Why do NGOs matter in Fashion: Vol 1
3 trillion dollars is the value of the global fashion industry, it’s the equivalent of 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic (GDP).
1 in 6 people on the planet work in the fashion industry and only 2% receive a living wage, according to the Fair Fashion Center of NYC. Fashion industry is one of the largest in the world, but it’s also the 2nd more polluting after the oil industry.
Thanks to documentaries like The True Cost and the work of institutions and NGO’s dedicated to the subject (The Ellen Macarthur foundation, The Circle, Fashion Revolution, Fashion take action, Clean clothes campaign etc.) we start to collect more data about the environmental and human impact of the fashion industry.
From those studies we learned that the clothing and textile industry has an ecological footprint, which is far from sustainable. For example the Copenhagen Fashion Summit report (Pulse of the Fashion industry 2017 report) told us that the industry emits 1.7 billion tones of CO2 annually, it’s responsible for extensive water use and pollution, and produces 2.1 billion tones of waste annually, just to give some examples.
Cara Smyth, founding director of the Fair Fashion Center, explain, in an interview for Devex, how the change is slowly happening. Rana Plaza Collapse, the adoption of the UNSDG, the Paris Climate agreement, all of those events was capital moment to raise the awareness of the public on those issues.
That is one reason why the work of NGOs is essential for a more sustainable industry in fashion. They are collecting data to demonstrate the accurate risk and negative impact, but they also constitute a strong voice to educate people on the subject. It’s what happened in April 2018 with the Fashion Revolution’s “Who made my clothes” campaign, which commemorate the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013 in Dhaka, a disaster that killed 1138 people and injured many more.
Garments Workers participating in the Who made my Clothes campaign to raise awareness about work conditions in fashion factory. Credit: Fashion Revolution
Since the tragedy, Fashion Revolution dedicates his work to improve work conditions for garment workers and to push brands to demonstrate transparency in their supply chain.
In the same time, millennial consumption habits are different from their elder and are shaping a new market. The Digital Branding Institute found that 91% of millennial would switch their brands to ones that are associated with a good cause. They also observed a rise in «purpose-driven marketing», which is way for brands to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
If it is not the dramatic observation about the work condition that will motivate big companies to adopt better practice, environmental impacts should furthermore be a financial concern to brands. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group indicates that brands’ profit margins could fall by at least 3 percentage points by 2030 due to rising costs for labor, raw materials and energy, if companies continue with business as usual. This would add up to approximately €45 billion per year of lost profits for the industry according to WWF in its Environmental rating and innovation report 2017.
For instance, Nike case shows how the evolution of the market is forcing brands to adopt CSR policies. 20 years ago, Nike consumers were aware of Nikes workers condition in Thailand, and then the brand was associated to sweatshops and unethical work environment, this had huge consequences on the brand reputation and sales. That’s when, in 1998, the then-CEO Phil Knight started to make changes within the company by being more honest and transparent about the labor issues it faced. Nike also raised the minimum wage, improved oversight of labor practices, and made sure factories had clean air. After this Nike was able to seduce again teenagers and become the undisputed leader of athletic brand. It has since become an example of how worker satisfaction not only mitigates risk but also drives business success. As Hannah Jones, chief sustainability officer at Nike declare it: « Protecting worker rights is not just about corporate social responsibility, but productivity and profitability », even if actually Nike is still far from being the most transparent and sustainable fashion brand.
The role of NGOs in improving the fashion industry is not limited to research and awareness, but it can also transform the production and sales process.
Here 3 cases of how humanitarian action are impacting fashion:
1st: BlueBen: the innovative Brand/NGO who save water and help communities
BlueBen is a remarkable brand for many reasons; they are tackling water over consumption issue in fashion. They succeed to save up to 90% water by designing their sweatshirt in hemp and modal fiber, which need more slittle water than cotton. Also their sweatshirts are made in Europe and are compostable. Finally they give 10% of their turnover for compensation purposes to countries
that have suffered due to textile industry, like Bangladesh for instance.
But what makes BlueBen especially more unique is its mixed team composed of people who work for fashion and people who are specialized in humanitarian work. This combination is the illustration of emerging business model for a slower and more sustainable fashion.
BlueBen instagram campaign 2018. Credit: ChooseBlueBen
2nd: When shopping experience becomes a social action
Numbers of ethical brands are now associating purchase act with a good action. This is the case of the sustainable sneakers Wado
Wado is designing 80s inspiration sustainable sneaker, their factory in Portugal guarantee good work conditions and quality process. They also choose to not use chromium to tan their shoes in order to have a cleaner fabrication process. But that’s not all, when you’re buying a pair of Wado, you also contribute to a reforestation project in Asia. The company collaborates with he NGO We Forest that work alongside natives to restore areas of forest.
Collaboration with humanitarian project is a way to offer a useful shopping experience to the consumer and besides it participates to improve the brand identity and gives the key to fit with the millennial market. Doing good start to feel good and trendy!
Wado instagram campaign 2018. Credit: Wearewado
3rd: Sourcing fair-trade fabrics and empowering garment workers
Up to 80 percent of a garment’s environmental impact is defined by choices made in the design process, consequently designer’s choices and methodology have a significant impact on improving sustainable fashion practices.
Therefore, ethical brands have the possibility to source their fabrics and material through Faire trade labels. Initiatives like Ecota-National Fair Trade Network of Bangladesh or the Word Fair trade Organizations confer a better profit redistribution to workers.
My aim with this blog is to show the utility of non-profit organization in the transformation of the fashion industry into a more sustainable and ethical industry.
Even if fashion professionals and consumers show more awareness about the dangerous impact of fashion process on communities, we still have too little data about the environmental and human cost of fashion process. For that reason, improving traceability and transparency in the fashion process is crucial. Thanks to tools like the fashion transparency index, it is easier for NGO’s and academics to collect data for their studies. Another interesting tool is the MODE tracker by Made by. Made by is a non-profit who developed a transparent and verified progress-tracking tool in order to support fashion brands and retailers in improving their sustainability performances.
However all those efforts are not enough to shape a better industry. Consumers habits and designers methodology constitute the strongest weapon to build a responsible fashion industry. As a first step you can follow the Slow Fashion World community to discover and support ethical and sustainable designers.
Improving traceability will also provide data for impact measurement of slow fashion designers and brands. Showing the good impact of sustainable brands will allow to enhance them and could be use as marketing asset to target the millennial market, with the prospect to eventually transform the fashion market.
After asking ourselves about the role of NGOs and Non-profit in the fashion sector, we could believe that many brands are improving their business by taking engagements or collaborating with labeled products. Yet it’s important to separate “greenwashing” to concrete impact projects, and it’s also necessary to know more about what’s behind a label, what is the real impact of labels. We will discuss more in detail in an upcoming blogpost !
Sustainable Development Advisor & SFW Change-Maker
Hi I’m Victoire and I joined the Slow Fashion World Community as Switzerland #SFWChangeMaker. I’m a 27 years old Parisian living in Switzerland. I studied law and political science and recently graduated in international development at la Sorbonne. Passionate about how innovation and technology can improve communities and help people, I joined Techfugees, a tech community that respond refugees needs. Beside this, I worked as a green investment and sustainable innovation consultant.
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