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Making fashion sustainable

September 07, 2017

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung

The fashion industry has a massive impact on climate change. The complex supply chain of one garment could account for a significant portion of global carbon emissions. The process cuts across various sectors and involves multiple countries - from agriculture in one place for raw materials such as cotton and hemp, to animal farming in another for leather, wool and cashmere, or oil drilling for polyester and related products, mining for metal and stones, followed by manufacturing and packaging by coal-powered factories, shipping by oil-fuel ocean-going vessels and even construction for stores and retail shops.

 

We should not forget how speedily fashion trends change and how they drive consumers' behaviour. The lifespan of clothing becomes shorter and shorter as the fashion cycle moves faster and faster. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see clothes briefly worn being tossed into landfills or shipped around the world to second-hand markets. This is why green advocates worldwide have urged both the public and private sectors to put more focus and emphasis on the wider issue of emission control at the supplier and consumer levels, while dealing with more visible problems that we have strived to eliminate over the years, such as illegal discharge of untreated chemicals and dyes into waterways.

 

Sustainable industry
Against this background, this fashion summit comes at a very timely moment. Adopting the theme of "zero impact", this two-day conference brings together government officials, world-renowned academics, industry players of various disciplines and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to explore viable options and solutions to minimise negative impacts on the environment while fostering the sustainable development of the fashion industry. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude to Felix Chung and the Fashion Summit Steering Committee for organising this insightful and meaningful signatory event in Hong Kong.

 

Fashion is an ideal channel to raise public awareness about climate change, considering its global supply chain and influence on culture and wealth of creativity. Above all, it allows the direct participation of consumers. In many ways, the industry can help promote environmental protection through involving the public and rewarding all those who contribute to it.

 

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region also attaches great importance to the sustainable development of our fashion industry. We have set up the Advisory Group on Implementation of Fashion Initiatives, comprising industry practitioners to advise on, guide and co-ordinate the implementation of measures to promote the sustainable development of the fashion industry. One of its key focus areas is nurturing fashion start-ups that can contribute to the sustainable development of Hong Kong. I am glad to note that the fashion summit has organised the Fashion Future Challenge Award to encourage young talents from local universities to explore innovative and pragmatic solutions for the fashion industry to tackle challenges in the future.

 

Besides, the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles & Apparel, which is established with government funding support, has adopted "sustainability" as one of the R&D focus areas in its technology development plan. A variety of technologies, such as zero discharge techniques, waterless technologies and energy efficiency improvements, are being explored to promote sustainability.

 

Clean supply chain
However, the Government's effort alone is definitely not enough. We need the support and co-operation from different sectors to induce behavioural changes at every stage of the supply chain to reform the complex mode of operation of the fashion industry. NGOs and universities in the region and overseas have joined hands to advocate a clean supply chain and develop various clean fashion programmes and self-assessment tools for industry players. Some NGOs have also partnered with multinational corporations to implement waste and emission reduction programmes in the manufacturing process. I am excited to learn that some of the speakers who will share their valuable experience and insights during the summit are from fashion brands that have participated in the low-carbon programmes, such as H&M, Gap and Kering.

 

Sustainable development concerns the wellbeing not only of this generation, but also of many more generations to come, which will inherit the legacy that we are creating today. The time is ripe therefore for the fashion industry to demonstrate its determination and ability to help reduce carbon emissions, raise public awareness about climate change and lead investment in technological solutions to minimise environmental impacts.

 

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung made these remarks at the opening ceremony of Fashion Summit (HK) 2017 on September 7.



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