Ugandan eco-product designer welcomes charter linking fashion with climate change

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Water Journalists Africa, Africa

Uganda’s renowned eco-product designer Sarah Nakisanze has welcomed a new fashion industry charter for climate action launched during this year’s United Nations climate change summit, describing it as “healthy.”

The fashion industry charter for climate action, which is aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement -- including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below two degrees -- was launched in early December during the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Katowice, Poland. 

 

Stefan Seidel (right), head of corporate sustainability at Puma SE, a German multinational company, speaking during the launch of the charter in Katowice.

According to the UN, the process of manufacturing clothing -- through energy intensive production and supply chain distribution -- produces 10 percent of the world's climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives of the UNFCCC estimate that if nothing is done to address this, emissions from the fashion sector will soar to more than 60 percent by 2030.

Now, Nakisanze, the Kampala-based designer, educator and art practice researcher, says the new charter “might change people’s ways of doing things,” by promoting the use of “sustainable materials” and processes in garment production that could help to collectively reduce these emissions.

Specifically, the charter targets addressing the climate change impact of the fashion sector across its entire value chain, with a vision of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

One way of doing so is through the use of sustainable and organic materials in the production of garments, just as Nakisanze does already.

Her current doctoral research focuses on how fashion contributes to social sustainability through traditional cultural aesthetics, and she works with indigenous craft materials and other natural fibers to produce eco-friendly clothing brands.

Her chemical-free barkcloth fabric, for example, is sustainably harvested by hand from the fig tree locally known as Mutuba. Promoting the use of this material encourages the conserving and growing of more trees to produce fabric. Trees militate against climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

The craft materials Nakisanze sources from artisanal communities are also chemical free, use less water and do not produce pollution.

“I am advocating for garments that transform,” says, Nakisanze, a don at Makerere University, which designs works labelled Lususu managed and presented by Easy Afric Designs Ltd. Her Art works are labelled Nakisanze Sarah.

She says the fashion industry charter for climate action could “popularize” sustainable responsibility.

“Fashion is a popular culture. It pulls the masses, making it easy to change their attitudes,” notes Nakisanze, stressing that, “people’s attitudes are every key in this.”

Speaking at the launch of the charter, Stefan Seidel, head of corporate sustainability at Puma SE, a German multinational company that designs and manufactures Puma athletic and casual footware among other products, said everyone on the planet is wearing products of the fashion industry, which puts people in direct contact with it.

Why would the fashion industry be interested in its environmental impact, he asked, since after all, it's about selling shoes and clothing.

Because of it's huge impact.

“Our climate emissions are estimated to be higher than those of the transport sector and those of Russia, so that shows the size of the problem that we are facing,” Seidel said.

Russia, with a population of 144 million people, emitted 1,693 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, according to the Global Carbon Project.

Up to 43 leading companies in the global fashion industry including Adidas, Hugo Boss, H&M Group, Puma SE, and global logistics company Maersk, among others, have committed to implementing or supporting the fashion charter that resulted from the COP.

As signatories, these companies have committed to reducing their aggregate emission by 30 percent by 2030. They have also committed to keep quantifying, tracking and publicly reporting their emissions, consistent with standards and best practices of measurement and transparency.

Reporting for this story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation. A version of this story originally appeared on Water Journalists Africa on Dec. 31, 2018.