UN + Sustainable Fashion - Opening remarks by Patrick Duffy


Good morning everyone, we are very excited to have you all here at todays briefing “Fashion and Sustainability: Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good” followed by a sustainable fashion showcase featuring brands and designers from around the world. Before we begin, we would like to thank UN Dept of Public Information NGO Relations for taking this big step forward by facilitating the conversation here at the United Nations. Our goal is to empower people with the knowledge about the impact on our planet by the fashion industry and explore new ways as individuals, within our own institutions, NGO communities, and in the wider education community to live a consciously fashionable lifestyle. In order for the UN Sustainable Development Goals to thrive, all of civil society, world leaders, institutions, and private sectors must work together and take accountability for their actions and look for better sustainable alternatives. This would include businesses, especially within the fashion industry who have already taken initiative following the Triple Bottom Line. Fashion retailers and designers play a key role in responsibility for sustainability.This is a business model that incorporates the best interest of not only profit growth, but also of civil society and the environment for sustainable fashion as It is a major contributor to the global economy and a very important sector to consider when thinking about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

So, what do the SDGs mean for an industry like fashion? Consider that the fashion industry is one of the largest in the world. To give us an idea of the size, the global apparel market is valued at nearly 3.3 trillion US dollars, and accounts for 2 percent of the world’s GDP, with 1 in 6 people on the planet working in the fashion industry, it is one of the worlds largest consumer industries. With this massive size comes enormous responsibility which until just recently has been overlooked by much of the industry. Many brands, large and small, have only been thinking about production, selling of goods and their bottom lines at an increasingly rapid pace. Not to mention sacrificing quality by making products that don’t last, are harmful to produce and detrimental to our world environmentally and socially. With the population growing to 8 Billion people climate change, land and water scarcity, and the increasing cost of resources have a direct impact on the bottom line of every company and our world. All this being said, it then makes sense for fashion and apparel to be involved in the sustainability discussion AS WELL AS the development discussion. As an example SDG 12 commits to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, addressing the use of natural resources, chemical waste, fossil fuels and the integration of sustainable practices into the production cycles. SDG 8 focuses on Improving the working conditions of all ‘fashion’ workers, promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, fair and productive employment and decent work for all.

The way we purchase clothing has changed considerably in recent years. Pre-mass production, clothes were made by tailors in small numbers. It was normal to wear the same clothes more then once or for a few days in a row, clothes designed for work were long-lasting and did not follow any particular fashion trend. Post-World War II mass production happened and “fashion” became part of the daily lives of consumers, we then discovered it’s marketing potential and as production increased new and cheaper materials, mainly synthetics, entered the market.

Which brings us to Fast Fashion!! A market that continues to grow exponentially, retailers with thousands of outlets bringing fashion to the people but also bringing the people who wear it, or not, many new challenges that weren’t carefully considered when venturing into the great and exciting boom of democratizing fashion!

At this point, It’s pretty clear that we need to slow down fashion. The transition towards ‘slow’ or more durable fashion is, however, a complex process that requires action in many different areas and sectors. As the speed of fashion increases with consumer demand, the amplification and negative impact of the five fundamental problems for the fashion industry also increases - high water consumption, discharge of hazardous chemicals, violation of human rights, labor standards, greenhouse-gas emissions, and waste production. Quite a huge problem we are facing! The advent of fast fashion as seen apparel sales rise dramatically while businesses are aggressively cutting costs and streamlining supply chains. This causes a shift whereby clothing prices fall dramatically and decreased lead times push brands to introduce new lines more frequently. Mackinsey and Company tell us that Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year; H&M offers 12 to 16 both refreshing their stores them weekly. Imagine the impact this has when we think about where all of it comes from and also where does it go? To get an idea of what that does to the world we live in, a recent study tells us that 83% of the worlds drinking water has been contaminated by the billions of plastic particles emitted by each wash of synthetic textiles from our closets.

Now, were not here today to focus on the negative. There are many positives in the industry as well! Some fashion companies are responding to this positively by addressing the supply chain issues and making it a brand differentiation and creative inspiration for new business directions. Currently we are seeing the fashion industry in its infancy of embracing sustainability as it is becoming a significant driver on how and what consumers purchase. A stat by from Business Of Fashion tells us that 65 percent of consumers actively seek sustainable fashion, compared to tumbleweeds we saw 10 years ago, that is a dramatic increase! More and more we are seeing designers, brands and celebrities Influencers speak out about making a change, some of the biggest amplifiers are Hollywood Actresses like Emma Watson, Angelia Joile, Jamie Clayton who actively promote being conscious about their fashion choices…which is great but is it enough to get the industry and consumers out of “the negative” and into the “positive” where people, planet, profit become the norm?

This brings us to the question that is the focus of todays discussion - How do we use fashion as a vehicle for change? It’s undeniable that fashion is an important part of how people define themselves. This simple idea makes the entire industry a powerful tool of influence. Think about it, what we wear, or are told to wear, can shift how people think, live and act. Brands like Hermes + Dior + Chanel influenced the world to wear modern French chic. Armani + Versace + Gucci paint the portrait of Italy as the capital of style. The Americans who gave us denim like Levis, are now seeing it worn in every country across the globe - it’s actually little-known fact that denim has a contributed significantly to the end of Cold War era, as Western consumerism quickly entered the culture of those living in the rather dismal and uniformed Soviet Union. One globally recognized designer (who is also a personal favorite) In the UK, designer Vivienne Westwood, has always nurtured the idea of using fashion as a form communication about ideas that extend beyond the typical beautiful and indulgent world of high fashion. Famous for her campaigns to promote addressing climate change, saving the oceans and renewable energy. Ms. Westwood has made herself not only an icon of the fashion world but an agent for change. Pioneers Orsola De Castro and Carry Somers tapped Into social media and created campaign specifically to draw attention to “who made my cloths” harnessing nearly 533 million impressions using the hashtag Fashion Revolution in 2017.

More and more designers and brands are starting to weave “ethics” into their aesthetics and business models. Here with us today a few who are doing an incredible job of just that. It’s my pleasure to introduce the following people who are making an incredible impact..


#PatrickDuffy #GlobalFashionExchange #AndreaReyes #AshiaSheikh #AmandaCarr #ShivamPunjya #SustainableFashion #UNDeptofPublicInformationNGORelations #UNSustainableDevelopmentGoals #EthicalFashion #FairTrade #Behno #Canopy #nest #Buildanest #ABernadette #NYCFairTradeCoalition