the garment industry is in fact faced with complex human and environmental issues, which it has struggled to address for years. Now is the time for the fashion industry and its consumers to come together in tackling these systemic challenges that can no longer be ignored.

WHAT’S THE ISSUE?

 

Fashion evolves in a system that’s rooted in deeply unsustainable models of consumption and production at the expense of both people and planet.

Like other sectors with complex supply chains, it suffers from a lack of transparency, which means unethical production practices can easily go unchecked. Poor working conditions, low wages, and limited rights are a reality for millions of garment workers worldwide - 80% of whom are women. 

The fashion industry also has poor environmental track records, from deforestation to soil degradation, water consumption to waste production. But despite efforts to reduce its negative impact, the industry's 2019 carbon output was still equivalent to the footprint of France, Germany, and the UK combined.

Consumer behaviours are also an essential piece of this equation. On average, we were buying 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000 but were only keeping them for half as long. Clothes have become perishable, disposable items. In the US, the average person throws 37kg of clothes away every year and most of it ends up in landfill or incinerated.

The rise of online shopping and social media has fuelled an appetite for novelty, increasing demand worldwide. In fact, clothing production has almost doubled over the past 20 years, worsening the industry's human and environmental impact. 

As consumers, the way we buy, consume and dispose of our clothes has undeniably contributed to shaping how the industry is today.

WHAT IS BEING DONE ABOUT IT?

 

While the industry is gradually shifting with brands and retailers becoming more transparent about their impact, committing to reducing waste and carbon emissions and implementing policies safeguarding workers’ rights across supply chains, the change is not happening fast enough. 

The lack of definition of sustainability in the context of the apparel sector means that the steps taken and the language used to communicate these actions differ from one organisation to the next. How can the whole industry aspire to be sustainable if everyone has different views on what it entails? Fashion faces huge challenges: addressing them will require a shared understanding of what needs to happen and when.

Consumer behaviours are slowly changing too. People are gaining a better understanding of the steps they can take to - if not fix the whole industry - at least avoid adding to the problem. 

But the lack of clarity around sustainability also limits people' ability to engage with it. ‘Ethically sourced’, ‘eco-friendly’, 'responsible', each word carrying its own meaning. Brands can be inconsistent in how they communicate, and without an accessible, common language, differentiating buzzwords from meaningful claims can be pretty daunting. Getting your head around sustainability is already hard enough! 

Industry and consumers must work together to address this. But if we are to move in the right direction, we must use the same roadmap and speak the same language.

 

CAN THE GLOBAL GOALS HELP?

 

The good news is, we already have a plan. And a great one: the Global Goals. The plan to help us tackle poverty and injustice and guide us through the challenges posed by the climate crisis. The Goals are the answer to the challenges we face as individuals, communities, organisations, countries.

Fashion has a lot to learn from the Goals. It also has a huge role to play in achieving them: from biodiversity to decent work, from gender equality to innovation, fashion is one of the few industries that intersect with all 17 Goals. Unfortunately, it is also one of the least active in adopting them! 

We believe the Goals have the power to be a guiding force for fashion. On the one hand, they are a sustainability reference framework, a roadmap to help the industry navigate current challenges and set a clear path to 2030. On the other hand, they are a communication tool that untangles the world's most complex issues. Simply put, the Global Goals make sustainability accessible. Using them more widely would help and empower people to be more socially and environmentally conscious in their daily lives.

 

WHAT NEXT?

 

Building on Business Avengers, we are now announcing Fashion Avengers: a Global Goals campaign of leading industry forces coming together to inspire and accelerate positive change.

The Fashion Avengers are a group of disruptors, innovators, and team-players, reflecting the industry's many facets. Brands, creatives, retailers, models, media and digital platforms. The campaign brings together those who understand why fashion must change, and how the Goals can help them get there. Those committed to make sustainability the norm, not just a trend.

Soft-launched in January 2021, Fashion Avengers will be formally presented later this year. Email sarah@project-everyone.org for more information about the Fashion Avengers or check out our social media channels to be kept up-to-date with our campaigns and projects.

Featured image by Jorge Brantmayer