The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals #SDGs Applied to the Fashion Industry

With Canada Day just around the corner, we are kicking our #SustainableSeneca content into high-gear! To start, let’s review the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals applied to the fashion industry.

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Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

The textile and apparel industry is usually the first industry which enters a country, offers job and economic development. Therefore it contributes to the alleviation of poverty.

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Nobody can work if he or she is hungry, but nobody wants to live on donations. People need jobs which enables them to buy food. Therefore we need to provide people with jobs to end hunger.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

No child under the age of 14 should work, all children should have to right to school no matter where they live. No child labour! In some countries where child labour occurs, the fashion industry has abused children as cheap labour, often in horrible conditions. The fashion industry requires transparency and ethical standards in its supply chains and consumers need to choose carefully which brands they purchase.

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

We live in a fast-paced society, and we need lifelong education just to stay aware. Education is key to development, but it is also expensive. In some countries, parents earn so little that they can’t afford to provide access to education for their children. Children are often pushed into labour from a very young age. To improve this situation, workers in developing countries must earn a living wage so that parents can send their kids to school, not to a factory.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The apparel industry employees millions of women worldwide for sewing garments. For many women, this income offers independence and the possibility to have a life without being married. Ensuring equitable income for women is a first step towards gender equality.

Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

As consumers in the western world, we are often addicted to cleanliness and therefore wash every garment after a single use. This is all right for socks and underwear, but not for jeans or shirts. We need to rethink our washing habits; we need to save water. This is also true for production processes in the textile industry that should use water efficiently and should avoid waster emissions into rivers and lakes.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

All synthetic materials are made of raw oil and therefore require a lot of energy in their production. However, often, garments made of polyester or acrylic are so cheap that we don’t value them. No matter how expensive a garment is, we need to consider whether we really need and want it. Otherwise, it is a waste of energy. We need to make sure that we save energy, for example, by avoiding the use of a laundry dryer and by using a clothing line.

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Part of the fair trade concept is that workers are treated well and get a fair payment. Therefore, fair trade is better than conventional trade, and it helps to foster sustainable growth. Consumers need to make informed purchasing decisions that support fair trade companies. Fashion companies like People Tree offer fair trade products.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

In the West, we often take our infrastructure for granted. But waste management, water sewage treatment, and even roads are part of the bigger picture of sustainable development. We need to make sure that corporations produce their products in developing countries not by exploiting the lack of infrastructure in these countries, but by instead helping to create it. For example, instead of discharging coloured water from dyes directly into rivers, wastewater treatments must be built.

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.

Developing countries need economic growth for development. Countries like China and India made huge development gains partly through the apparel and textile industry. The apparel industry helps to reduce inequality in the world, like providing jobs for many people who can’t read or write. However, if people are used as slaves and forced to work, with wages below minimum averages, with long, forced working hours in unsafe conditions, and without the right for communication or self-organisation, then we are nonetheless producing inequality. We need to start asking where our garments are made, and by whom. We need transparency in our supply chains.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. Despite numerous planning challenges, cities offer more efficient economies of scale on many levels, including the provision of goods, services and transportation. However, we all need to make sure that cities keep their personality and that people stay connected. We need to support our local charities like Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army by donating our unwanted garments or household materials. Such donations will help to build local community, support people in need and provide local jobs.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Apparel consumption in North America has increased substantially to a level unparalleled in history. This increased consumption enlarged the industry’s environmental burden: every garment, irrespective of price, requires resources and causes pollution. While the industry partially recognizes its unsustainable practices, it does not accept limitations of the environment and is instead “built on the principle of limitless growth” aiming to sell more garments every year. We as consumers, need to reconsider our consumption habits. Less can be more!

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

The majority of our unwanted garments end up in landfills. While synthetic materials will stay forever in our landfills, organic materials, such as cotton, hemp, or bamboo will biodegrade and release Co2 and methane. Both are greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. To keep unwanted textiles out of landfills: donate all garments.

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Growing cotton requires a lot of water. Just think of the Aral Sea: formerly one of the biggest inland lakes in the world, it completely dried out when the government of Uzbekistan decided to use its water to irrigate cotton fields. When the lake dried out, all fisheries and sea life in it were lost. Such unsustainable use of resources compromises future generations. We need to start asking what materials are our garments made of, where these materials originate, and how they are made. Only transparency can give consumers the power to make informed, better decisions. Start asking!

