The combination of the rapidly expanding global fashion and beauty industry and the internet is providing opportunities for developing countries.
It enables them to use their creative talents and cultural heritages to create jobs and sell products that are environmentally responsible. And even better, results can come swiftly thanks to the internet. Their ideas, designs, and products can be displayed online and sold rapidly around the world.
Small businesses leading the way
Experts at UNCTAD’s “Best of Nature” conference believe fashion, cosmetics and perfume can lead to significant increase of employment in developing countries. We are mainly talking about small businesses which there, as well as in the rest of the world, is an important component of progress. With the right marketing such creative work can be not only profitable but promote different cultures and biodiversity as well.
Scents of the developing world
Biodiversity is a source of creativity and new products for the perfume industry. It is vital for supply chains to be transparent so that natural ingredients are responsibly harvested to make sure that the supply of valuable plants is not exhausted, Michel Mane, President of Mane USA said. He added that “by establishing techniques for the growth of perfume ingredients in developing countries we are able to ensure the ecological viability of our ingredients. By using both cutting-edge, environmentally benign agricultural practices and providing local employment we are able to ensure the ecological viability of our ingredients”.
Sustainable use of water & soil
More than 40% of Unilever’s turnover is now in developing countries, said Giulia DiTommaso, Unilever’s Director of External Affairs for Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. They are one of the largest buyers in the world of ingredients such as palm oil and have noticed increased consumer interest in environmentally friendly products. Unilever is hence focusing on sustainable use of water, soils and, not to forget, respect for biodiversity.
A vital issue is how environmentally responsible products can be certified and traced. We want to be sure of what we are buying. According to Sean Ansett, Managing Partner of At Stake Advisors, “customers will want to be able to trace their purchases “from farm to fork and from mine to mobile phone”. Current technology is showing that such traceability is now possible, if difficult”.
“Environmentally transparent” supply chains
“There are “tool sets” to allow corporations to improve the transparency of their supply chains. Doing so generates brand trust and loyalty, especially as customers increasingly demand that products be environmentally responsible”, Tim Wilson of Historic Features said. They supply such tools to customers like Wal-Mart.
Definitions of “natural” and “organic” still have not been set by for instance the European Union, but are under development and definitions hence still vary from country to country.
Organic African fashion popular in the West
African fashion is increasingly popular in the developed world and is creating thousands of jobs in Africa. There is for instance a fashion school in Niger that’s helping 150 African designers develop their talents.
What Africa needs is the capacity to mass produce fashion, says Anggy Haif, a Cameroonian fashion designer. The continent lacks the infrastructure and industry needed for widespread production of natural-fibre clothes. But there is a huge market for that kind of clothes and many jobs depend on developing such facilities.
So now that concern over the environment is mounting, and words such as “green” and “sustainable” and “responsible” are heard widely, environmentally responsible fashion and beauty products have the opportunity to shift from niche products to being much more widely used. Environmentally responsible fashions can become cultural ambassadors that change global value sets and lead to other economic changes that also foster greater respect for the environment.
Wouldn’t it hence be an idea for aid and donor organisations to devote more time and money to assisting developing countries with getting the infrastructure and know-how needed to develop more such companies? To do so would lead to sustainable development that would enable the nations to gradually work and trade themselves to a better standard of living. As opposed to most aid it would not just have a temporary effect but would assist the developing world long term starting now.
photo: Ethan Allen Flickr