This article is number seven of a series delving into the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry. This article explores the links between the TCF industry and SDG 3, the goal specifically dedicated to health and well-being for all ages…
Welcome back to the sixth article in our series delving into the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and Australia’s textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry. This time we explore the links between the TCF industry and SDG 3, the goal specifically dedicated to health and well-being for all ages.
It goes without saying that the impacts of COVID-19 on the Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) industry here in Australia, and across the globe, are significant. The closing of physical retail stores and the halting of manufacturing orders at an unprecedented scale have resulted in the standing down of thousands of workers - both here and overseas. Dealing with the fallout from this is challenging, particularly given that much of what we can - and cannot - affect is, to a large extent, currently well outside of our control. In this context, we think it’s important to focus on the health and wellbeing of all industry stakeholders.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 is the SDG dedicated specifically to health and wellbeing. It has 13 targets covering issues such as improving maternal, neonatal and infant health; combating communicable diseases; reducing non-communicable diseases; preventing and treating substance abuse; sexual and reproductive health care services and universal health care coverage. Target 3.4 is the focus for this article: “By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.”
The last few weeks have been - a new level of - stressful. With the situation continually evolving, and the responses constantly shifting, it seems that everyone everywhere is facing at least one moment per day that is proving testing for them and, either directly or indirectly, is impacting on mental health and wellbeing.
For some, the immediate focus on keeping businesses afloat right now will be their paramount priority. The Legacy Summit conference has highlighted just how hard the realities are that are facing the industry at present. Marnie Goding, Co-owner and Creative Director of Elk told us on Day 1 of the conference how she is taking the situation one day at a time, every decision is based on the sustainability of the business, with taking care of the staff and suppliers at the core. Now, more than ever, it is critical to support businesses - if you are able to - that align with your values to assist businesses to continue operating. Every purchase choice counts.
While some businesses have been able to speedily pivot to online services, moving online in and of itself is not a complete solution. Many workplaces have already stood down employers due to stores shutting, demand slowing down and/or supply not forthcoming. Heartbreakingly, there may be more losses to come in the foreseeable future. This, obviously, brings with it immediate priorities, including being able to provide for yourself and, where relevant, your dependents.
In these trying circumstances, perhaps it is more important than ever to “promote mental health and wellbeing” for everyone who is being affected by this unexpected shift. How do we do this?
Maybe this is where we focus on fashion’s inimitable creative spirit. What we wear impacts how we think and feel, (“enclothed cognition” is the term). It is also a form of self-expression and forms part of our non-verbal communication. Perhaps, in isolation, what we choose to wear, and how we wear it, becomes more salient.
Using fashion as a vehicle for connection - to build new ties or strengthen existing ones - is also relevant. We have seen some brands develop new platforms, or repurpose existing ones, largely to connect with their customers. Some brands are sending out weekly, or even daily, emails or insta posts checking up on their customers. Some are asking their customers to dress up and post photos. All of this helps to build, or strengthen, connections and create a feeling of real community.
Individuals are also focusing on their wardrobes as a force for good. Ethically Kate @ethicallykate, (who includes getting dressed for work as one of her 5 tips for working from home) has started a “Feel Good Dress Theme” activity encouraging people to feel good and get dressed for their work day (or be delighted and entertained). Some brave citizens are conducting daily online polls, crowd-sourcing their outfits for the next day, (Julie’s outfits, complete with accessories, are now being chosen by her 9 year old). There are also outfit shots popping up all over our socials that are incredibly imaginative (and sometimes also incredibly outrageous) and are providing much needed comic relief.
As we have covered in previous articles, the negative environmental impacts of the textile industry include its carbon emissions, water and chemical usage, and the overproduction and under-utilisation of many garments. Extending the life of garments by “Shopping your wardrobe”, a concept that relies on you embracing what you already own, is a high impact and inversely positive impact that we can all have right now. As Fashion Revolution says, let’s “fall back in love with the clothes we already own”.
