On May 11, we kicked off our New Normal webinar series with some of the leaders in the ecofashion space to explore how brands have reacted to the current crisis, how they navigate in our current volatile and uncertain world and the role of sustainability going forward. This is the fourth of the series. You can read about the 4th one here.

Our second session of the day on May 14th was led by Kerry Bannigan, the founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships. She took us through a conversation surrounding How Companies can Align Themselves with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Kerry was joined by Brianna Kilcullen (founder of Anact), Selina Ho (founder of Recloseted), and Irene Jonkman, Sustainability & Impact Manager with Yumeko. Each of these organizations use the SDGs to guide their businesses and to ensure they’re making an impact.  They took us through how they’re aligning the SDGs with their businesses, how businesses can manage an interconnection between the SDGs, and if they’ll play an important role in the post-covid ecofashion landscape. 

Before we dive in, if you’re not entirely familiar with the SDGs, they’re a framework of 17 global goals set out to be a catalyst for change. They are the follow-up to the Millenium Development Goals, and have set an agenda for 2030. Kerry provided the perfect overview as a foundation: “These 17 goals are essentially a blueprint to achieve a better world. They’re for the people, the governments, the businesses and organizations. Without everyone engaging, the 2030 agenda won’t be possible. They address a range of challenges even those that were pre and post-covid. Things ranging from poverty, inequality, climate, peace and justice. The goals interconnect and no one is left behind. Under the 17 goals there’s over a hundred more specific targets to use as guidance”.

Our panelists have found that the SDGs have provided a great deal of guidance as they navigate the subjectivity of the sustainability space.  Brianna commented that prior to starting Anact, she had worked in sustainability at Under Armour. Many of her colleagues differed in the definitions they assigned to sustainability and its role within the organization. When starting Anact, Brianna found that the SDGs helped to solve this problem, “[After watching the 20 min video of SDGs] it completely made sense to me and I connected with it because it was this holistic perspective, quantitatively driven and globally ratified. We were also using numbers, which is different as sustainability can so often be this very emotional, even sometimes feminine, tree-hugging type of feel. And instead, it broke it down in a way, especially in the business, that it could be equated to the way you would run your sales numbers.”

Irene found similar guidance from the goals and loved how they were able to be used as a set of building blocks for Yumeko’s sustainability & impact initiatives. They were able to take their ‘reason why’ of “the things we do, we want to do good” and answer what does doing good truly mean for them? By using the SDGs to define that focus. 

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For Selina, working with the SDGs everyday looks a little different. She’s consulting with brands on how they can integrate the SDGs into their business models. A feat in itself, the process at first can seem overwhelming, with 17 goals that span across social, environmental and economic indicators.  Selina says it’s key to start small and work from there. “when we work with brands, especially smaller brands, we pick 2 to 3 because if you make such a big impact on 2 to 3, you can still take into account the others, you can really drive the needle”. 

Selina highlighted it’s important when picking those 2-3 to consider how they interconnect with the rest of the SDGs. “Once you pick your focus, you should do something like a cost-benefit analysis. If you move forward with one decision because it aligns with one SDG, you should still look around to see how it affects others”. Although it may be challenging to ensure that the goals you’re most passionate about have great benefits, you also have to consider the big picture and all actors involved when considering the costs. Kerry summed this up well, “It’s that domino effect, some really do interconnect and help each other, but you cannot ignore looking at the others especially when it comes to labor and the supply chain in general.” 

The future is bright for the SDGs and where they fit within ecofashion. During this disruption in the fashion industry (a topic we’ve talked a lot about during our webinar series), we’re seeing the beginnings of a shift in attitudes. Brianna optimistically chimed in “I think it’s a huge opportunity for brands that want to be defining the future of fashion, it’s going to be online and it’s going to be digital. It’s going to be who gets in front of the customer in these upcoming months and the rest of the year that will define what the customer knows and how much we can educate and communicate the SDGs”.  Irene also made an important note, one that will resonate with most of us working in ecofashion, “I think it’s really important because to be honest, my colleagues and I are sometimes in a bit of a sustainability bubble and then you forget that only %1 of the world cotton production is organic. So, there is 99% to go. But we’re getting out there. We can share our story and make the world better. Collaboration will be a big part of this [moving forward].”

And we want to get to that tipping point, where there’s no longer the idea of a bubble and big brands start to pay more attention to how their consumers are looking for more transparency. Kerry is hopeful that collaboration will be a key in that, “I do think that COVID is teaching us that we’re kind of are all in this together and to bring our assets and resources together is incredibly powerful, and it does need to happen in local communities in order to have that global transformational impact’. By working together, collaborating and specifically using the SDGs as a guide, the domino effect Kerry mentioned before has the potential to be felt on a global scale.

Sustainability can often feel daunting and overwhelming. When you consider how multifaceted  it can be, knowing where to start in order to make an impact can feel close to impossible. For brands and organizations, the SDGs can provide clarity and an opportunity to narrow in on those goals that align with the sustainability priorities you value most. And for consumers, the SDGs are a great tool to help you understand how the brands you’re shopping from are making an impact. They’re also an amazing tool for educating society, and especially younger generations on the concepts of sustainability and how important it is to view them in a holistic way. With big changes hopefully resulting from the disruption that COVID-19 has caused across all industries, there will be power and change that comes from the knowledge the SDGs can provide and the brands that are helping to ingrain the values of the goals into our industry. 

If you want to hear more from Kerry, Brianna, Irene and Selina about the SDGs, and their answers to the questions our audience members had for them, check out the full recording of the session here. 

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