Simone Cipriani
Head of the Ethical Fashion Initiative at ITC and Secretary of the UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion
1 Nov 2021

Can you tell us about your initiative and how it is making fashion greener and more sustainable?

The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) was born in 2019 in Korogocho, Nairobi, as a supply chain that enables artisans and micro-entrepreneurs from very marginalized backgrounds to work in a fair and dignified way with international brands from the fashion and lifestyle sector. Today, we are suppliers of many big brands including Loewe, Vivienne Westwood, United Arrows and Mimco to name but a few, and our operations expand from Haiti to Africa and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.

EFI is also a business accelerator for the African creative industry where we scout emerging designers who are producing on the continent. One of our recent participants, Lukyanyo Mdingi, just won the prestigious LVMH Prize after undergoing our mentorship programme. Since the very beginning we decided to work in the fashion supply chain because it is the critical ring of the value chain in terms of social and economic impact. Most of the GHG emissions of the industry come from there. Most violations of human and labour rights come from there. Thus, there was a real space to simultaneously create positive change for the people and environment connected to this sector.

We immediately developed and have always used a robust code of conduct based on international labour standards and a serious impact assessment system. From the early days, we worked hard to concentrate on biomaterials such as organic cotton and natural dyes and we have launched a program to decarbonize our supply chain through the introduction of renewable sources of energy. In these programmes, we are continuously involving the brands we work with.

However, our biggest contribution to making fashion greener and more sustainable is the ESG Due Diligence and Reporting Framework that we are developing in collaboration with Camera Nazionale della Moda Italian, the association of Italian fashion brands. This is a system of work that will introduce sustainability in all supply chains through serious processes of due diligence aimed at spotting, eliminating and mitigating ESG risks. This ESG Framework is developed with the (fashion) industry and for the industry: it is an ESG approach that also creates business value.

What are the greatest achievements and impacts of your initiative?

First of all, I am very proud to say we are the origin of the global movement on ethical fashion: it really started with us. When we started, we were considered dreamers, or even mad – and this is an understatement. Now sustainable fashion is a global movement. We are also extremely proud to have thousands of artisans, mostly women, from extremely marginalized backgrounds, often from countries affected by conflict or instability, at work. Through our programme, products made in the poorest part of the Global South have been seen in the fashion weeks of the world! We have brought about deep social change in all of the communities where we work, as recorded by our impact assessment system. For example, some women who work with us did not have a bank account before working with us. We have been able to work in conflict-torn countries and we are very proud of the fact that we are resuming work in places like Afghanistan or Central Mali. We are also very proud of CABES, a company guided by women in Burkina Faso, which produces artisanally woven textiles that are now exported to leading homeware and fashion brands. Finally, the fact we are developing a new ESG Due Diligence and Reporting framework in collaboration with some of the biggest fashion brands of the world makes us very happy indeed:
we are a point of reference for the industry.

You are also Secretary of the UN Alliance on Sustainable fashion. Why is this initiative important for the UN and what are some of its main achievements?

The United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion was set up in 2018, spearheaded by a project of UNECE, when it became clear that many UN projects were directly or indirectly linked to fashion but there was no coordination mechanism to join forces and create a bigger impact than the value of our individual projects and interventions. As such, the Alliance was created, and it is currently composed of ten UN agencies and allied organizations with a few more who are about to join us.

We are a working group that together, promotes projects and policies that ensure that the fashion value chain contributes to the achievement of the SDGs. We regularly take part in conferences, panels, and other types of activities to raise awareness on sustainability issues, including the UNEA4 in Nairobi, Kenya, where we organized a set of events. One of our biggest achievements to date is deep and detailed investigation of all the projects and initiatives touching on fashion within the UN system. The synthesis report is available to the public here. It is a great privilege to be part of the Alliance as the Secretary, and every time we meet – lately it has only been online for obvious reasons – I am stunned and impressed by the groundbreaking initiatives led by colleagues from all over the world to support fashion as a driver for positive change.

* Paola Deda is the Director of the Forests, Land and Housing Division at The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
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