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Cutting down rainforests to use the wood as cellulosic raw material to produce viscose, a material with similar characteristics as cotton, not only destroys ecosystems, but it also contributes to climate change. We need to make sure that cellulosic material is only produced in sustainably managed forests. We need to ask where the material coming from is, and we need to consume less.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Although there are hundreds of countries, there is only one world. We can only solve the problems and challenges of our world when every country and nation and every individual contributes. Be a good citizen and help wherever you can to be responsible.

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Governments have a responsibility to hold businesses accountable and should follow the UK’s lead by signing the modern slavery act. The Modern Slavery Act requires medium to large-sized companies, businesses of thirty-six million dollar turnover or more, to report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chains. This means each company is legally obliged to do this or explain why not.  We need world governments to take responsibility for their nation’s business practices overseas. For example, Canada needs a modern slavery act like the UK. It’s unacceptable that countries have signed the UN business and human rights responsibility act, but no one enforces it.

Seneca hosts first symposium on sustainable fashion

Seneca’s School of Fashion recently joined the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Canada, a global network of postsecondary institutions. This week, in celebration of this membership, the school hosted a three-day Transforming Our World series at Newnham Campus. Events included a symposium, an exhibition showcasing student, alumni and faculty works, and the school’s fourth annual clothing swap that is part of its textile diversion initiative.

Ontario’s Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who opened the symposium, applauded the school’s “important milestone” as deserving of recognition.

“It’s time for our collective consciousness to take hold,” she said.

In addition to Dowdeswell’s many accomplishments on the environmental sustainability front — she was the first woman to head the United Nations (UN) Environment Program — the lieutenant-governor is known for making her own clothes. She still gets up at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings to sew.

“The fashion industry touches everyone on this earth … and you can make a difference,” she said to the students in attendance.

The School of Fashion has in recent years taken a leadership role in sustainable fashion education in Canada and posed the important question: What can we do?

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell

The symposium was the first at Seneca dedicated to sustainable fashion. It highlighted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as identified by the UN in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

The Transforming Our World symposium focused on the importance of responsible consumption and production.

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell opened the Transforming Our World symposium about sustainable fashion at Newnham Campus on Monday.

Sustainable Fashion 1The Transforming Our World exhibition showcased garments made with materials such as cork, handmade macramé and weaving, deadstock, upcycled denim and natural dyes.

“The UN goals are tangible,” said Professor Sabine Weber from the School of Fashion. “We have a global agenda to tackle climate change, and we have to ask ourselves how we as educators can work with our industry to help.”

From educating consumers to make responsible purchases and supporting companies that take social, environmental and economic aspects equally into consideration, Weber believes everyone has a role to play.

“Not everything is perfect, but it’s important that our decisions move us in the right direction,” she said.

In the words of a Fashion Arts grad, it’s the future.

For her graduation collection last year, Shiva Hashemi created five upcycled garments by bringing deadstock fabric and second-hand clothing back to life. She produced everything locally with locally found resources. The collection, which won the Sustainability Award for outstanding implementation of sustainability principles, was featured as part of the Transforming Our World exhibition.

“Sustainable fashion is not just branding or a marketing campaign,” Hashemi said. “It’s not a trend. It’s the future. You have to bring that into your life, as a person who cares about the environment and who is compassionate about the next generation and the planet we are living on.”

ShivaFashion Arts grad Shiva Hashemi’s graduation collection won the Sustainability Award last year. Her garments were featured as part of this week’s Transforming Our World exhibition at Newnham Campus.
A few years ago, in her home country of Iran, Hashemi made a series of handbags using organic natural fabrics. It was the designer’s first collection and at the time, she didn’t know much about the practice of sustainability.“I didn’t actually learn about sustainability until I came to Seneca,” she said. “I used to think that sustainable fashion was not practical and no one would buy my designs because it would be too expensive, but I was inspired by my professor and decided that’s the way I want to design.”

Not only has Hashemi sold 600 of her handbags, she now works at Greta Constantine, the Canadian luxury label in Toronto whose 2019 fall collection featured old fabrics from past collections.

“There’s definitely a focus on zero waste in the industry and that’s why I love Seneca’s approach to sustainability. The curriculum has a strong sustainable thread incorporated throughout the program and it’s very helpful for students to have an understanding of the issues,” she said.

“As a fashion designer, the combination of colours, the proportions and the esthetics of design are important, but they don’t have to compromise the planet and the people. I believe that in order to live a fuller, meaningful life, one doesn’t have to sacrifice the beauty and comfort of their clothing — if the designer has done his or her job well.”

Want more? Check out our photo gallery of the Transforming Our World symposium.