Products of Change


Thu 24 Nov 2022 | by Rob Hutchins

Sustainable Fibres Alliance puts indigenous community concerns on fashion agenda

Given the trajectory of discourse at the Eurofins Sustainable Material Conference in London this week, it was maybe the last thing attendees expected when conversation turned to the responsibilities of Western industry to the indigenous people of the East. A conversation that has fought hard to find its place on the global agenda, COP27 marked a turning point when wealthy nations promised a ‘loss and damages’ fund for the global south and those most affected by climate change. It ought not, therefore, come as a surprise that sensibilities like these are beginning to make their voices heard in business. Delivered by Una Jones, the CEO of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance, discussion focused on the group’s aim to represent the indigenous herder communities producing wool and leather to gain a place at the table of Western industry, such as fashion, while educating and managing the sustainable sourcing of materials such as cashmere. Mongolian born Una’s message was a clear one. There’s a gulf of disparity between the scale of the global fashion industry and the slice of the pie shared with the indigenous people across regions such as China and Mongolia. In fact, it’s 0.2% of the global fashion industry that currently supports the livelihoods of two-thirds of the world’s indigenous people by adopting materials like cashmere, alpaca wool, and responsibly sourced leather. “This, at a time when 70% of Western fashion remains dependent on polymer and fossil-fuel based materials,” said Una. But as well as flying the flag for these fibres in fashion, Una’s mission spans the responsible and sustainable management of the rangelands from which they are produced. The better managed they are, she suggests, the better livelihoods for the herders. It’s why, in September this year, and in partnership with Eurofins and BLC Leather Tech, the Sustainable Fibre Alliance launched its Rangeland Stewardship Council with the overarching goal to ‘ensure that indigenous communities have a future in the fashion space.’ Its remit is to educate on and manage the sustainable management of rangeland, areas of the world’s land integral for preserving culture, heritage, and just as importantly, biodiversity. “80% of the world’s land is managed by indigenous communities,” explained Una. “It’s important that that is managed properly – through regenerative farming and sustainable practice – so that we can preserve biodiversity and avoid soil degradation.” Observing that doing so requires collective action from the herding communities, the Rangeland Stewardship Code of Practice requires that herders demonstrate good practice in adaptive management to improve rangeland condition and local livelihoods. It’s all part of the process of improving transparency across the materials supply chain. Check back in with Products of Change for more on the Sustainable Fibres Alliance soon.