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by on December 1, 2013

What do the United Nations and fashion have in common?  Apparently not much, but thanks to the Ethical Fashion Initiative this is no longer true.

The Ethical Fashion Initiative is a project from the International Trade Centre (commonly refer as ITC), a joint organism from both the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and it was conceived by M. Simone Cipriani. M. Cipriani can be defined as a ‘fashion insider’ who decided to bring ethics to fashion and turned this into his personal goal. [i]In order to achieve that, personal branding tools have being key [ii], famous designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood not only used African artisans from the project to manufacture some of their designs but have also acted as ‘ambassadors for the initiative.

EFI blog pic 1

It is not the first time we see fashion celebrities supporting various causes, however this support usually takes form of charity galas and check writing; what is new about Cipriani’s project is that is not about help but about sustainability and self-efficiency.

As summarised in the initiative’s slogan ‘not charity, just work’[i], the connection between the marginalised communities and the fashion chains result in a new business model that provides not only employment but also dignity to people, from Masai women running from their polygamous marriages to Haiti artisans who have lost it all but their hands and their crafting skills.

EFI blog pic 2

In its creator words, “Another kind of fashion is possible, bringing social and environmental sensibility”[iii], going beyond some pity purchases for tourists and creating real sustainable business by connecting the ‘poorest of the poor’ to the markets of the world via fashion.

The initiative impact will not only include the revolution of the fashion industry; by bringing a third model, adding to the Asian mass and the European luxury models the African artisan[iv]; but also as a completely new approach to development that has proven more effective than some of previous UN Development Programme projects which have become major failures [v] (always keeping in mind that there have also been successes) and therefore can be extrapolated into other industries.

On a final remark about the project’s positive impact it is necessary to mention its effect on women empowerment, provided that it gives value to the learned skills not considered as such by their community, not to forget the fact that having a salary in the family gives the young in the house a better chance for education.

 To summarise, this new vision of luxury that brings together branding as a powerful tool for economic development together with handwork, respect for the environment and decency in employment is the perfect combination for sustainable development.



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