Insights from the Asia Future Lab for Innovation and Policy
How to design future-proof solutions for the Asian textile-fashion sector?
On October 4th 2022, SEED and GO4SDGs organised the Asia Future Lab for Innovation and Policy. The event was organised as part of the Global Future Lab series, bringing together around 30 regional SME stakeholders, such as policy makers, intermediaries and SMEs to co-create and develop future-proof solution. Designed to connect and leverage the expertise of these key stakeholders, the outcome of the Future Labs will inform a Sustainable SME Action Agenda.
The participatory lab focused on the Asian textile-fashion sector. Offering employment to more than 300 million people worldwide, the textile-fashion sector remains crucial to realising the ambitions set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, the textile-fashion sector is itself a major contributor to global environmental problems. Historically, Asian countries have dominated the global textile industry as major exporters. This has been accompanied by often severe environmental challenges, such as water pollution. Therefore, the Asia Future Lab aimed to offer a platform for key SME stakeholders to discuss how SMEs are leading the way to transform the regional textile-fashion sector, which challenges they still face and what potential there is for further action. In so doing, the discussion was guided by Five Key Action Areas such as Innovation, Non-Financial Support, Finance, Policy and Market.
The event featured some exemplary cases of SMEs, intermediaries and policy makers, who shared their success stories and challenges throughout the event.
The panel brought together a diverse group of SME stakeholders, including representatives from government, intermediaries and green textile-fashion SMEs. Part of the panel were Ukhnaa Sarangoo from Agronomes et Vétérinaires sans frontières (AVSF) (Mongolia), Prajakta Verma from the Ministry of Textiles (India), Hu Kehua of the Office of Social Responsibility of the National Textile and Apparel Council (China), Amorpol Huvanandana of Moreloop (Thailand) and Zinaida Fadeeva of the SWITCH-ASIA SCP Facility. The panel was kicked off by Ukhnaa Sarangoo, who pointed out some of the key challenges faced in the textile-fashion sector. For instance, how the expectation to receive sustainable products for the same prices as unsustainable ones often clashes with the reality of high production costs. She highlighted the need for more readiness to invest in sustainable supply chains and to improve the green loan system. To introduce the government perspective, Prajakta Verma spoke about the importance of regulations and complementing benchmarks to support advancements toward the green economy. For the next few years, she highlighted three main issues: improving and innovating on textile waste, advocating to replace the current trend of fast fashion with responsible fashion trends and adopting sustainable technologies along the entire textile value chain. Adding to this, Hu Kehua elaborated on the government’s role to steer the economy toward more sustainability. He emphasised the importance of government regulation and high-level goals, such as national carbon neutrality pledges, that function as a point of orientation for all actors in the economy. Introducing the perspective of green textile-fashion SMEs, Amorpol Huvanandana explained how – at Moreloop – they embarked on the journey to build a sustainable textile-fashion enterprise. Utilising the online market space, combined with a green business model, they were able to build a successful SME. However, he elaborated on one of the key challenges for green textile-fashion SMEs, namely explaining how the enterprise is more sustainable than many mainstream alternatives. He emphasised that we must introduce sustainable practices into the mainstream, making them more known to consumers and businesses. The panel was concluded with the input of Zinaida Fadeeva, speaking from an intermediary’s perspective. She highlighted the need to go beyond individual regulations, standards and laws and aim for a comprehensive policy package, thereby addressing the variety of challenges and combining regulations with incentives and benefits to green enterprises.
Building on these initial insights from the panel discussion, the Deep-Dive Working Groups continued to expand on the identified solutions. The working groups were kicked off with a first input of the SME, intermediary and government champions, presenting their ambitions and challenges to future-proof solutions in the textile-fashion sector. Hannes MacNulty and Youngran Hur provided a first overview of UNEP’s ambitions for future proof solutions in the textile-fashion sector to open the discussion. To complement these insights, entrepreneurs Amita Deshpande (Recharkha, India) and Vimlendu Jha (Green the Map, India) introduced their business model and made the case for green textile-fashion SMEs. Ding Shuang (China National Institute of Standardisation) and Rogier van Mansvelt (GGGI, Cambodia) further expanded on these ideas from an intermediary and research perspective. The Working Groups advanced the discussion along the Five Action Areas Innovation, Non-Financial Support, Finance, Policy and Market. Along these action areas, they identified three critical next steps to designing future-proof solutions: First, there is a need for better communication and outreach. Green SMEs have an advantage today, namely that they already meet more ambitious targets for sustainability than their competitors. However, it often remains difficult for them to communicate this advantage towards their customers and share their lessons with partners. Secondly, support programmes in each of the Five Action Areas must be better tailored to the specific geographic and cultural contexts, targeting the specific enterprise sector and business model. Finally, coordination of all of these activities presents a major challenge. To successfully design future-proof solutions for 2030, activities must be well coordinated across the textile-fashion sector, involving all key stakeholders.
These outcomes of the Asia Future Lab, together with the other events in the Global Future Lab Series, will inform the Sustainable SME Action Agenda and help frame pathways for future actions to be ready for the challenges of 2030.