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Can Fashion Be an Engine for Sustainable Development?

Can Fashion Be an Engine for Sustainable Development?

The apparel industry has evolved impressively over time, following the path of globalization. Since 2010, in fact, garment production growth has overtaken population growth around the globe. Globalization has transformed the fashion supply chain into a global one; accordingly, from the second half of the 20th century, apparel firms have expanded and moved their production to developing countries, mainly located in the Global South of the world, where they could benefit from convenient labour costs and lack of regulations these countries offered.

On the other hand, these countries, helped by the progressive market liberalization, have welcomed the investment of foreign firms as an opportunity of economic expansion and accepted the rhythm of an extremely competitive system. Unfortunately, economic growth not always stands as a synonym for sustainable development.

If we consider the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, the situation becomes more critical. By affecting the apparel sector through factory closures, falling consumers' demand and obstacles to the supply chain, it has demonstrated the necessity of a joint international cooperation, to finally recover the industry from unsustainable practices.

But how is it possible to combine economic growth with the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, environmental)?


Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, the international debate has intensified and given space to interesting new projects. Among them, the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which counts on the coordinated action of many UN agencies, works in social, economic and environmental directions.

One of the most noteworthy initiatives is certainly the Ethical Fashion Initiative, founded in 2018 by the UN officer Simone Cipriani, yet first conceived in Nairobi in 2009. It aims to transform the garment industry in a development engine, through the support of creativity and the tutelage of cultural heritage. In fact, its strategy consists in connecting local communities of artisans in the South of the world with fashion brands committed to sustainability, thus creating workplace and ensuring compliance to the labour standards defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

By doing so, the Initiative actively participates to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, it focuses on the SDG 1 (no poverty), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and supports goals 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (climate action), and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

To answer the above-asked question, we believe that...

- from the economic perspective, there is the need to: 

  • reinforce protection systems for garment workers 
  • enhance job mobility
  • let women access leadership roles
  • invest in new skills, to foster circularity.

- from the social perspective: 

  • to monitor the implementation of labour standards
  • promote decent work
  • ensure social dialogue and social protection.

- from the environmental perspective: 

  • reduce waste by recycling and upcycling
  • implement the use of less consuming/polluting materials

We at Trama Textiles are constantly in search for inspiration from these virtuous examples of good practices, and feel honoured to be able to share new ones too. If you want to have a hint of the daily life of Trama's weavers, take a look at this Business Insider short documentary! 


We would like to thank Alessandra Tognolatti, our volunteer, for allowing us to peek at her MA thesis.


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