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Forests for Fashion and Fashion for Forests

Everyone talks of sustainable development, but who is really walking the talk?

Sustainable Development has increasingly become a common term on the international and national policy. It is high in the UN agenda, it is advocated for by a large number of NGOs and it is backed by numerous countries. But this concept is slow in penetrating beyond the surface of people’s life and it is even slower in become a driving factor for businesses.

Promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns is not easy.  Not only it requires solid political will and commitment, but also communication and outreach strategies that touch upon every level of society changing priorities, habits and unsustainable practices.

One of the main challenges for this change is not necessarily its affordability, but rather peoples’ awareness of the issue and the possibility of choosing between products and lifestyles. Sustainable development’s hard job is to sell itself showing to both people and businesses that the transition towards ‘the green economy’ is not only beneficial to our planet and lives, but that is also economically viable and profitable.

Within this paradigm shift, from unsustainable to sustainable development, forests are already playing, and increasingly will play a crucial role.

Forests provide many essential functions that we are all familiar with: preserving biodiversity, storing carbon and mitigating climate change, providing water catchment and clean air, as well as green jobs and environmentally friendly products. However, there are other wood-based products that are less known. Thanks to technological innovation, forests have also become the base for high-performing products and components found in the electronic, automotive and fashion industries.

The Forests for Fashion – Fashion for Forests event aimed at putting the spotlight on this issue, showing how innovative forest fibres have the potential to contribute to a greener economy while being both fashionable and highly marketable. Many of the clothes we wear everyday are made from traditional and new types of wood-based textiles, such as Lyocell/tencel and rayon. These are cellulose fibres produced from wood pulp, which are widely used in the fashion industry due to their smoothness, strength and more sustainable production chain.

Fashion is not always sustainable. It often promotes excessive and unsustainable consumption, is affordable to the richest parts of society only, frequently uses materials that are not ecological and in many instances flourishes on ‘indecent’ work conditions.

Through contribution of experts from different fields—from forestry to haute-couture to art—it was possible to show that when it comes to the use of materials, for instance, the fashion world could embrace more sustainable patterns and more ecological choices maintaining a profitable value chain that would also actively contribute in making our economies greener and, ultimately, our world a better one.

This paradigm shift was represented by the “Third Paradise” symbol, developed by a renowned Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, who played a crucial part in developing the event. This design epitomizes the alliance between nature and technology, a rebirth of society with a greater harmony between humankind and nature.

The Forests for Fashion event, the “Third Paradise” symbol and, more generally, our work at the UNECE/FAO are all reminders that the future starts from the sustainable management of forests; it then continues up the value chain to sustainable product production and sustainable consumption.

Where and when forests meet fashion, sustainable development truly is possible.