5 Things We Learned at the UN Briefing for Sustainable Fashion
It must have been the most fashionable security line that the United Nations had ever seen. We joined 700 other guests to sit in on the United Nations Department of Public Information’s NGO briefing titled “Fashion and Sustainability: Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good- Using Fashion as a Vehicle of Change” on Thursday, November 16 in New York City.
“This is the best looking crowd I think this room has ever had,” joked Maher Nasser, director of the outreach division in the UN Department of Public Information. Panelists included Patrick Duffy, founder of Global Fashion Exchange; Andrea Reyes, fair trade advocate, educator and business owner; Shivam Punjya, founder and CEO of behno; Amanda Carr, international environmental consultant and lead on the “CanopyStyle Initiative” for Canopy Planet; Ashia Dearwester, chief strategy & partnerships officer for Nest; and Lilian Liu, manager of partnerships & UN relations at the United Nations Global Compact.
The UN understands that remedying the fashion industry is integral to achieving the sustainable development goals developed in 2012 to address the critical social issues of our time. The fashion industry is powerful: one out of every six people in the world work in the global fashion chain. Many of these fashion workers are unseen and unrepresented as a part of a growing “informal” economy, working as subcontractors out of their own homes for significant fashion producers. They lack living wages, healthcare and appropriate safety standards. There are children embedded in this chaotic system that brings fashion into the consumer's hands faster and cheaper than ever before in history.
The sustainable development goals not only seek to address injustices that directly affect human rights but also are established to champion the planet’s natural resources. At the current state, the fashion industry uses extensive water resources, harmful chemicals that are often not disposed of properly and produces green gases that affect us all.
“The key to a solution is collaboration,” said Ashia of NEST. “Collaboration is key to transparency.” She emphasized the critical need to work together, both customers and manufacturers, on a better supply chain and not fear what is hidden. “Everything has been swept under the rug for so long, so when we lift it, it’s going to be dirty. We must commit to cleaning it together if we want to change.”
After an enthralling conversation, mostly about the incredible work each panelist is performing in their respective space to rectify these harms, we broke it down to five key takeaways on how you can do fashion better:
Join a Fashion-Forward Community
The force is better in numbers. “When you think you are alone in this, I promise you, you are not,” said Andrea Reyes, who also leads the New York City Fair Trade Coalition. By joining a fashion community that shares your values, one can learn new ways to work together.
We know it is easiest to jump into the nearest Zara and grab a dress for your date tonight. We often struggle ourselves with the convenience of it all. The best steps are to take accountability for your actions and “wear your values” as much as possible. Plan ahead. Limit or end your support of brands that are not transparent or do not support your values, whatever that may be for you. Ultimately, the change begins in your closet.
Ask more Questions and Demand Answers
Brands want a seat at the table if these issues affect their bottom line. Write a letter or kindly worded email with support or dismissal of their actions. Provide suggestions and constructive feedback. Ask where your clothes are made or how to care for your clothes properly, so they don’t harm the environment in their life cycle. Send high-fives to the brands that are doing it better or making small changes in modern fashion. They will notice.
Support the Businesses You Believe In
We have all heard it- vote with your dollar. Send your cash to the brands who have your values in mind- ones who are considering the environmental and human impact of their clothes without sacrificing style.
Spread the Word
After you walk the walk, talk the talk. Your friends will listen, and eventually, take a moment to wonder about their own habits. Post on social media. Share this post. Spread good vibes and good style.
Surprising Facts from the United Nations DPI NGO Briefing on Sustainable Fashion:
83% of our drinking water is contaminated with synthetic fibers from washing clothes
60% of the fashion industry is outsourced in small workshops and homes outside of the formal factory setting
By 2030, there will be 8.5 billion people on the planet in need of clothing
120 million trees each year disappear to fashion- natural fibers sourced from trees are viscose, rayon, modal, lyocell, and Tencel- some are more sustainably sourced than others.