We can also become crafters and creators, both of which will benefit your wellbeing (this article highlights how craft is good for our health). There are loads of sewing tutorials and repair advice online for you to upskill yourself. Learn how to sew that loose button back on, hem those pants and re-thread that elastic string that keeps coming out of your tracksuit pants. If you own a sewing machine, check out Citizen Wolf’s Remote Tote, (found here). These are DIY sew-at-home tote bags made from fabric offcuts from their T-shirt production and paired with upcycled City of Sydney event banners (rescued from landfill).
On the manufacturing aspect alone, we know already that some fashion retailers have cancelled or put on hold more than $3 billion worth of orders in Bangladesh, and the Vietnam textile sector is anticipating USD467 million losses, also as a result of cancelled orders. While the TCF industry as a whole is facing tremendous challenges from COVID-19, of particular concern is the health and wellbeing of the millions of garment workers in the manufacturing districts globally, as a result of the slowing and, in some cases, shutting down of factories.
For many, there is no financial safeguard in place (at this stage anyway). As responsible, global citizens, we need to ensure that there is a focus on the mental health and wellbeing of all workers across the whole supply chain as we collectively develop responses going forward. Melinda Tually’s introduction at Legacy Summit on 1 April, made a compelling case for focusing on fairness for the garment workers in factories around the world. “There is no us and them” said Melinda, calling for everyone to “collectively share the humanity around.”
Around the world, the industry’s ability to channel its creativity and innovative skill set to assist with responses to the COVID-19 crisis has been inspirational.
In Australia, a number of business owners with local production operations are offering to collaborate with governments to produce personal protective clothing.  Nobody Denim and Cue are examples of brands with manufacturing sites onshore who have already offered up their factories for this purpose. A.BCH is giving away dust masks for free with every purchase and has published their pattern for anyone to make at home. Vogue Australia Editor and Australian Fashion Council chair Edwina McCann, has stated: “Our most creative are often our most innovative and the Australian fashion industry is behind doing what is best for the country.” 
Internationally, big labels are now redeploying their skilled workforces in order to assist with the response. Zara is sourcing material to make masks and hospital gowns. H&M Group has also rearranged its supply chain to produce protective equipment for hospitals and healthcare workers. Christian Siriano, Prada, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga have all said they are turning their production lines to produce face masks. LVMH (the house of Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy) has stated its intention to supply French authorities with 40 million face masks. Kering is also working to purchase and donate 3 million surgical masks to the French health service. Mango has been working to distribute 2 million donated face masks to Spanish hospitals.
These pivots are not only providing support where it’s most needed, but are also helping many garment workers stay employed. Undoubtedly, this will assist with the mental health and well-being of both the workers and their dependents.
Alongside its well-known traits of creativity and dynamism, the TCF industry is, at its heart, about people and this is something to hold onto going forward. While not every label can pivot to help directly, and we are not saying that every brand or business should do this, every industry member - big or small - can focus on taking care of each other.
Be kind, be gentle, and, where possible, look for opportunities to work together going forward. Together we can embrace this growing sense of responsibility to think about a future for all of us that is inclusive, equitable, environmentally responsible and resilient - the component parts of what a sustainable TCF industry should encompass.
We will leave the final word to the AFC in its newsletter update on 20 March:
“In the meantime, we urge you, whenever possible, to take a long term approach in making decisions about your business, always putting your people first and working closely with them to find ways to keep them safe at work and secure in their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or stressed by news of the outbreak.
If you're struggling with your mental health and need immediate support, The Beyond Blue Support Service offers short term counselling and referrals by phone and webchat on 1300 22 4636. They also have a great fact sheet specific to the Coronavirus here >>
You can also contact Lifeline and look over their guide here. You can contact them by Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours/7 days) Text: 0477 13 11 14 (6pm – midnight AEDT, 7 nights), and online Chat: https://www.lifeline.org.au/crisis-chat (7pm - midnight, 7 nights).
This article is thanks to Julie Boulton & Aleasha McCallion from Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University. Stay tuned from more from this series as they delve into the SDG’s in detail over the coming months, and join the conversation on Twitter at @MonashMSDI