How can luxury fashion achieve Sustainable Development Goals and which brands are being open and transparent about their SDGs?
What are SDGs?
Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs for short, are a collection of 17 global goals providing a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future. The 17 goals are:
Good Health and Wellbeing
Clean Water and Sanitation
Affordable and Clean Energy
Decent Work and Economic Growth
Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Sustainable Cities and Communities
Responsible Consumption and Production
Life Below Water
Life on Land
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Partnerships for the Goals
One of the most obvious and important SDGs for the fashion industry is SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, however there is still a lot more that the fashion industry can do to become more ethical and sustainable.
How can luxury fashion achieve SDGs?
Though it sounds paradoxical for an industry so famously damaging to the environment to be sustainable, luxury fashion can most certainly contribute to a more sustainable and responsible industry.
Luxury fashion products are high quality therefore making them long lasting, they are often handed down and there are even rental and resell markets in place now which are making it easier than ever to recycle, repurpose or reuse clothes rather than disposing after one use. The rise in these circular fashion models are helping to achieve SDG 12. On top of this brands can also promote sustainable consumption and encourage the reuse and recycling of clothes through campaigns due to their large reach.
The industry can also become more sustainable by using eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, linen, hemp or recycled polyester, as well as using recyclable or biodegradable materials for packaging and minimising packaging size altogether. Using recycled materials can help in reaching SDG 13 and the use of natural materials will contribute to SDG 15 and SDG 14.
In order to help accomplish SDG 1, 3, and 5 it is also necessary for luxury fashion to adopt fair labor practices, ensuring workers are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions, and are not exploited.
It's important for brands to be transparent about their supply chain and production processes, which includes disclosing the origins of materials and labor, as well as reporting on environmental and social impacts. Here are 3 examples of luxury fashion brands that are currently making efforts to address and publicise their Sustainable Development Goals:
Voted most sustainable luxury fashion brand by consumers in a survey conducted in 2022, luxury icons Chanel have some very promising sustainability goals.
The company launched its first sustainability report in 2018 declaring their ban on the use of furs and exotic hides. The brand has dedicated itself to researching innovative, alternative materials, investing in start-ups "Sulapac" who produce biodegradable plastic alternatives and "Evolved by Nature" who produce non-toxic silk alternatives.
"In keeping with the timeframe of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, CHANEL Mission 1.5° is a plan of action for the next decade, setting out what we aim to achieve by 2030."
In 2020 the fashion house introduced its climate strategy detailing the launch of Mission 1.5°,
the commitment contributes to SDGs 5, 7, 13, 15 and 17 and aims to reduce their carbon footprint, decrease emissions and shift to renewable electricity.
Stella McCartney has been a leader in sustainable fashion and has been committed to ethical and environmentally responsible practices since the brand's inception in 2001.
"We are committed to doing our part in helping to create a better and more equal world, as envisioned in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals."
The website includes a detailed section on their sustainability initiatives which covers using only sustainable, innovative materials like ECONYL and forest-friendly viscose, and implementing circular design principles such as partnering with luxury, authenticated re-selling platform The RealReal and Clevercare which teaches consumers how to extend their garments' life, decrease the amount of pieces ending up in landfill and reduce their environmental footprint. These directly relate to SDG 12, 13, 14 and 15.
In regards to SDGs 3, 4 and 8: The label has been a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative since 2012, which promotes respect for workers’ rights globally and enables brands to help improve conditions for workers in their supply chains. In addition to this, projects have also been initiated in factories offering life-skill training to migrant workers.
Though it may be surprising to see Burberry on the list after their concerning past burning millions of pounds worth of stock in the name of "protecting brand value", with the debut of designer Riccardo Tisci in 2018 the fashion house has surely been redeeming itself.
"Our Responsibility agenda contributes to a range of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where we feel we are uniquely placed to make a positive difference."
Burberry are transparent about their Sustainable Development Goals which are published on their website and are contributing towards all 17 SDGs by donating to important funds and implementing changes in the way they work.
The brand has committed to stop destroying products deemed unsaleable, implemented a zero-waste mindset and now donates fabrics to fashion students with the British Fashion Council as part of the ReBurberry programme. A new leather and trench refresh service is now in place and at least 40% of Burberry's plastic-free packaging is made from recycled material, including recycled coffee cups. In the past few years, 100% of Burberry's cotton was procured more sustainably and 92% of leather was sourced from tanneries with environmental traceability and social compliance certification with hopes to be 100% within 2022.
The fashion industry is still far from perfect in regards to sustainability, but it is comforting to see some of the biggest players in the industry taking positive steps in the right direction. From implementing the use of innovative materials to adopting circular fashion approaches, these brands are setting an example for others to follow. There are still numerous brands making efforts to meet the UN's goals and it's important to be aware that though some may not address SDGs it's crucial not to disregard their sustainability efforts and conduct your own research, while also being wary of greenwashing. By continuing to hold fashion brands accountable for their impact on the environment and society, we can work towards a more sustainable and ethical industry for all.