Fashion is more than simply glamour and runways, it is one of the largest industries in the world. In fact, “it would be the world’s seventh-largest economy if ranked alongside individual countries’ GDP” (Amed et al. 2016). With an industry so large it undoubtedly has a substantial impact across all three dimensions of sustainability (economic, social, & environmental) which is why as an industry it is so important when it comes to working towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (also known as global goals or SDGs).
2020 is the last decade to complete the 2030 SDGs. These global goals are a broad and universal policy agenda adopted in 2015 by all United Nations Member States and serves as a “call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030” (UNDP).
So, how exactly are the SDGs related to the fashion industry?
Well, according to the McKinsey Global Fashion Index, the fashion industry is estimated to be worth approximately $2.4 trillion. The fashion industry employs millions of people globally and impacts their economic and social situations firsthand (fibre2fashion, 2017). As for the environmental aspect, the rise of globalization and the increase of buyer-driven demand has contributed to a massive diversification within the fashion industry. This diversification can be seen in new style influences and rapidly changing trends, but also in its methods of mass production which leads to what is often referred to as “fast fashion” (Ledezma, 2017).
Fashion is one of the most labor-dependent industries mainly because each piece of apparel must be handmade through a lengthy supply chain (McCosker, 2019). This means that before a single garment reaches the closet of the consumer it typically passes through the hands of dozens of stakeholders and crosses several continents. The typical fashion supply chain is lengthy. It involves the sourcing of raw materials, factories whose materials are turned into garments, and are then distributed via a network (Zolkowski, 2017). So, from the raw material farms (ie: cotton & silk), to clothing factories, from fashion shows to department stores, the global apparel industry has the ability to influence its share of social and environmental issues.
 Supply chain: the process including production and distribution of a product
Oftentimes, developing countries are fashion companies' first destination after a design is ready to be brought to life, this is to keep production costs low (Mare, 2007). However, low production costs for fashion companies are much too often synonymous with low wages for garment workers in factories. If we take a step back and reflect on what the true essence of fashion is, wouldn’t you agree that it’s meant to promote, empower, and inspire? This philosophy should not only be showcased on the streets and instagram but also implemented behind the scenes.
Sustainable development goals and fashion go hand in hand. Naturally, nonprofits and development organizations play a tremendous role in advocating for the advancement of SDGs. Nevertheless, the involvement of the fashion industry is crucial. Aside from the fact that it is one of the largest and most influential industries, it also perpetuates environmental, social, and economic issues. Together, in coordination with the United Nations SDGs it can significantly help transform our world. Lucie Brigham, Chief of Office for the UN Office for Partnerships stated, “We need to better tell the UN’s story on sustainability, and fashion is a great platform. We need to engage the creative industry to help us educate customers (Cernansky, 2020).” Let’s call it a Fashion Revolution! It all begins with a few changemakers within the industry willing to take action and incorporate SDGs into their production processes to then inspire the rest. Afterall, change occurs from the inside out.
There is no doubt that the 17 SDGs directly link the fashion industry with the United Nations’ agenda. The most perceptible issues within this massive industry are poverty, women’s rights, working conditions, and the detrimental toll production practices have on the environment (Cernansky, 2020). Think about it, it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to make only ONE pair of our favorite fashion staple: blue jeans (Weinstein, 2014)! Fashion companies need continuous direction, support, and informative resources to transform from participants into ambitious leaders that aim to surpass the existing sustainable development goals. Equally, informed consumers with conscious buying inclinations are of immense importance to the implementation of sustainable development goals in fashion. This is where we (and you!) come in.
Hecho X Nosotros + UN SDGs = Fashion Revolution
Every week, us here at Hecho X Nosotros will feature a different SDG on our website. Our priority is to keep you informed. We will outline the connection between a specific goal and fashion. Up next week: The spotlight will be on SDG # 1. No Poverty. See you then!
Note: Hailey Matarese & Alondra Magana HXN collaborators
Hassan Mare, The Disproportionate Impact on Labour of the Economic and Social Damage Perpetrated by the Activities of Transnational Corporations (PhD Thesis, University of Essex, 2007) ch 1
Berglund, Teresa, & Gericke, Niklas (2015). Separated and integrated perspectives on environmental, economic, and social dimensions – an investigation of student views on sustainable development. Environmental Education Research 22(8), 1115-1138.