Insights from the West Asia Future Lab for Innovation and Policy
How to design future-proof solutions for the West Asian textile-fashion sector?
On September 20th 2022, SEED and GO4SDGs, together with the West Asia Sustainable Fashion Academy, organised the West 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 West 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. In West Asia, where textiles have played a historically important role, countries have recently emerged as major exporters of fashion trends. The growth of the regional industry has helped economic development, but also led to increased environmental challenges. Therefore, the West Asia Future Lab offered 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 event was kicked off with a high-level panel discussion with Sudki Hamdan of the Environmental Statistics Department of Jordan, Jalal Moghraby of the Lebanese American University, Meshail Alomari of WUNDR and Omar Itani of Fabric Aid. First, Sudki Hamdan highlighted the environmental challenges of the textile-fashion sector from the perspective of a government actor. Especially, the high levels of water usage required in textile production and disposal. He elaborated on the potential to apply circular economy practices and reuse and repurpose textile waste, for instance by using it in building insulations. To succeed with these programmes, he emphasised the importance to coordinate activities between different actors and agencies. Secondly, Jalal Moghraby introduced a researcher’s perspective. By comparing solutions that are reactive to the challenge, such as recycling and upcycling activities, to proactive solutions, such as complete re-design, he identified some major difficulties for the industry. By using innovative materials that are sustainable, the industry can become more environmentally friendly, but without proper communication of these changes to the consumers, they will remain niche solutions. Next, Meshail Alomari offered insights into the perspective of an entrepreneurial fashion designer. Initially, she could identify several benefits to green and sustainable fashion, however, dealing with other actors in the textile industry presents a challenge, as many actors are set in their ways. Therefore, it is difficult to get access to certain textiles, even though they could be recycled, because the factories have always considered them as waste and, consequently, do not offer to sell them. Finally, Omar Itani elaborated on the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in the textile-fashion sector. A key challenge for enterprises is to bring their businesses and solutions to scale as they lack access to financing solutions. In fact, the entire funding architecture for social enterprises remains relatively weak, despite huge growth potential.
Building on these initial inputs, the workshop continued to expand on these solutions in the Deep-Dive Working Groups. 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. Entrepreneurs Aisha Dweikat (Aisha Design) and Lujain Al-Hasan (Eco-Textile Entrepreneur) offered insights into the specific SME context. To complement these inputs, Zaid Qardan (Dar Abu Abdallah) introduced the intermediary perspective of an organisation supporting micro enterprises. Finally, Ishraq Salman Maayta (Greater Amman Municipality, Jordan) elaborated on the government’s perspective. Working along the Five Key Action Areas of Innovation, Non-Financial Support, Finance, Policy and Market, the working groups identified some preliminary next steps to design future-proof solutions for green textile-fashion SMEs. The working groups found that currently the topic of textile-fashion is frequently overlooked. To be able to scale the existing solutions, it is necessary to increase the number of tailored support programmes and financing schemes. To do this, policy makers must use their influence to make the topic of sustainability in the textile-fashion sector more heard. Moreover, the working groups emphasised the role of tech solution providers. This includes access to new and digital technologies that can further improve the working mechanisms of the textile-fashion sector, as well as training programmes to help implement technologies. Finally, the working groups reiterated the importance of communication towards the industry and towards the consumers in order to maximise the reach of the solutions.
The outcomes of the West 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.