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The Wellbeing Economy and what it has to do with Fashion

INTRODUCTION

You might think that we, happy and hopeful writers of Simply Suzette, have come up with the concept of a Wellbeing Economy, which sounds abstract and utopian. However, this is not the case at all. In fact, it is a well-defined concept, to the point that there is an Alliance dedicated to it and a range of reports, articles, and intergovernmental initiatives. 


The definition of a Wellbeing Economy is;  “A Wellbeing Economy is an economy designed to serve people and the planet, not the other way around. It works with us, not for the GDP; it works to better our lives. In a Wellbeing Economy, the rules, norms and incentives are set up to deliver the quality of life and flourishing for all people, in harmony with our environment, by default.

Basically, it works off different models like degrowth and post-growth that recognise planetary boundaries. Katherine Trebeck from the Wellbeing Economy Alliance discusses it in depth in this video.


A Wellbeing Economy recognises that our relentless consumption and extraction are unsustainable. It acknowledges that true prosperity is not measured solely in economic terms but in the health and happiness of our communities and the health of our planet.


As our world adapts to a growing climate crisis and more people push to end fossil fuels, there is a transformative opportunity for real change. To evolve our practices surrounding the environment, we need to start within ourselves better to serve our communities and the wellbeing of our planet— the revolution starts within us.


Inner Development Goals (IDGs)


In response to the climate crisis, the UN created the well-known Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create a framework for sustainability in every avenue of global development. But progress isn’t happening fast enough. Why aren’t we—a collective of global leaders—able to create change to solve our world’s problems? 


As a collective, how we approach and solve problems isn’t working. We’ve been good at exploring solutions in our external world. We have a plethora of knowledge about the climate crisis, poverty, public health, etc, but that understanding must be complemented by an inner perspective to move the needle forward. 


That’s where the (IDGs) come into play. The (IDGs) were created as a non-profit, open-source initiative committed to addressing what inner shifts & human growth need to happen to help us achieve our (SDGs) for a sustainable future. 


“We cannot solve our problems at the same level of thinking/consciousness that we created them.” — Albert Einstein. 

The IDGs were created from interviews with a range of leaders from private & public sectors with over 800 respondents to identify 5 categories and 23 skills and qualities of human inner growth and development. (See below)


  1. Being: Relationship to Self

  2. Thinking: Cognitive Skills

  3. Relating: Caring for Others and the World

  4. Collaborating: Social Skills

  5. Acting: Enabling Change 




We need a spiritual revolution to create sustainable change. Identifying and addressing the core qualities and capabilities we need to foster in people will push change forward. 



WELLBEING IN PRACTICE/LIMITATIONS

Without a shift in human values and leadership capacities, our approach and solutions to solving the climate crisis may be limited. A country's well-being is a good indicator of quality of life and capacity for innovation—when people feel supported, they can better serve the planet and others. 


Denmark

I was lucky to spend an exchange semester studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I experienced a new lifestyle. Denmark impressed me in a number of ways that many countries in North America aspire to emulate. It captures the pillars of a Wellbeing Economy. 


I still remember driving from the airport and seeing bikes line the edge of the street, the freedom of movement. Bikes are the primary mode of transport, with 63% of trips to school or work being taken via bicycle over car. After getting my bike, the cars started to fade away, and I felt like the priority in a city that feels sustainable (but very expensive) to live in. 


Studying and living there, I feel like everyone is aligned on the SDGs and their importance in fashion. Sustainability isn’t a debate; it’s a way of life and a common goal. My lectures were framed through the lens of sustainability, emphasising circularity, natural textiles, and closed-loop manufacturing. Even their waste is used for CopenHill, a power plant that turns the city’s waste into clean energy and doubles as a ski slope!


Leaders are focused on renewables and energy conservation, with 40% of energy coming from wind power. Denmark's ambitious renewables goal is to become independent from fossil fuels by 2050. To achieve this, they’re focusing on unique ways of energy storage, such as storing it in rocks and incentivising research into new models. This approach differs from world leaders lobbying for oil, which we discuss here, which moves the needle backwards. 


