What will it take for the fashion industry to become truly sustainable? I don’t have a single answer to that question, mostly because there isn’t just one answer. Organic fibers won’t save us, nor will high-tech bio-based ones, or circular systems, or on-demand production. Progress isn’t entirely on the consumer’s shoulders, nor can we pin all the responsibility on designers and policymakers. “All of this finger-pointing isn’t getting us anywhere,” insists Cara Smyth, a former executive at Jil Sander and Burberry. “We have less than 7,500 days left until irreversible climate change. What we need is a collaborative, holistic approach—one where all of those ideas are relevant. If we aren’t worried about renewable energy and regenerative agriculture and the people in the supply chain, we’re going to keep moving at this pace.”
And it’s a slow, arduous pace. But Smyth is laying a blueprint for what a holistic approach could look like with Fashion Makes Change, a “transformational ecosystem” of brands, non-profits, and consumers working together to drive progress. The unifying mission is to educate and empower women in fashion’s supply chain, particularly in Asia, the Global South, and Africa, where the bulk of garment production is done. Beyond the social implications, educating women is also the sixth-greatest mitigator of climate change, according to the Drawdown Report. “We all know women build resilient communities,” Smyth says. “When they’re educated, they’re providers for their families, for their communities, and they make different, compassionate decisions. When they move up in their careers and have financial independence, it creates this flywheel of positive change,” she continues. “I think everyone wants to be a part of that change.”
Until now, the only way a consumer might feel like a part of it was by “voting with their wallet” and shopping with brands that claim to have ethical, transparent supply chains. Smyth is offering a new way you can make an impact: Starting in March, fashion brands around the world will add a new option to “round up” your purchase at check-out, with the change donated to women-focused NGOs in the Empower@Work Collaborative, which amplifies women’s voices in the global supply chain and advocates for gender equality. The goal is to make it easier than ever for consumers to join the movement in a tangible, effective way—and gain a better understanding of who makes their clothes in the process.
“The fashion industry is powered by women, from the creative forces who share their vision with the world to the many unseen hands crafting and creating our clothes,” adds Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour. “I applaud Fashion Makes Change for supporting and educating the women in our community, and for empowering the consumer to take an active role in this positive change.”
Fashion Makes Change will launch its first activation on March 8, 2021 for International Women’s Day; until then, Smyth will be meeting with designers and brands to join FMC and add the “round up” option to their websites. She’s confident many of them are already taking a closer look at their impacts—from garment workers to their carbon emissions—so we can enter the “next phase” of sustainability in 2021. “Our industry is already hardwired for change,” she points out. “We are the only ones that are constantly evolving. We can try new ideas faster than anybody, and we’re the ones who can influence and reflect cultural change.”