The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)  hosted a summit for global leaders in environmental sustainability at its campus in Nairobi, Kenya from 11 – 15 March 2019. Fashion was one of the important areas of focus, since there is an urgent need to change its practices. I was a Sari was invited to this event as winners of the Indian Circular Design Challenge. Here’s what went down and why you should care.

Why was I was a Sari at the UN Summit?

UN Environment, Fashion for Earth by R-Elan and Mumbai’s Lakme Fashion Week took I was a Sari to Nairobi as a live case study in Circular Fashion. I was a Sari was representing sustainable fashion in India, which has a large number of consumers and producers of textiles as well as the largest population of textile artisans in the world.

I was a Sari’s founder, Stefano Funari gave a talk at the Summit about their ethos of ensuring support of the 4 P’s: People, Planet, Product & Profit. For Funari, fashion labels need to be social, environmental, fashionable and financially solvent.

Stefano Funari: “We need to make sustainable fashion that is both desirable and profitable. It’s really all about to look good, feel good and do good at the same time”

 

 

I was a Sari put on a fashion installation showcasing their most recent collection. The show took place on 13 March evening outside at the beautiful UN campus using local models.

 

Dignitaries along with Lakme Fashion Week, Reliance and I was a Sari team members

 

Michael Stanley Jones, Programme Management Officer responsible for communications and knowledge management at the Poverty-Environment Facility based in Nairobi said: “What I was a Sari is doing really embodies my agency’s dream by upcycling fashion in such a beautiful way”.

“It’s great that through Circular Design Challenge, we have got the exposure and a platform like UN Environment Assembly to showcase our collection and the story to such a wide audience. The initiatives taken in UNEA4 shows the seriousness of making sustainable fashion a norm.,” Poornima Pande, Marketing and Communication Director of I was a Sari.

 

Kimono made from pre-loved sari presented at UNEA4

 

How is the United Nation Environment agency supporting sustainable fashion?

This global summit launched the UN Sustainable Fashion Alliance. This new platform unites the various initiatives of different UN agencies. It aims to move sustainable fashion away from being ad hoc individual efforts towards a global movement that will be considered the norm in the industry.

The fashion sessions brought in a very young and creative vibe to this UN Summit and some ethical brands, besides I was a Sari, really impressed the audience for their ability to bring together design, social and environmental sustainability. Here some examples:

  • Studio One Eighty Nine – an African-sourced label that uses organic cotton and artisanal practices.
  • Zazi Vintage – a luxury fashion label that uses vintage and organic materials such as traditional rugs.
  • Olistic the label– a French label that uses sustainable silk- no silk worms die in the making of their products.

The key highlights of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance panel discussions were,

  • The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10 per cent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
  • The fashion industry is valued at around $2.4 trillion and employs over 75 million people worldwide. It loses about $500 billion of value every year due to the lack of recycling and clothes that are thrown into landfill before ever being sold
  • The Alliance is aimed at improving collaboration among UN agencies by analyzing their efforts in making fashion sustainable, identifying solutions and gaps in their actions, and presenting these findings to governments to trigger policy, seeking to halt the environmentally and socially destructive practices of fashion, and instead harness the industry as a driver for improving the world’s ecosystems.
  • One of the major challenges for fashion is developing and sourcing materials that are fully recyclable, because raw materials being sustainable ensures 65% of the value chain being Lena Pripp-Kovac, the Head of Sustainability for IKEA and one of the panelists for the inauguration of UN Fashion alliance announced that by 2030 Ikea would be using 100% recyclable materials.
  • The recycling of the textiles is a major concern with extremely low numbers at about just 1% resulting in high wastage. It is crucial to have R&D in place to increase recycling and separation of mixed fibres so that that can be reused. Textile recycling is a significant challenge to be addressed as we strive to move closer to a zero landfill
  • The increased levels of fashion consumption has exponentially increased the detrimental environmental and social impact of fashion. The adoption of slow fashion and conscious consumerism is vital to bring in the mindset shift in the fashion industry towards sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion practices have to be consumer driven because it will force the industry as a whole to adopt circularity in fashion. The industry needs to focus on the increased life span of textile materials so that they can be used, recycled and re-used.
  • To make this change, from industry point of view, sustainable fashion has to be more “desirable”, should be of quality, design and aesthetics where adopting sustainable fashion choices is not about sacrificing on the product attractiveness.

Stefano Funari: “During the days spent in Nairobi I got the feeling that sustainable fashion is at a turning point and that, even for the large brands, it’s not just a PR topic anymore”.

To browse I was a Sari’s collection of desirable and sustainable fashion, go here 

Written by Niki Gomez by interviewing Gautam Vazirani (Strategist & Curator, Sustainable Fashion at IMG Reliance/Lakme Fashion Week), Nikhil Deshpandhe (Head, Sustainable Solutions at Reliance Industries), Stefano Funari and Poornima Pande (I was a Sari)