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Fashion & development

  1. Fashion is big business
  2. Trade and development
  3. Opportunities for garment workers
  4. Fashion business: sourcing policies that change lives
  5. Social and environmental issues are interdependent
  6. Some examples from Africa

1. Fashion is big business

In 2000 the world’s consumers spent around US$1 trillion worldwide buying clothes. Around one third of sales were in Western Europe, one third in North America and one quarter in Asia. Clothing and textiles represent about seven per cent of world exports. Consumers in the UK spend about £780 per head per year.

Globally, the workforce in clothing and textiles production was around 26.5 million in 2000.

(data from the Well Dressed report by the University of Cambridge Institute of Manufacturing)

2. Trade and development

Fashion businesses require relatively little capital input or infrastructure and are often a first step for industrialising economies. This has already resulted in widespread poverty reduction, access to skills and sustainable livelihoods for some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world.

The fashion sector remains highly labour intensive and provides an opportunity for some of the least developed countries in the world to be competitive on a global scale.

In Bangladesh, a Least Developed Country, 70% of GDP is derived from the fashion industry.

If Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and Latin America were each to increase their share of world exports by one percent, the resulting gains in income could lift 128 million people out of poverty. (Oxfam)

3. Opportunities for garment workers

Garment workers are commonly young, female immigrants from rural areas with no previous work experience. Employment opportunities in the fashion sector have brought with them independence and steps towards gender equality;

“I started working in a garment factory in 1988. This job has given me power to make my own decisions for myself. I was even able to marry out of love and without paying one taka in dowry. I could never have made such a decision if I stayed in my home village. I gained dignity doing this job…I just learned to write at age 30, but I have always thought of helping my children to get an education, and earning money has allowed me to send my daughter to a school and to even hire a tutor for her… Without this work my life is meaningless and empty” Nila, a garment worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh

4. Fashion business: sourcing policies that change lives

The nature of the fashion industry means that it is possible for fashion companies to work with community organisations which directly benefit the poor, as well as being influential over the community benefits of larger scale and factory production.

For smaller fashion businesses, sourcing from Fair Trade or smaller scale co-operatives can create opportunities through the creation of close working relationships, and overcome the minimum order requirements that can limit production opportunities for small to medium sized fashion brands. This also can provide a means for fashion brands to incorporate highly skilled techniques an handcraft, creating a unique selling point for products.

Many larger businesses have led the way through working with factories or production units to increase capacity and skills, support the creation of community facilities and community funds, and built models of fair profit distribution such that workers at the end of the chain share in the success of final products.

5. Social and environmental issues are interdependent

Social and environmental issues in relation to the fashion sector are interdependent with organic cotton production bringing important social benefits and chemical and environmental standards in the fashion industry being fundamental to human well-being.

6. Some examples from Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP through shrinking trade income, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeded total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003. (2006 UN Human Development Report)

The fashion industry can make a difference in Africa:

28,000 jobs created in the fashion sector benefited 100,000 people

30,000 people are employed in the apparel sector- each job generates 5 other jobs

$234 million of textiles and apparel products exported in 2001 – equating to 94% of merchandise exports. GDP increased from $558 in 2001 to $3000 in 2004

Figures taken from Going Global, The Textile and Apparel Industry, by Grace I Kunz and Myrna B. Garner

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