For the next two months, November to December, we take a look at the age of conservation and the role of the fashion industry globally and in Kenya.
On October 21st 2016, National Geographic released a documentary on climate change called “Before the Flood” directed by Fisher Stevens capturing a three-year personal journey alongside Academy Award-winning actor and UN Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio. This documentary seeks to share the views of individuals from different facets of society providing unique, impassioned and pragmatic views on what must be done today to save our planet.
Climate change is a polarizing discussion. On the one hand you have people who adamantly believe that it does not exist and on the other you have those who do. Regardless of the opposing views, we are not here to present a case or discuss climate change but to look into a recognized reality that correlates to climate change; our natural resources are depleting and we need to something about it.
Now, more than ever, we are in a time when conservation of our resources is in critical gear. The resources we seek to protect from drastic depletion are of course our waters, air, animals and earth. These key resources have been victims of our own doing and for us to continue surviving, we desperately need to put in place measures to reduce the depletion and/or replenish these resources. What we are particularly looking at here is how the fashion industry can contribute to conserving our precious resources from its previous harmful practices. There is nothing we can do to change what has been done before but we can certainly, and others are, do something about our future. There are several initiatives already in play from the FashRev Campaign (who made your clothes?) to socially responsible brands to green strategies in sourcing materials and production and much more.
In May 2014, for example, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam welcomed several of the worlds most influential brands like Stella McCartney, H&M, Eileen Fisher and Inditex/Zara to develop a roadmap to green their supply chain. This included discussions and sharing on knowledge exchange, long-term conservation solutions, recycled materials and fabrics. They came together under the banner of environmental non-profit Canopy’s “Fashion Loved by Forest” initiative to begin implementing their endangered forest policy commitments. What do forests and fashion have to do with one another?
Well, 70 to 100 million trees are cut down every year to produce textiles in a fast-fashion world. These trees are transformed into fiber filaments through a chemically dissolving pulp process and then used to create a viscose fabric turned into our very own favorite trendy clothing. You can see why creating measures to curb deforestation for fashion through socially responsible and sustainable measures to protect these resources are necessary. “With demand for viscose slated to aggressively increase over the next decade, we have a unique window to curb its harmful impacts on the world’s endangered forests and species,” said Nicole Rycroft, Executive Director of Canopy.
Let’s take another issue dear to the hearts of Kenyans; our elephants. There are no words to begin discussing the national crisis that we are in. Do we really want to be the generation that last saw elephants? To say that this issue has carried over into the hearts of everyone in the globe with awareness pushed by campaigns, organizations and celebrities would be an understatement. In 2013, the elephant population on the continent plummeted to about 400,000, according to the conservation site elephantdatabase.org, from about 1.3 million in 1979 due to a strong demand for ivory, particularly in Asia, where it is a status symbol. We are not going to delve into that Asia issue.
Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu is the Executive Director of Wildlife Direct and heads the “Hands off our Elephants” campaign, which has found its way into fashion runways in Nairobi notably by fashion designer Ann McCreath and her daughter Iona McCreath from Kiko Romeo and Kitoti respectively. In an interview with WGN (What’s Good Networks), Iona stated that she wants to “use the resources at my disposal to create awareness about the destruction of our national treasures. If we don’t act now, elephants will be extinct in 10 years. I want to do something to change that.”
In February this year, collaboration between 13 designers dubbed ‘Elephantasia’ came together to create elephant-inspired couture “to reach out to a crowd that is more or less responsible for the plight of elephants – people in fashion” said Ava J. Holmes, wildlife researcher for conservation and runway producer for her company A-DOT Production. The exhibition was produced to raise awareness and funds to expose and protect the African elephant alongside NOVICA of National Geographic and Elephanatics BC. Elephantasia premiered on the runway 19th March during the Vancouver Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2016.
Sustainable fashion, also referred to as eco-fashion, is a favored movement to brands becoming socially responsible, a response to the detrimental impact of fast fashion and a concern for the human impact on the environment in designing, production and distribution paying close attention to the carbon footprint. Unlike fast fashion, eco fashion is typically more expensive because of the efforts taken to minimize harm in the growth, manufacturing, and shipping.
Take the Ethical Fashion Initiative for example. This is a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization that links the world’s top fashion talents to marginalised artisans – the majority of them women – in East and West Africa, Haiti and the West Bank. The Ethical Fashion Initiative also works with the rising generation of fashion talent from Africa, encouraging the forging of fulfilling creative collaborations with artisans on the continent. Under its slogan, “Not Charity, Just Work,” the Ethical Fashion Initiative advocates a fairer global fashion industry forging sustainable and fulfilling collaborations. The advent of technology (as discussed in our previous series – see here) has opened the doors to apps and websites allowing customers to streamline ethical fashion experiences such as Higg Index, which launched in July 2012 by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The Higg Index is a self-assessment standard designed to measure and promote sustainable supply chains in the apparel and footwear industries.
On the topic of ethical fashion practices, there are plenty of brands adopting these ‘green’ measures in the quest for sustainable ethical fashion with conservation in mind. We previously featured the Kenyan/South Africa fashion brand Lalesso who’s business model is one of transparency, sustainability combined with ethical production facilities in Kenya and South Africa. Thus, not only is Lalesso, one of the world’s only ‘zero-carbon’ fashion brands, it has also been vital in the support of Kenyan clothing factories. Zero Carbon refers to the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission from various industries. (Read more about Lalesso here)
SOKO is a clothing-manufacturing unit based in Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya set up in 2009 by Joanna Maiden whose vision it was to provide the fashion industry with a manufacturing unit with social and environmental issues at the heart of its business. Nani Croze started Kitengela Glass in Kenya 33 years ago and trains employs 50 locals. She has planted thousands of trees, granted school fees, repaired roads, improved security, saved raw materials by recycling glass and other resources.
For the next two months, we at TDS will delve into the world of fashion in an age of conservation. We will discuss issues like reducing the carbon footprint and designers turning air pollution into a fashion trend. We want to look into new fabrics making recycling possible and innovations to reduce or replace water consumption in garment making. So what is the extent of air, water, earth pollution as a result of the fashion industry and what can we do alleviate those harmful effects? We also look into the synthetic Rhino horn that is 3D printed in a bid to save rhinos; yay or nay?
The idea this month is then is to look at how fashion is moving in the conservation direction. How are designers or companies contributing to the awareness raising or changing their practices to decrease this depletion? How are we in Kenya contributing to that movement? Especially in Kenya when it comes to wildlife, how is the fashion industry playing a role in it? Are there Kenyan or African designers paving the way in conservation fashion? Are there any campaigns we should be aware of on the continent to protect or replenish our resources?
These and many more questions will be answered in the next two months. We hope that through this, we can become conscientious as we build our Kenyan fashion industry and find measures to contribute to the conservation and protection of our precious resources. Have a great month!
Author: Wanjiku N. M | Editor and Founder of TDS | Twitter: @WanjikuNM