Education and collaboration are key to driving greater sustainability in the global denim industry, particularly as the sector looks to return to normalcy following the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Speaking on a webinar for the Kingpins24 virtual denim sourcing event – whose physical show in Amsterdam was cancelled amid the Covid-19 outbreak – Kingpins Show founder Andrew Olah said the main challenge is getting consumers on board.
“We need to educate people about ways we can do better. The consumer is really a big element to the puzzle because consumers need to want companies to do it.”
Talking with Lucie Brigham of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, and Kerry Bannigan, founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, Olah noted that as shoppers have been silenced by nationwide lockdown restrictions, there are questions as to whether sustainability will still be important to the consumer post-Covid-19.
“I mean that’s crazy talk. We have to really, really attack the consumer more and more as a group, all of us…and make them aware that sustainability is not an option, it’s got to be the only thing that exists.
“We have got to educate the public, the businesses, and we have to reward the successful ones. The activists will take care of the ones that are not successful.”
One way to educate shoppers could be through Kingpins Transformers, an offshoot of the Transformers seminar series.
“We eventually will want to write papers and take positions on different subjects so that we can actually clarify certain things that might be unclear or murky and help people with education [to] make better decisions when they want to have a choice and factor sustainability in their lives.”
Sustainable Development Goals
Another tool is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Kingpins committed to promoting and supporting the SDGs at its events globally earlier this year by becoming a partner of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships.
The SDGs were adopted by the UN in late 2015 and lay out an ambitious roadmap for improving the lives of people around the world. Broadly speaking, they comprise 169 targets designed to advance 17 overarching goals, which include poverty eradication, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and decent work.
“Basically, they’re a very ambitious blueprint of what we need to do to make the world a better place for everyone,” Brigham said, noting that while they are predominately “historic human challenges,” the SDGs also encompass some challenges that are “more specific for the century and for the denim crowd.”
“Responsible consumption production is one of them. How do we deal with the consumption of energy and water? What do we do about the environment, and how do we engage the communities? How do we provide the communities we work with equal access to a fair life?”
When asked why the SDGs are relevant for the denim industry, Olah noted to their global reach, their UN origins and – quite simply – that “they’re right.”
“I mean it’s not that complicated, actually. The SDGs are things that everyone should think of…they’re just fundamental things that all of us in business, in life, should consider as we progress and should be concerned with paying attention to.”
In terms of key areas the denim industry should focus on to advance the goals, Olah said: “It’s always the same things when it comes to the environment.
“First of all labour, clearly, and especially in today’s world, is important, but the fundamentals are always water, energy and waste. Those are all the things that we as an industry, we all knew that we could do better [at]. I don’t think that was a secret to anyone and was an uncovering of something special. We all know it and we all know what we can do and we all can do it and want to do it.”
Brigham agreed collaboration not only underlines the SDGs but is also key to navigating the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The only way we can tackle, control the pandemic, and guide a way to the recovery and normalcy again is by working together. It’s obvious that no company, no society, no community, no country alone can tackle this and that’s the underlining principle of both the SDGs and the pandemic. We have to understand that it’s not just about one entity, one person’s goals, we have to collaborate and help each other out.”
Since its debut in 2004, Kingpins has acted as a platform for thought leaders, innovators, and denim creatives to gather and exchange ideas to push the denim industry forward. Among those leading the charge toward a more sustainable sector are G-Star and its supplier Saitex, Pakistan weaver Artistic Milliners, and Royo – all of whom Olah refers to as “superstars.”
“There are some exceptional cases in our industry. What makes them targets for other people to emulate is their decency with their workers [and] the way that they handle their production methods – their water, their energy, and their waste.”
Last year, Kingpins began the process of requiring exhibitors to meet or exceed in the areas of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and chemical management.
“What’s really joyful about this is that all of the exhibitors endorsed it,” Olah said.
“Historically textile mills don’t have to have social compliance standards because they’ve never been chased by advocates. Garment factories have but the actual fabric mills haven’t. So we wanted them all to have certifications…any certification is better than nothing.
“So we’ve moved up the step and I guess going forward, when the world goes back to some kind of normalcy, we’ll raise the level of what we want them to have. Once we get back to normalcy again, we’ll go and look at environmental and then request that and I think everyone will endorse that.”
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