Heimtextil 2020, opening press conference, l.t.r. Lucie Brigham, CHIEF OF OFFICE, United Nations Office for Partnerships, Olaf Schmidt, Detlef Braun, Thimo Schwenzfeier
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Perspectives: Politics & Fashion

Handshake for the Future

Alliances, seals, pacts – the fashion industry is joining forces with politics to push for improved sustainability across the textile supply chain. With more than 55 trade fairs worldwide, Messe Frankfurt aims to raise industry awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals by collaborating with the United Nations.

January 2020

A fish, a tree, a drinking glass. White symbols stand out against the brightly coloured backgrounds of 17 stiff cards. The passing visitors at Berlin’s sustainable fashion trade show Neonyt seem curious: “What’s that about?” They turn to look as a group of young women holding the colourful cards are photographed. Among them is Kerry Bannigan. She holds up a blue sign with the words “Partnerships for the Goals” to the camera. Partnerships for a more sustainable future are her area of expertise. In 2018 she launched the Conscious Fashion Campaign, which is backed by the United Nations (UN). Since then she has been working to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the textile sector. She introduced the Agenda during Neonyt last year. Bannigan was pleased by the trade show organiser’s participation: “As a leading global company, Messe Frankfurt’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals amplifies our messaging for the fashion and textile sector to choose economically, socially and environmentally responsible business practices to build a better world.” This signalled the start of a wide-ranging collaboration.

Combined Forces

Late last year, Messe Frankfurt then announced the Texpertise Network’s global collaboration with the Conscious Fashion Campaign and the United Nations Office for Partnerships. This will focus on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations, which will be showcased at the more than 50 textile events organised globally by Messe Frankfurt. The SDGs are part of the ambitious plans of the UN to secure a more sustainable global development by 2030. This is about more than climate change. Peace, poverty eradication and education are also on the Agenda, which was undersigned by all 193 UN Member States in September 2015. The signatories include both developing and industrialised nations, because the global challenges can only be tackled collectively. To make the whole thing catchier, the Agenda’s key message is enshrined in the “five Ps” People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.

The United Nations set up an office specifically for the latter back in 1998. Lucie Brigham, Chief of Office, United Nations Office for Partnerships, is convinced that cross-industry collaboration is vital for success: “As global citizens, we have a collective responsibility to address the environmental and social challenges posed by our consumption patterns. Trade shows, retailers, media play an important role in mobilizing the fashion and textile industry to take action and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.” The Sustainable Development Goals were most recently showcased during Heimtextil in Frankfurt (7–10 January 2020), then shortly thereafter at Neonyt in Berlin (14–16 January 2020).

Leave No One Behind

With its complex supply chains with both agricultural and social dimensions, the textile industry can actively expedite the transformation and secure a better future for both people and environment. The sector has ten years left to take concrete action. So far however, its progress has been slow: In the recent study Pulse of Fashion, the Boston Consulting Group estimated that some 148 million tons of textile waste will be produced in 2030, over 50 per cent more than in 2015. Overproduction continues to rise steadily, despite the growing awareness of climate issues. Poor working conditions and breaches of safety standards are also frequently in the headlines. The latest involved a fire in a bag factory in the Indian capital New Delhi, in which 43 people were killed.

The slogan of the UN Agenda 2030 is “Leave No One Behind”. This goal is likewise pursued by the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dr. Gerd Müller. In 2014, he founded the Textiles Partnership in response to the deadly accidents in textile factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan. By joining the alliance, businesses, politicians and civil society, the latter in the form of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), associations and other stakeholders, commit to improving the conditions of production in the textile industry. In 2019 for the first time the Textiles Partnership published the road maps of 63 businesses and the progress reports that document the implementation of the collectively established, self-defined objectives. The Grüner Knopf, a state-approved certification for clothing widely discussed in the sector, is another of Dr. Müller’s strategies. Model and Grüner Knopf certification ambassador Barbara Meier introduced the concept at Neonyt in Berlin last July. Grüner Knopf launched in September 2019 with 27 verified companies.

One Pact, One Deal

Changes are also afoot in neighbouring France. In August 2015, the global fashion and accessories group Kering initiated the Fashion Pact, incentivised by none other than the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, introduced the coalition at the G7 summit. Currently the coalition embraces 56 luxury, fashion, sport and lifestyle brands as well as suppliers and retailers, all committed to climate protection, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. The sportswear brands Adidas, Nike and Puma have signed on, as have the high fashion label Burberry, the fast fashion chains H&M and Inditex and the pioneering brand Stella McCartney. The transition to 100 per cent renewable energies across the supply chain by 2030, a climate neutral industry by 2050, and zero single-use plastic packaging by 2030 are just three of the main targets which are to be met in collaboration with, and based on the expertise of, foundations, NGOs and political institutions.

What is currently voluntary could in future become a legal requirement: Late last year the EU set ambitious targets for the textile industry in Europe with the European Green Deal. The focus is on waste management in the industry, which is to transition towards a recycling economy.  There is a long way to go: According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than one per cent of production materials are currently recycled. In addition to the reduction of material waste, new business models such as rental and exchange services are to be brought in as possible solutions in the European Green Deal. Through sustainable innovations and investments, Europe should thus become a market leader for climate-friendly products.

Where to Start?

Alliances, seals, pacts – these are all means to an end. But the official commitment to goals does not necessarily mean action. In its CEO Agenda 2019, the non-profit organisation Global Fashion Agenda revealed that to date, only around half of companies in the fashion industry have taken steps to instigate sustainable changes in their supply chains. Accordingly, the economic consequences of inaction will run to ca. 160 billion euros for the global economy by 2030 – quite apart from the impact on the planet and its people.

Trade fairs are the mainstay of the industry, where all the major players assemble. Kerry Brannigan confirms this in an interview with Texpertise Network: “After a pilot year of research it was discovered that we could achieve high outreach to fashion industry decision makers by aligning with the leading global fashion industry events.” Messe Frankfurt’s collaboration with the Conscious Fashion Campaign and the United Nations Office for Partnerships is therefore perfectly poised to raise awareness among fashion companies, buyers and retailers.

#SDGs #Sustainable Development Goals #Neonyt #Berlin #Germany #Sustainability #Global Fashion Agenda #Textiles Partnership #Grüner Knopf #Lanius #Conscious Fashion Campaign #Kerry Bannigan #Lucie Brigham #United Nations Office for Partnerships

Katharina Koch

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Header photo: Heimtextil 2020, opening press conference, l.t.r. Lucie Brigham, CHIEF OF OFFICE, United Nations Office for Partnerships, Olaf Schmidt, Detlef Braun, Thimo Schwenzfeier


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