UNEA 6: Beyond Fast Fashion and Sustainable Consumption

Blog of Shaleen Wanjiru and Mary Muia, SI UNEA Representatives in Nairobi.

In recent years, the fashion industry has faced increasing scrutiny over its environmental and social impacts, particularly with the rise of fast fashion. On February 21st, 2024, at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi, Soroptimist International’s (SI) Nairobi team delegation attended an illuminating event titled “Beyond Fast Fashion” during the preparatory events for the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6). Organised by Arizona State University, this event convened a diverse panel of experts to discuss the challenges posed by fast fashion and explore sustainable solutions for the fashion industry.

Clothing production has doubled since the year 2000. While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept clothes for half as long. Furthermore, much of this clothing ends up in the dump rather than being donated or redistributed. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned in landfills every minute.

Washing clothes emits over 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year, an equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Many of those microfibers are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean and seas.

Shaleen Wanjiru Youth4Planet Champion Shares a Light Moment with President Siew Yong During at the UNEA 6 Opening, Nairobi Kenya.

Sustainable Fashion and Women’s Empowerment

The event aimed to shed light on the intersection of sustainable fashion and women’s empowerment. With a focus on promoting environmentally friendly practices and ethical production methods, the discussion explored how sustainable fashion initiatives can contribute to advancing women’s rights globally.

The event commenced with the premiere of the short film “Beyond Fast Fashion,” produced by the Arizona State University Sustainable Earth project. The film provided a compelling overview of the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion, setting the stage for the ensuing panel discussion. Moderated by Felix Dodds, Director of Multilateral Affairs at Arizona State University, the panel discussion delved into various aspects of sustainable fashion and its implications for women’s empowerment. Panelists representing government, intergovernmental organisations, and the fashion industry offered valuable insights and perspectives on the topic.

The session kicked off with remarks from Asli Filinta, Founder and lead designer at Asli Filinta, Turkey/USA, sharing insights into sustainable fashion design and the importance of fair-trade practices in empowering women. Ms. Filinta noted that sizing is another factor contributing to unsustainable fashion. At her company, they use the remains of cloth to create wrapping bags to use for purchases made from her brand.

Iona McCreath, Creative Director at Kiko Romeo, had the following to note that sustainable fashion brands need to be supported. Consumer trends and behaviors are some of the factors that need to be considered. However, it’s important to address the question: what are the alternatives for fast fashion? Overall more amplification on brands that produce sustainable fashion needs to be done.

Soroptimist International President Joins the SI UN Representatives during the UNEA 6 Opening Ceremony. Dr Victoria Kutto, Shaleen Wanjiru, President Siew Yong Gnanalingam & Mary Muia (Right to Left).

Henry Wanjala, Co-founder and Director, the Kenyan Boys Choir, and Fashion entrepreneur from Kenya emphasized the need for the government to support local and upcoming designers whose work revolves around sustainable fashion. Empowerment of upcoming brands can be done through waiving fees for exhibitions in the fashion expos/galas at the international spaces to encourage showing off their work around sustainable fashion.

He added that Technology and social media can be used to promote and amplify sustainable fashion to the youths in the continent as they are the largest demographic. Designing and implementing competitions for youths around sustainable fashion will encourage youth involvement in the matter. Despite the pressures of fast fashion, things are changing for the better. Compared with similar research conducted in 2023, humans are wearing clothes much longer.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, the event underscored the critical role of sustainable fashion in advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality. By promoting fair trade practices, supporting women entrepreneurs, and raising awareness about the social and environmental impacts of grassroots organisations, such as SI, of fast fashion, initiatives like the Beyond Fast Fashion event are paving the way for a more equitable and sustainable future for women and girls worldwide.



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