How to Implement the Sustainable Development Goals in your Fashion Business

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How to Implement the Sustainable Development Goals in your Fashion Business

Don’t know what sustainable development goals are? You should! In this week’s blog we’re talking all about the sustainable development goals and how to incorporate them into your business!

Christine: Hey hey everyone! Christine Daal here from Fashion Angel Warrior! Today I’m going to be interviewing an amazing woman, Kerry Bannigan, from the Conscious Fashion Campaign

Kerry: Hello! Hopefully you can’t see my bad lock down hair. 

Christine: [Laughter] Kerry why don’t you introduce yourself. Tell everyone about the Conscious Fashion Campaign. 

Kerry: Absolutely! I’m Kerry Bannigan and I’m the founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign. 

The Conscious Fashion Campaign is an initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships. We work to engage the fashion industry. Our goal is to bridge a gap between the SDG’s and what the sector is doing. We do a lot of that through education, engagement, and advocacy. 

I think in the wake of this pandemic, globally, we’re all starting to realize what else is being unveiled behind the scenes in the fashion industry. And now we can work to do better where we can, with the resources and assets that we have.

Christine: I definitely see a lot of fashion brands now that are focusing on sustainability and being ethical. Just trying to do things in the best way possible. I think it’s becoming very popular and it needs to be for so many reasons.

So why don’t you talk a little bit about the Sustainable Development Goals–the SDG’s. How is the Conscious Fashion Campaign helping to make sure that the UN actually reaches these goals?

Kerry: The Sustainable Development Goals are 17 goals that are a framework for a better planet. These were created and adopted by the United Nations in 2015. The creators had the goal of what we can do to move forward by 2030. 

Under the 17 goals are 169 targets that help people understand how to achieve them. Now 17 is a little overwhelming but they do range across the issues that we actually have. And we currently have a lot. Whether its environmental or social injustice or peace or gun crime–we have it all. It comes into all of them and everything. 

We are lucky enough to be out here in a space where we can collaborate with fantastic partners like yourself and TexWorld. Working with these events all around the world to really help educate people and help the industry stakeholders. We want to leave them with an understanding of these goals. 

I think one of the biggest things about sustainable development goals is how it can unify. Sustainability is extremely complex and there are many tiers. Even the definition amongst us as we sit here right now is different to all of us. The sustainable development goals provide us a framework and a place to point towards to aim our missions. 

Many companies are already doing them, they just may not have heard of the SDG’s. There is so much innovation and destruction through every sector that sometimes just haven’t aligned yet. That’s what we hope to do with the goals. 

Christine: I feel that a lot of people may not know what the SDG’s are. Last year at TexWorld was when I first heard about them. I was like SDG’s, what’s that about? So I picked up my little pamphlet and I started looking into it and wow this is really great. Hopefully, we can get the fashion industry on board with this because it’s well needed.

Talk a little bit more about the Conscious Fashion Campaign. Is it an organization? A nonprofit? How do you exactly work… Do you work with companies one-on-one if they need consulting? 

Kerry: Absolutely. So the campaign is basically what it stands for–it is a movement. It’s a space to create awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals. Generally, when we do this, our partnerships are with the leading fashion events from all around the world. For example trade shows and conferences. Prior to COVID-19 when we were working with the trade shows, we would go down the education tract. They bring in local experts to that region and specific to the demographics that are in attendance to help them understand better how the SDG’s apply to the work they’re doing. How you talk about the SDG’s to fashion designers is very different than how they get broken down and applied in the factories and with the suppliers. 

We personally do not work as an agency or a firm. We encourage the event that we work with to ensure they are providing the communities with the proper toolkit. Resources like people they can speak to and experts for that specific region. Every region has its own priorities with sustainable development. And with them their own issues and what needs to be addressed. While the fashion industry is a very global industry, it’s crucial to understand what goes on locally. 

If anyone is interested in how to learn more about our sustainable development goals, I’m happy to talk to them. We work closely with the United Nations Office for Partnerships. We introduce companies to different resources and experts. And we do all this through one-on-ones, workshops, and masterclasses. 

sustainable development goals
The 17 SDG’s

Christine: That’s so great. So obviously the SDG’s are becoming more known around the world. This is a big question–have we seen improvement? I know they started in 2015, so it’s been about five years. Have you seen real improvements happening?

Kerry: I think it’s interesting. We’re still at that space where we now need to move from conversation and ideas of what people want to do to true actions. It has been an alarm clock for five years. 

Every sector is different, but with the fashion industry we have seen progress in regards to people committing to certain things. There’s the fashion charter for climate action and change. Then you have you and I starting a conversation too. There’s the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. There are many things going on. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is incredible to help people understand the circular economy. 

Right now, you start to see these incredible organizations that need more resources and more time. But we’re running out of time. And COVID-19 showed us that maybe 2030 isn’t necessarily the right agenda point. It is complex. It’s going to take a lot of action to make a change. While the industry is becoming very supportive and active to make change, we need to see change from policymakers and the government. 

Christine: You said it best. It’s not about just teaching and learning but about actually putting into action what you’re learning at the end of the day. We’ve had five years now to learn everything and yet still people have not heard of this. They’re still learning about it, and the conversation still needs to happen. But, the people that have heard about it, now it’s time to really take some action. Put those things into action!

Kerry: I just want to go back to the beginning of this conversation for a second. There are people doing incredible work in development, impact, and giving back within the fashion industry. But they might not necessarily have heard of the SDG’s. It’s about how we can bridge that conversation. And then also to understand that if you’re already achieving this, this, and this, to show it and report it. That way people can see what can be done. How can we collaborate as an industry and share our findings with others. Even our failed research! That is all so valuable in itself as well. 

