The U.N. and Fashion Charter Release the Sustainable Fashion Playbook : Eradicate Overconsumption

The U.N. and Fashion Charter release the sustainable fashion playbook, urging the industry to overhaul practices encouraging overconsumption and novelty. 
With the climate crisis looming ever larger, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Fashion Charter, under the aegis of United Nations Climate Change, are urging the fashion industry to radically transform its messaging. The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook, launched at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, appeals to fashion powerhouses to eschew messages advocating overconsumption, and instead, promote sustainable practices like secondhand shopping. The playbook emerges as an industry-first endeavor backed by the inputs of over 160 industry executives and Fashion Charter signatories.


Sustainable Fashion Playbook

The playbook’s blueprint hinges on an ambitious overhaul of entrenched industry norms – from questioning the significance of fashion shows, traditionally the lifeblood of trendsetting and business negotiations, to reimagining a new sustainability narrative for the industry. More than just a guide, it underscores the role of the fashion industry as a potential change-maker in society. As Rachel Arthur, a U.N. sustainable fashion advocate, puts it, “The way we present [and market] fashion needs to be on the table and part of the conversation moving forward on sustainability.”
The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook provides practical guidance, including lists of dos and don’ts for consideration and case studies as examples of best practice.  
  • Lead with Science: Shows communicators why and how a dedication to scientific evidence and transparency is fundamental to communication change. This is presented as the Playbook’s foundation level for sustainable fashion communication, recognising the importance of translating technical, science-based information into credible and meaningful messaging. 
  • Change Behaviours and Practices: Moves onto the need for a cultural shift, explaining why eradicating messages of overconsumption is crucial. It also encourages communicators to point consumers towards lower impact and circular solutions instead, such as repair and reuse, helping to normalise sustainable behaviours. 
  • Reimagine Values: Focuses on the necessity for role models to help portray alternative models of status and success, decoupling identity from newness and recalibrating what is deemed aspirational so as to social proof a sustainable future. It also emphasises how communicators can explore, explain and celebrate the positive ecological, cultural and social values of the fashion sector, bringing in a focus on inclusivity. 
  • Drive Advocacy: Demonstrates how communicators can empower consumers into their role as citizens to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers alike, holding stakeholders throughout the sector to account. 
While the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook doesn’t seek to eradicate certain elements intrinsic to the fashion industry, it does call for serious introspection. Fashion shows, for instance, are not only a spectacle of creativity but also a powerful marketing tool. However, Arthur emphasizes the need to confront the carbon footprint of such events. Beyond this, the playbook pushes for the exploration of the ‘brainprint’ of fashion – the ripple effect of fashion communication that fuels an often linear and insatiable consumption journey.
Addressing the role of the media in fashion coverage, Arthur maintains that the U.N. isn’t in a position to dictate priorities, but rather urges stakeholders to recognize and grapple with their role in shaping narratives. She suggests that the playbook can serve as a universal guide, applicable across the industry spectrum – from fast fashion players to influencers.
The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook also broaches cultural sensitivity, encouraging the showcasing of heritage and craftsmanship without cultural appropriation. Moreover, it calls on influencers to champion the communal and feel-good aspects of sustainable fashion over mindless consumption.
Signing the Fashion Charter are 100 companies and 41 supporting organizations, including Adidas, LVMH, H&M Group, and suppliers like AGI Denim, Crystal Group, and TAL Apparel. As of March, approximately 45 percent of the Charter’s signatories have met targets aligned with the 1.5-degree Celsius pathway. However, the playbook’s success won’t merely be gauged by the number of new signatories or downloads; its ultimate goal is to serve as a guide, a framework for fashion stakeholders to evaluate, adapt, and reform their practices in line with a sustainable, climate-conscious future.
As an extension of the U.N.’s efforts to reshape the fashion landscape, UNEP is offering a free masterclass series throughout 2023 to educate and engage those interested in forging a sustainable path in fashion. This marks another step in UNEP’s Textiles Flagship Initiative, a strategic leadership push to transition the fashion industry towards a circular economy. The sustainable future of fashion, it seems, hinges on industry leaders and influencers embracing and implementing the playbook’s call to action.