An insightful conversation with Kerry Bannigan and Megan McAstocker, from the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network, about the importance of partnerships and open connections inside the fashion industry, and how advocacy, education, and engagement on sustainability can change the future.

The Conscious Fashion Campaign, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, is accelerating  global fashion industry action in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Last month, as part of phase two, they launched the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network, to engage creative sectors in support of the goals and COVID-19 response and recovery. The network is an online platform for industry stakeholders, governments, and NGOs to showcase actions, report progress, and share solutions accelerating the contribution of the fashion industry sector to reaching the SDGs by 2030. 

“The Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network offers an opportunity to cultivate an innovative and essential community of practice to help deliver sustainable change in the Decade of Action” states Annemarie Hou, Acting Executive Director at the UN Office for Partnerships, as it allows industry leaders to set a valuable example for sharing and openly discussing their experiences and projects.   

Current partnerships include Fashion4Development, Lenzing, Mara Hoffman Renewed, Messe Frankfurt Texpertise Network, Queen of Raw, Red Carpet Green Dress, Redress, and Swarovski Waterschool, to name a few projects inside the network. 

This innovative approach to collaboration comes from the mind of Kerry Bannigan, a British Social Entrepreneur, Advocate, and Advisor pioneering global fashion and media initiatives to accelerate transformative action for social, economic, and environmental change. 

Bannigan is a founding member and Executive Producer of the SDG Media Zone and the President of the Board at the PVBLIC Foundation. Her portfolio spans over fourteen years of purpose-driven programming, event production, and high-level partnerships with brands, government, and United Nations agencies. 

Also part of this initiative is Megan McAstocker, the Partnerships Manager for the Conscious Fashion Campaign. Her experience in the fashion and social impact industries spans over eight years, with a background in marketing, event production, social media, and partnerships. McAstocker, currently also serves as the Event Producer for the SDG Media Zone. 

Interviewer: What are the greatest accomplishments of the Conscious Fashion Campaign during its different phases, from the beginning to the launching of the network?

Megan McAstocker: Each milestone we have accomplished with the Conscious Fashion Campaign has been equally exciting to us. From our pilot event in 2018 during the Partnership Expo, hosted by United Nations Agencies aboard the Peace Boat, the world’s largest passenger ship sailing around the world for peace, sustainability, and innovation, to the successful launch of the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network last month.

A standout moment for us includes the launch of Sustainability by Design: Rethinking NYFW, a study featuring a comprehensive Executive Summary and Report focused on the environmental impact of New York Fashion Week alongside Boston Consulting Group, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).  

In December 2020 we worked with the British Fashion Council to align their Fashion Awards 2020 Honourees with a Sustainable Development Goal to reflect their positive change leadership. Over 800 key members of the international fashion industry were called upon to nominate whom they thought should receive an accolade. The awards were presented by: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Lewis Hamilton, Aja Barber, Maisie Williams, and Rosalía.

I: In an industry as “closed” as fashion, why do you advocate that collaboration and partnerships are the keys to a paradigm shift?

MM: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, partnerships and collaboration within the fashion industry are more important than ever. The fashion industry is a $2 trillion industry that employs more than 60 million people globally and has the potential to make an exponential change.  We are at a crucial moment in history, the SDGs remain the framework for recovering better together, collaboration and partnerships ensure an inclusive and resilient future for not only our industry but for people and the planet.  Partnerships will be crucial to leverage interlinkages between the SDGs and the future of the industry.

I: How do you encourage businesses and brands to join the network? Why does their commitment matter, and will being transparent about it build long-term connections according to your philosophy?

Kerry Bannigan: Businesses and brands are encouraged to join the network via our industry partnerships and digital community. Given its global reach, the fashion and lifestyle industries are uniquely positioned to collaborate and engage on the Sustainable Development Goals, especially as they confront the climate crisis and ensure a resilient post-pandemic recovery. Systemic change must be given precedence across the value chain. The Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network has been launched for industry stakeholders, governments, and NGOs to openly report ongoing progress and share solutions, thereby accelerating the sector’s contribution to delivering the goals. The collaborative community of practice aims to drive innovation, connect industry leaders, facilitate new partnerships and enact sustainable change.

How to Join the Network:

  1. Go to the official website of Partnerships for The SDGs, A Global Registry of Voluntary Commitments and Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships, to register your initiative. 
  2. Previously collect key information involving the initiative to fill-up the application, such as title, active partners inside the commitment, location.
  3. Select which Sustainable Development Goals and Targets you are committed to. Think of realistically achievable objectives according to your organization, brand, or community. 
  4. Provide details about the project; you have to be as clear as possible about coordination mechanisms, implementation methodologies, arrangements for capacity-building and technology transfer, completion date, and website to look at for more information regarding the initiative.
  5. Add tangible deliverables including the final delivery with concrete dates, and the resources that are devoted to this initiative. Do not forget to share contact details and private comments for the UN secretariat. 
  6. Engage with other’s goals, partnerships, and achievements. You can learn from their experience and encourage open innovation.

I: Once they have registered, how do you follow their progress on commitments? And how can affiliates engage with each other to collaborate?

KB: Registered initiatives should show an ongoing concrete contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the network, respect the principles of the United Nations and follow the SMART criteria – being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resource-based with Time-based deliverables. The voluntary commitments are reviewed periodically. Registered initiatives are invited to offer insights at think tanks, access to speaking opportunities, and invitations to future events. Additionally, contact details are openly available for initiative representatives to connect as well as attend hosted roundtables, workshops, and convenings.

What Are the Communities of Practice? 

According to Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, top researchers in this field, Communities of Practice are defined as, “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. This concept brings a useful perspective regarding knowledge and learning. A lot of organizations in transversal sectors are focusing on its value as it is “a key to improve their performance”.

A community of practice is dynamic and involves learning on the part of everyone. We can find it in government, education, associations, the social sector, international development, and the Web. 

To constitute a real Community of Practice, three characteristics are crucial:

  1. The Domain: It has to be clear the main domain of interest. The members are involved in the commitment, “and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people”.
  2. The Community: The members must build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. They care about their role and interactions, “members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information”.
  3. The Practice: Above all, members of the community of practice are practitioners. It is not only a community of interest who likes a certain topic. The interaction and practice, as in all communities, takes time. However, in the long term, “they develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems-in short a shared practice”. 

I: In terms of education programs, what are your future activities? What are the main principles to educate regarding the Sustainable Development Goals inside brands, projects, or businesses?

KB: We have a series of educational and knowledge sharing activities planned to range from global digital to regional in-person; including New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, and United Nations General Assembly. Our work is built on advocacy, education, and engagement – all as key core pillars to strengthen industry engagement of the Sustainable Development Goals by showcasing best practices and connecting United Nations representatives with industry stakeholders to show the implementation of the Goals within the business.