In an era marked by growing environmental consciousness and a collective drive towards sustainable development, small businesses in the fashion and lifestyle sector have emerged as powerful agents of change. These enterprises, often rooted in local communities, are uniquely positioned to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This essay explores the pivotal role that fashion and lifestyle small businesses play in advancing the SDGs, focusing on recognition and livelihood generation for artisans, with reference to key insights from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform.
Why there is a need for recognition of artisanal expertise
An artisan named Kamla (name changed), started walking barefoot from the capital of the country India, fearing for her survival when lockdowns were announced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The irony is that she had been experienced in leather shoe making for 25 years, yet was not able to save enough for herself that she could be confident enough to manage even a week without work.
In 2020, the UN reported a loss of 255 million jobs which was 4 times more than during the global recession. The COVID-19 pandemic not only led to job losses but also fractured the backbones of the complex supply chain of creative small businesses.
Artisans are important pillars of society and form the backbone of many fashion and lifestyle small businesses. Their skills and expertises are often handed down through generations. However, in a globalized world dominated by mass production, these artisans and their crafts can easily be overlooked. Recognizing their contributions is not just a matter of cultural preservation, but also a means to support sustainable economic development.
The UNDP emphasizes the importance of recognizing and valuing the unique skills of artisans within the broader context of the SDGs. By providing a platform for artisans to showcase their craftsmanship, small businesses can promote cultural diversity, social inclusion, and economic empowerment. This recognition is instrumental in preserving traditional knowledge and fostering a sense of pride and identity within communities.
A shining example of this can be found in the work of brands like Maiyet, which collaborates with artisans from around the world to create luxury fashion while preserving traditional craftsmanship. Through these partnerships, artisans gain exposure on the global stage, demonstrating the immense potential of recognizing and celebrating their skills.
Livelihood generation and economic empowerment
Sustainable development is intrinsically tied to the economic well-being of communities. Fashion and lifestyle small businesses, by providing avenues for artisans to sell their products, can significantly impact livelihood generation. This, in turn, contributes to poverty alleviation, a cornerstone of the SDGs.
The UNDP’s SDG Accelerator platform highlights the case of Inca Tops, a Peruvian company that collaborates with local artisans to produce high-quality alpaca wool garments. Through training and capacity-building initiatives, Inca Tops not only empowers artisans with essential skills but also ensures fair wages and safe working conditions. This approach has led to a tangible improvement in the standard of living for these artisans and their communities.
Fashion brands like Patagonia have set new standards by incorporating Fair Trade principles into their supply chains. By ensuring fair compensation and ethical working conditions for artisans and workers, Patagonia exemplifies how responsible business practices can drive positive change and contribute to sustainable development.
Sustainable supply chains and environmental responsibility
Beyond recognition and livelihood generation, fashion and lifestyle small businesses are also uniquely positioned to champion environmental sustainability. With growing awareness of the ecological footprint of the fashion industry, consumers are increasingly seeking out brands that prioritize eco-friendly practices.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform underscores the significance of adopting sustainable supply chain practices in the fashion industry. Small businesses can make substantial strides by sourcing materials responsibly, minimizing waste, and embracing circular economy principles. By doing so, they not only reduce their environmental impact but also contribute to SDGs related to climate action (SDG 13), responsible consumption (SDG 12), and life on land and below water (SDGs 15 and 14).
Brands like Eileen Fisher exemplify this approach by committing to 100% organic and sustainable fibers in their collections. Through initiatives like their "Take Back Program," the company encourages customers to return old garments for recycling or repurposing, further reducing the environmental footprint of their products.
Fashion and lifestyle small businesses stand at the intersection of artistry, culture, and sustainability. By recognizing and valuing the expertise of artisans, these businesses contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage and the promotion of social inclusion. Moreover, through responsible business practices and sustainable supply chains, they play a pivotal role in advancing key SDGs related to economic empowerment (SDG 8), environmental sustainability, and poverty alleviation (SDG 1).
The impact of these small businesses reverberates far beyond their immediate communities, demonstrating the potential for positive change on a global scale. By aligning their practices with the SDGs, fashion and lifestyle small businesses are not only driving economic growth but also forging a path towards a more sustainable and inclusive future.
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