So why do people feel so supported in Denmark? Denmark operates under a “universal welfare model” where all citizens have access to fundamental welfare benefits and services rather than a ‘residual welfare model’ in North America, where people are expected to be self-reliant — Denmark takes on the responsibility of caring for the wellbeing of all its citizens. Tax-funded benefits and services allow Danish citizens to feel supported and able to live a healthy and happy lifestyle. They can focus on the IDGs with energy to funnel into entrepreneurship that boosts the economy and sustainable development. 


WELDA is a Danish independent think tank that works for the transition to a Wellbeing Economy with an approach designed to tackle interconnected challenges across the economy, society, and ecological system. They support politicians and decision-makers in these ways;


  1. Broad communication on the Wellbeing Economy

  2. Advising politicians and decision-makers

  3. Policy analysis & response

  4. Method development & anchoring

  5. Facilitation of co-creation of systemic solutions 


Austria

The Wellbeing Economy also means incorporating these values into policy design. One example is Austria, where they’ve attempted to embed gender equality into performance budgeting frameworks. Enshrining the principle of gender equality into policy, called “gender budgeting,” supports the wellbeing of women and ensures gender inequality is taken into account for funding and budgeting. This model could help governments address women's health, living wages, social support, and future opportunities in the garment industry. 


Brand Inaction 

In order to create a Wellbeing Economy, we need decision-makers and leaders to collaborate and reach a consensus to advance legislation. This May, a recent audit committee meeting among UK legislators was held following the 2019 report, ‘Fixing Fashion,’ which outlined recommendations like the Modern Slavery Act for textiles, reducing microfibre pollution, and tax incentives for sustainable businesses. 


Fifteen brands were invited to submit progress reports for their social and environmental impacts over the last five years, detailing future plans; H&M and Boho were the only ones to show up. While there have been small projects from brands, we’ve seen a massive increase in the volume of fashion which points to inaction and lack of courage to face the reality of the situation they’ve created. As the E.U. continues to push to legislate sustainable and circular fashion, a wellbeing economic framework could help enable change among brands and world leaders. 


Limitations

In the IDG Summary, it is acknowledged that “capacities are often the properties of systems rather than individuals.” While people are capable of a spiritual revolution, the onus should also be on institutions to support this effort, as many people are either living in a region that isn’t providing support or imposing limitations that affect well-being. 


We recognise that thinking about wellbeing is a luxury. The IDGs emerge from a Western viewpoint and relate to many spiritual practices that predate the framework, limiting the scope of the collective's qualities and voice. However, the IDGs are a great starting point for exploring individual and collective skills & quantities and how culture, organisations, and institutions must align to support sustainable development. 



WELLBEING WARDROBE REPORT

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) commissioned the development of a “Wellbeing Wardrobe” from universities around the world, a fashion and textiles industry oriented towards a Wellbeing Economy. The outcome is a beautiful read that we highly recommend. We are highlighting some of their concepts here. 


“Clothes are an essential part of our daily lives. Every day, we wear clothes to function in the world, and choosing what we wear has always been an important cultural marker of who we are. However, in the post-industrial era, the choices we make as to what we wear directly impact the environment around us, requiring us to confront the reality that the fashion and textile sector has become one of the most unsustainable industries in the world. We need a new way forward. The Wellbeing Economy – an umbrella concept for several growth-alternative economic models, including degrowth, post-growth and steady-state economics – has been proposed to reorient our way of life to pursue human and ecological wellbeing rather than economic growth. The fashion and textile sector provides an urgent example of the need to pursue economic alternatives. Fashion is one of the world's most unsustainable industries, based on environmental and social sustainability metrics. The sector’s rapid growth over the past decades has been enabled by the advent of fast fashion, globalised supply chains and a massive increase in the consumption of garments.”

Conventional measures of a nation’s economy's health—such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), employment rates, and inflation—focus only on growth. Yet there is substantial evidence that economies and societies based on growth and consumption have not led to increased levels of human happiness or wellbeing.


