Empowering women through fashion

23 September 2014
ITC News
New Yorkers and UN officials see the power of fashion fuelling development

Women’s economic empowerment and fashion took centre stage at the United Nations’ New York headquarters on 22 September during a luncheon hosted and chaired by the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Arancha González.

The Women Empowering Women luncheon was an opportunity to showcase the work of participants attached to ITC’s Women and Trade Programme. Women designers from Ethiopia, India, Mongolia, Palestine, Papua New Guinea and Peru had collaborated with London College of Design, and Parson The New School of Design to prepare their collections. These were showcased during a catwalk, which first blended the work of the women designers with the work of students, followed by the women’s own creations.

The event was part of the opening of the LDNY Festival, a month-long series of events in London and New York. More than 250 people attended the event, which was co-chaired by Gina Casar, Associated Administrator of UNDP, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. Other prominent guests at the lunch event included Cherie Blair, Ban Soon-taek, wife of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Cameron Russell, supermodel and leading supporter of ITC’s women empowerment initiatives.

Building skills and knowledge

During her welcome speech, Ms. González pointed out that many people underestimate the economic impact of the fashion sector. ‘Its potential to create jobs along the value chain, add value to raw materials, develop ingenuity and bridge geographical boundaries are limitless,’ she said.

Ms. González added that, like in so many other sectors, even though the ideas and the capacity exist among the talented entrepreneurs in developing countries, there is a need to bring them closer to the market.

‘It is about building their skills and knowledge to understand the industry, leverage opportunities, expand their customer base, and through success, generate more jobs and revenue in their home country,’ she said.

The women designers represented at the Women Empowering Women luncheon employ in total more than 1,500 workers at various locations around the world.

Ms Cameron said: ‘This is an opportunity to be a conscious participant in an incredible supply chain, connecting directly to artisans whose work is deeply rooted in tradition and whose business supports thousands of women in developing economies.’

‘I have a deep respect for the incredible power of fashion to elevate the lives of women, to give them both an income and a voice, and I truly believe this ITC program is a chance we have to serve a global community and sisterhood,’ she said.

Fashion for development

Mrs. Ban said that, whereas her husband does not know much about fashion, when it comes to how he dresses, ‘when it comes to his job as United Nations Secretary-General, he has learned that the fashion industry has amazing creativity that can power change around the world’.

‘Fashion is fun and inspiring – and more than that, fashion can help advance progress,’ she said. ‘Today’s event proves that designers are more than creative artists, they are agents of advancement.’

Ms. Casar said ‘Gender equality and the empowerment of women are important goals in their own right. We also believe they are central to building peaceful, prosperous and sustainable societies overall. We know that when women and girls are empowered, their children, communities, and nations have better development outcomes.’

That is a view supported by Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. ‘Ensuring inclusion of women’s talent, skills, and energies – from the executive office to the runway –requires intentional action and deliberate support,’ she said.

‘The fashion industry has a key role to play. You can have a powerful impact by partnering to expand and support women’s entrepreneurship, and helping women move up the value chain, to fuel inclusive and sustainable business, economies and societies.’

The luncheon at UN headquarters was an opportunity for the women from Ethiopia, India, Mongolia, Palestine, Papua New Guinea and Peru to showcase their design to buyers, leading fashion journalists and senior public officials. On Tuesday it was back to business for the women designers as they set up shop in Joey Showroom to meet potential partners and sell their collections.