LETTERS: How role of sustainable fashion has evolved


Models on the catwalk. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The United Nations announced its support for sustainable fashion through harmonising their sustainable development goals (SDGs) with the movement.

It co-ordinates UN bodies working in fashion to promote projects and policies that ultimately achieve the SDGs. The objectives of the alliance are to promote active collaboration, to share knowledge, to strengthen synergies between existing initiatives, and to achieve outreach and advocacy.

The launch happened right here in Nairobi in March during the 2019 UN Environment Assembly.

What does this mean for Kenyan sustainable apparel production? Currently, China is leading the world in global apparel production at 38 percent of exports to the US, the largest apparel market.

However, China is reducing its sales to the US to supply its domestic market leaving other market players to fill this gap in demand. Kenya has an opportunity to differentiate themselves from China and other Asian manufacturers.

As more brands begin to shift to mindful manufacturing, the relationship between consumers and manufacturers is also shifting. In the future, according to the Kenya Apparel and Textile Report, brands will have their own in-house manufacturers so that the relationship from manufacturer to consumer will be direct.

Consumers will know exactly where and how their favourite labels are produced.

About 87 percent of millennial consumers in the US would be willing to pay more for sustainable apparel products with the farm-to-fashion model increasing in popularity.

However, Kenyan companies continue to rely on expensive imported material rather than producing it themselves. This is not yielding positive results for manufacturers regarding the shift to more sustainable models in production.

Kenya is leading the rest of Africa in cotton exports. However, cotton production has been unstable recently and not enough to meet the domestic mill requirement resulting in firms importing cotton from neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Tanzania.

If Kenyan manufacturers can solve this issue while catering to the millennial demand in the US, they could begin to take the lead in global cotton production.

The International Trade Commission (ITC) reports that investors in cotton, textile, and apparel production should choose Kenya as a source of production because of six factors: preferential market access, labour availability, good infrastructure, strong buyer linkages, stable political climate, and investor-friendly policies. The only thing standing in Kenya’s way of leading Africa in cotton production and exportation is Kenya.

How can we increase cotton production sustainably? Which global apparel brands are willing to partner with us to develop sustainable cotton production? How can the new UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion partner with these brands to ensure environmentally friendly cotton products? There is a strong opportunity here that should be further explored.

Loren Nichole, sustainable fashion analyst.