Fashion is stalling on climate. Suppliers are trying to act

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Brands have goals for sustainability, but are far from meeting them. With the bulk of the fashion industry’s footprint generated in the supply chain, from farmers to manufacturers, a supplier-led conference this week could offer a roadmap for closing that gap.

Fashion labels rarely own or directly oversee their supply chain, from raw material sourcing to fabric production. That means the work of meeting climate goals, which brands are increasingly ambitious and public about, needs to happen at a level they don’t directly control. And, most of that work requires significant investment. One of the reasons why climate progress remains slow is because suppliers, who tend to operate on razor-thin margins, need more support from brands to enable shifts to renewable energy, for example – as well as laws and regulations to stimulate access to climate- friendly technologies.

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On Tuesday, the Sustainable Apparel Forum in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, brought brands and suppliers together with union organizers, policymakers, garment worker lawyers, academics and green technology companies – collectively representing over 20 countries – to open up discussions on both sides of the table about climate action, safe working conditions and other topics pervasive in fashion’s supply chain.

What makes this week’s event stand out is that suppliers not only had a heavy presence – they created and organized it, bringing together people who know what needs to happen with people who can help make it happen. It’s rare for suppliers, brands, unions and government officials to be in the same room discussing solutions together. That was precisely why Mostafiz Uddin, founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange, and denim factory owner, says he organized the forum in Dhaka: to put the various needs and opportunities on a single agenda – and so that Bangladesh can set an example for other manufacturing countries and for brands.

The Sustainable Apparel Forum, held this week in Dhaka, was organized by the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange in partnership with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association.

Photo: Courtesy of Mostafiz Uddin

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