Christine: Yeah, it’s so true. The only way we’re all going to succeed is together. The old fashion industry of everything’s competition and not sharing information with other competitors really has to end. And that’s what we strive for at Fashion Angel Warrior–to create a community where everyone is collaborating instead of competing. If we’re all going to help the planet become better, we’ve got to work together. There is no Planet B. We have to take care of what we’ve got. 

Then to your point also, a lot of brands have been doing things sustainably. They’ve been doing it for years and years, even before it was popular. 

Kerry: And a lot of people and companies think it doesn’t apply to them. But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we ALL need to be doing better. 

Christine: I think to some degree some were in denial that it was happening or is happening as soon as people were saying it was going to happen. But if you look at some of the stats and the numbers, we have to do something now. It cannot wait any longer. 

In your opinion, which of the SDG’s do you think the fashion industry should really focus on? 

Kerry: So the reality with the 17 goals is they all interact and are interconnected.

We are in a society that perpetuates fast fashion, fast use, and immediate gratification. Find it, order it, deliver it, wear it. It’s so quick. We need to look at how we can as a sector on one side, produce better and less. And what that looks like. Plus also trying to educate and work with the consumer so they consume less. All around it is crucial to work together.

But I do think it then delves deeper. SDG 8: you’ve got to look at the environment, what we’re doing, and what’s happening there. SDG 10: reducing inequalities. What we have seen across the supply chain and with the garment workers is a lot of inequalities. That goal now–more than ever–needs to be understood. We need to step up and commit to do better. We have to look after the humans of the supply chain that make the fashion industry work. 

Christine: It’s so crucial as a startup or even as an established business that you know your entire supply chain. That you know where everything is coming from. That you’re aware of how it’s being produced. And know who are the people that are making it for you. 

Slow fashion is going to become, I hope, the new fast fashion. Hopefully, this will carry over and people will start to buy things in better quality and less. And make them last a lot longer. I certainly try to do this as much as possible in my own wardrobe. 

Like you said it’s about educating people and making sure that they understand that it is the fashion industry that’s really deteriorating our planet and our people. 

Are there certain things that small companies should look to do? I work with a lot of small startups. Is there something that they should do as opposed to maybe some of these larger companies? Sometimes small companies think they’re so small that they don’t have the resources to make a difference. Do you know of anything specifically that small startup designers can do to participate in the SDG’s?

Kerry: We hear that statement that you just said pretty often. We all have a role to play and it doesn’t matter how small your business. You’re still making decisions. Who and how you’re hiring. The materials you’re using. What that looks like on waste. The fabrics and chemicals used. The waterways. There’s so much that goes into it. 

I think the first step is looking at the sustainable development goals. Seeing the 17 goals and understanding what makes sense to you. The priority for any business, especially the smaller ones, is to pick realistically. Where are you? Where are you based? Who do you employ? What does that look like? That way these goals are realistic and then you can start to add more in. Pick one or two and have an understanding of how they interconnect with what you’re already doing in your business.

It’s not about just picking any because it looks good or it’s trending. It’s more important than that. That’s the way you could make it embedded into your business, as a part of the core brands DNA. Because I think that then carries in your messaging. 

Christine: That’s awesome advice. A lot of designers come to me with questions about certifications. Should I look for certain certifications? Does it matter? Is there one certification that you know of, or maybe a few, that encompass all 17 of the SDG’s? 

Kerry: While certifications are good for a lot of companies, when you specifically look to the smaller brands so many people actually can’t even afford these. They’re not at that stage when they’re looking to fill the criteria. Also while certifications are good, they still are not encompassing what we need as one industry. And that’s going to take a lot of time–if even ever–on the timeline that we’re on. 

Each certification is so specific to a certain company or organization within the space. So again what a designer might use, a manufacturer would not. And so I don’t want to tell anyone a specific one because it would be different for everybody. 

I think we need to make sure that we build the businesses right, without needing the certifications. If and when you get them is fantastic. But that shouldn’t be the only sticker that makes you do good. 

Christine: Right, good point. So how can we encourage and motivate brands to really adopt the SDG’s? What do you think is your best advice for motivating people?

Kerry: Right now I would say go online. Learn about the sustainable development goals at un.org or the Conscious Fashion Campaign website. Just try to understand what makes sense to you. From there, see what you can adopt and put into practice.

We already have a lot of work. No one is trying to burden you with any extra work or even overwhelm you. The biggest thing right now is what makes sense for you. What can you integrate into your business? Don’t look at what other people are doing. Do what makes sense. Then bit by bit you grow with the rest of them. Once you go down this rabbit hole of impact, you see how interconnected everything is anyway and the importance of that.

Christine: Yes, it really can be overwhelming especially because there are 17 of them. I like your approach. Just pick one. Baby steps. Look at one part of your business. Maybe it’s the fabric or maybe it’s your employees. Just look at one area and tackle that first. You can always add on from there. 

Is there anything else? Any other tips or advice you’d like to leave us with? 

Kerry: I was just going to add. Even though I say pick one, it is just to get you in initially. Once you look at it, you see that they do all work together. It makes sense. So please if there is more than just one that you can do, do more. Select them and pick them. Share them with your team. Share them with your customers.

But also make sure that you understand the importance of responsible messaging. Do your homework. Learn a little bit. It’s not about a rush to make this happen if you’re not messaging it right. Responsible messaging is key.

Christine: Definitely. Well thanks so much for speaking with us! It was super great to learn more about the sustainable development goals and your organization. 

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