A Wellbeing Economy revolves around a planned reduction of energy and resource use to bring economic activity back into alignment with environmental health and human wellbeing. 


The researchers have identified four guiding principles for a sustainable and thriving fashion and textile sector and give examples of how stakeholders—including individual fashion and textile consumers—can follow them.


  1. Establish limits: a Wellbeing Economy approach sets limits on resource use and consumption and shows people how they can still live well while respecting these boundaries.

  2. Promote fairness: equitable wealth distribution systems are needed to ensure global and intergenerational fairness.

  3. Create healthy and just governance: robust participatory and deliberative processes that emphasise inclusivity, open dialogue and diversity are key to creating lasting change.

  4. Embrace new exchange systems: innovative exchange models can ensure the fashion industry thrives while meeting human and environmental wellbeing needs by providing dignified work, regenerating the environment, and strengthening community bonds.


The report also highlights specific policy opportunities for a wellbeing economy in the fashion industry, which would allow a step change from government action. Some of the ones that we thought were particularly interesting are: 


  • Eco-design requirements included in legislation 

  • Extended producer responsibility (EPR) 

  • Banning the export of textile waste and the destruction of unsold or excess clothing and textile goods.

  • Providing support for training people in sustainable fashion practices such as care, repair and reuse of garments and textiles

  • Enforcing value chain accountability through robust Due Diligence regulations

  • Investments that regenerate environments 

  • Supporting local and global social movements that champion deliberative processes


It was great to see that such a forward-thinking set of recommendations was given directly to the EU, with the potential of affecting millions of people through policy change. We can see the extremely strong links with Degrowth, a concept we have always tried to push forward. We like how the researchers have put it: Growth is not the answer! 


THE DIFFERENT LAYERS OF WELLBEING IN FASHION

- FROM FEELING GOOD WITH OUR BODIES TO FEELING GOOD WITH THE WORLD 


The Fashion industry negatively affects the wellbeing of those in supply chains, those who directly suffer from the impacts of pollution and waste. However, there is also another huge way in which Fashion negatively affects people’s well-being: how it makes consumers feel about their bodies and their need to adapt to trends constantly.


The pervasive influence of fashion can harm mental wellbeing and body image. The industry often promotes unrealistic beauty standards, portraying idealised body types that are unattainable for most people. Constant exposure to these standards through advertisements, social media, influencers, and fashion magazines can lead to feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and low self-esteem. 


The pressure to conform to societal ideals can contribute to body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and other mental health issues that are the opposite of wellbeing. 


The emphasis on materialism and consumerism in fashion culture can foster dissatisfaction and anxiety, as consumers feel compelled to constantly update their wardrobe to keep up with ever-changing trends, leading to financial strain and a sense of never feeling 'good enough'. Brands like Zara that have new collections every 2 weeks or less put pressure on consumers always to buy the latest design. 


Another issue is the fashion industry's lack of diversity and representation, exacerbating negative effects on people’s well-being. The underrepresentation of diverse body types, sizes, ethnicities, and genders perpetuates feelings of exclusion and marginalisation among those who do not fit into the narrow mould of conventional beauty. This lack of inclusivity alienates individuals and reinforces harmful stereotypes and prejudices. 


Ultimately, the negative impact of fashion on mental wellbeing and body image underscores the need for greater diversity, inclusivity, and representation within the industry, as well as a shift towards promoting acceptance and self-love regardless of appearance.


CONCLUSIONS

It is a privilege to think about wellbeing. It is only considerable after many other variables are ensured, and of course, it comes with many limitations. However, we cannot stick to the narrative that the economy comes before the planet and people’s well-being. 


Anything new is always feared. The Wellbeing Economy is a new model, and some call it a “utopian vision” based on hope for a better future. It represents a way to replace our current economic model, using humanity and direct growth towards sustainability to deliver collective well-being rather than short-term growth. 



Stay Diligent x 

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