The Sustainable Fashion Agenda & the SDG’s w/ Conscious Fashion Campaign

Sustainable literacy is extremely important for us to have impactful conversations and ultimately enable us to take action, so having a common language like the SDG’s is a great place to start. Kerry Bannigan, founder of Conscious Fashion Campaign, is always motivating us to create SDG impact driven initiatives and we luckily had the chance to ask Kerry a few questions about her work and insights into how sustainability impacts fashion across different countries, size of brands, and price of products.

Hi Kerry! Would you like to introduce yourself and the work of the CFC?

I am a British social entrepreneur pioneering global fashion and media initiatives to accelerate transformative action for social, economic and environmental change. I am the Founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, founding member and Executive Producer of the SDG Media Zone and the President of the Board at the PVBLIC Foundation. My portfolio spans over 14 years of purpose-driven programming, event production and high-level partnerships with brands, government and United Nations agencies.

The Conscious Fashion Campaign, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, creates high-visibility fashion event partnerships to accelerate global industry engagement to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. These 17 Goals, adopted by all UN member states, are a universal framework to end poverty, reduce social inequalities, address climate change, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. With 2021 marking the second year of the Decade of Action to deliver these goals by 2030, engagement from the fashion industry is more critical than ever. Recognizing this, the Campaign educates and mobilizes the fashion sector to action solutions for social, economic, and environmental change. Among the global partners engaged include, Messe Frankfurt, British Fashion Council, Drapers, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

I saw that you have recently launched the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network, first of all would you like to tell us more about it? Is there any initiative that you would like to mention?

The Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network is an online platform for industry stakeholders, Governments and NGOs to showcase actions, report progress and share solutions accelerating the sector's contribution to advance the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030. The collaborative community of practice aims to inspire innovative ideas, connect industry leaders, enable new partnerships, and enact sustainable change. Registered initiatives are published publicly and form the basis of periodic analysis and evaluation of how the fashion and lifestyle sectors are driving change and implementation of the SDGs.

The network is a dedicated space for the fashion and lifestyle industries on the “Partnerships for SDGs” – the United Nations’ global registry of over 5000 voluntary commitments and multi-stakeholder partnerships contributing to the advancement of the SDGs.

I would also like to ask you to help me and my readers to understand the range of proactiveness in terms of sustainability across different countries, sizes of brands and factories, and price of products. First of all, do you notice that there is a big discrepancy between the most innovative solutions and the majority of clothes produced?

While people have advocated for sustainability across the fashion industry for years, it has only been recently that we have seen numerous brands starting to make major shifts. A large proponent to this has been the rise in consumer demand as individuals continue to become more aware of the consequences that the fashion industry has on the people and planet surrounding it.

With consumers and advocates pushing for greener products, some brands both big and small have stood up to meet the demand, incorporating new materials, designing innovative goods, and forming key partnerships. Many of these are in developed countries where consumer demand is strongest. It can be challenging for developing countries to follow suit, particularly when fast fashion production is so heavily connected to their economy and labour force. That being said, there continues to be emerging designers out of developing countries who advocate for ethical production and environmental sustainability on a smaller scale.

In spite of these growing trends, a large portion of the industry continues to rely on outdated manufacturing and production processes that contribute to much of the world’s pollution and social inequalities. Emerging research is showing us that one of the biggest barriers towards adopting sustainability is the perceived cost that accompanies it. Recognizing this, brands need to be made aware of the business case for sustainability. Indeed, it is commonly known that prioritizing greener practices will bring with it social and environmental benefits but far too often brands fail to acknowledge the ability to use sustainability as a tool for increased profitability. The ability for sustainability to cut long term production costs and the willingness of consumers to pay a bit more to ensure ethical production leaves brands who seek out sustainability with strong profit potential.

Do you think that geography is a relevant tool to define where production and consumption are most sustainable, or do you think that within the same countries there are discrepancies?

There definitely remains discrepancy within countries with respect to sustainable production and consumption of fashion related products. In some areas where fast fashion is dominant, you may see a few small scale startups trying to challenge the norm by offering sustainably made designs. Conversely, in regions where sustainable options are prevalent, some consumers still choose unethical products for their low cost, design, or brand association.

That being said, some regions are making progress faster than others. For example, hundreds of independent ethically made brands have popped up across Europe over the last decade, increasing access to consumers looking for sustainability in their fashion choices. However in many Asian countries, where the fast fashion industry is prevalent, consumers report feeling limited in their options of ethically made apparel and therefore less inclined to purchase.

To meet the targets set out by the Decade of Action and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we can not afford to only have a few countries on board, rather we require support and engagement from the sector globally. Recognizing this, the Conscious Fashion Campaign is eager to support the fashion industry all over the world through educating stakeholders and mobilizing solutions for social, economic, and environmental change. Likewise, the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Action Network maps out the industry’s current efforts towards sustainability while identifying important gaps where further action is still needed.

Thank you Kerry for offering us your insights into the global fashion industry at large and for a deeper dive into the Sustainable Development Goals, find them on Supply Chain 101 here.

In the meantime, always be curious and STAY DILIGENT FRIENDS!