The United Nations has teamed up with the fashion industry on a new initiative that aims to tackle poverty and help women in developing countries create new businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities in the sector.

The Fashion for Development (F4D) scheme is part of the UN's 'Millennium Development Goals' (MDG), which includes targets on fighting poverty, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability and HIV/AIDS by 2015.

Speaking at a news conference in New York on Thursday (28 June), Ray Chambers, MDG advocate and the secretary-general's special envoy for malaria, said F4D is working to reduce tariffs on threads and fabric and raise capital for new factories, train local people and get designers involved in the initiatives, many of which are based in Africa.

"I think the fashion industry will lead the emergence of so many of the developing economies," Chambers said. "So the leadership of the fashion industry could not have come along at a better time."

The F4D scheme was founded in 1996 by former model Bibi Russell with the support of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Among its supporters are Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, who is acting as a goodwill ambassador.

The UN is also exploring other opportunities to build close partnerships with the fashion industry, and says it hopes to discuss new ideas at the UN General Assembly week in September, which follows Fashion Week in New York.