In the real world, despite pledges and commitments, the fashion industry continues its various strategies and tactics to sell more. Social influencers are working overtime recommending ‘look of the day’ and ‘look of the occasion’. Digital engagements have found newer avenues like the Metaverse and other augmented-reality based experiences. AI has been harnessed to provide well-executed prompts to purchase more through bespoke recommendations following specific algorithms. In short, fashion is marketing itself to the point where gullible consumers find themselves with pointless purchases through impulse buying.
The UN is rightly concerned. It does not see the outcomes of the Paris Agreement or the much-celebrated and elaborate COP gatherings every year. The time has come for fashion to walk the talk on being a sustainable global industry. The UN acknowledges the steps fashion industry leaders and policymaking bodies in different parts of the world are implementing but doesn’t see why brands must promote over-consumerism, knowing the consequences.
The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook comes into play
The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook, co-published by UNEP and UN Climate Change, provides a shared vision, principles and guidance on how to align consumer-facing communication across the global fashion industry with sustainability targets. It shows how fashion communicators – marketers, brand managers, image-makers, media, influencers and beyond can help advance towards the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals through countering misinformation, reducing messages perpetuating overconsumption, redirecting aspiration to more sustainable lifestyles, and empowering consumers to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers.
It acknowledges the fashion sector as one of global importance but struggling to address its wide-reaching impacts, with unsustainable patterns of consumption and production contributing directly and significantly to the triple planetary crisis, as well as the interlinked issue of social injustice. While addressing production impacts is essential, doing so alone will not be sufficient to transform the industry in time. Shifting consumption patterns must be a core priority that means confronting the dominant linear economic model and its accompanying narrative of newness, immediacy and disposability.
The playbook invites all fashion communicators to the table, emphasizing for the first time in the sector the importance of the role of storytellers as enablers and drivers of systemic change. Steven Stone, Deputy Director, Industry and Economy Division, UNEP has officially stated addressing consumption is a central part of reducing climate impact - from the volume of new products purchased to the carbon footprint of how we use these products. We must work together to align all stakeholders across the fashion sector towards the 1.5-degree pathway of the Paris Agreement.
Fashion must lead sustainability conversations
Fashion possesses one of the most powerful marketing engines on earth. Brands, designers, image-makers and the media have a major influence on the identities, values and actions of billions of people across all segments of society. This in turn impacts consumption patterns, which is a central factor in reducing the climate impact of the sector.
UNEP is examining the role of sustainable fashion communication as a highly visible engine for lifestyle change and consumer education, and a core component of achieving systemic change in the sector. Steven Stone reiterated that the aim is to shift the fashion narrative from one of extraction, exploitation and disposable consumption, towards regeneration, equity and care by increasing consumer awareness, industry accountability and policy breakthroughs.
The first milestone in this work was a communication commitment added to the upgraded UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action during COP26. What will follow is a guideline on how to align consumer-facing communication across the global fashion industry to sustainability targets, with examples of best practices for implementation and measurement.