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GENEVA – A new global initiative is encouraging a shift in textile production from fossil fuel-based synthetic fibres to renewable, biodegradable textiles, made from wood. The initiative, which spells great news for wood-derived fibre businesses such as Lenzing and Birla Cellulose, is aimed at cutting down the environmental impact of the global fashion sector, which is valued upward of US$2.5 trillion and employs 75 million people globally.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE)-FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) ‘Forests for Fashion’ initiative, links forest-based materials from sustainably managed forests, with the world of fashion.

“Sustainability of a society is both an individual and a collective responsibility,” UN Development Programme (UNDP) goodwill ambassador Michelle Yeoh told Apparel Insider.

“Fashion is often a synonym of dangerous working conditions, unsafe processes and hazardous substances used in production,” she added, citing the cruel abuses of modern slavery and child labour.

Although the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious blueprint for governments, Ms. Yeoh stressed that everyone must make a conscious choice to change habits and plan for the future.

“Today we count around 3.2 billion people in the global middle class,” she said. “By 2030, this number will rise to about 5.4 billion with the major part of the growth occurring in Asia. The 2.2 billion people entering the global middle class will aspire to a similar lifestyle as we know it today – which includes a similar consumption pattern with respect to clothing.”

Calling fashion “a major development challenge,” Ms. Yeoh said clothing is “an essential element for the transition towards sustainable societies.”

While acknowledging the need for governments’ involvement in shifting the fashion industry to in the right direction, she put the main onus on individuals to start the fashion revolution

“Many of us would also think that forests are best left untouched, however often by adding value to their products that we can best protect them, and in many cases restoration efforts can be coupled with productive forests,” she said.

It has also been claimed forests can create productive ecosystems, to support local and rural communities. According to the UNDP envoy, “forest fibre are already a reality and textile businesses are growing or buying large forest extensions.”

“New fibres are highly sustainable, their carbon and ecological footprints are low, and there are different fast-growing species suitable for different places and climates,” she added.

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