What We Can Learn From The CNMI’s Sustainability Guidelines

Maybe I love Italy because I spent two years in high school learning about its culture and history, or maybe it’s because I lived there for three weeks and never wanted to leave. Or Maybe I love Italy because its food is delicious and its fashion is incredible. And the language? Don’t even get me started. Lo amo l’Italia. Regardless, Italy has a very special place in my heart. So does the Italian fashion industry.

This week, Italy’s Camera Nazionale Della Moda, the CNMI or National Chamber for Italian Fashion, released specific guidelines for fashion companies to observe in order to reduce the use of chemicals in their manufacturing processes. I’m loving (and missing) the country a little extra today.

The fashion body worked alongside other associations concerning operations in the industry to conduct studies on over 350 chemicals to define the parameters for their use. Not only did they do their research, but they also set targets for brands to significantly lessen the use of chemicals in the next few years.

Italian companies involved with the CNMI’s “Permanent Working Committee” include Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Valentino, just to name a few. These are powerful names in the Italian fashion industry as well as the global industry, and their taking part permanently in this movement is a big deal.

Italy has been ahead of the game in terms of sustainable fashion for quite some time. The CNMI has had a Sostenibilità (sustainability) branch since 2010, when the chamber officially recognized sustainability as “a founding value in the Italian fashion system, given the environmental and social factors at play”. Then in 2012, the CNMI released the “Manifesto for Sustainability”, which features ten focal points for more responsible practices in the industry, including guidelines about creating sustainable production methods, sourcing of raw materials, and retail practices, among others.

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What can we learn from this?

First, we can learn the power of having a national fashion body. The CNMI is a strong organization that makes decisions and inspires industry leaders to make changes. It has the support of big name designers and brands throughout the country. It is taken seriously.

In the United States, our closest equivalent to a national fashion body is the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), whose mission statement is to “strengthen the impact of American Fashion Designers in the global economy”. In 2013, three years behind the CNMI, the CFDA created a Sustainability Committee, however not much has been done. On the other hand, the CNMI has adopted sustainability as an integral part of its mission, proving just how far ahead they are even in terms of how they approach the problem of sustainability.

There are some initiatives happening with our American version of a fashion chamber, like the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative, whose goal is “to inspire thought leadership, facilitate the implementation of innovative business practices and create meaningful change within American fashion.” While this initiative is a good step forward for the sustainability of the American fashion industry, it is a competition. It lasts for 17 months, and whichever brand has “most significantly evolved” wins $150,000.

As I’ve learned in my many business classes so far, incentives work and motivate people to make a decision or a change, but not always for the right reason. People then associate performing an action with a monetary reward, and once the reward is gone, many will revert back to their original ways. While it is likely that brands will see the inherent need of sustainable and ethical choices in the fashion industry, I do not see many brands outside of this 10 company competition taking initiative on their own to make large scale changes.

There is a lot we can learn just by observing the work of the CNMI, and I think the CFDA and its Sustainability Committee should be taking notes. Research is good. Guidelines are good. Facts are good. Action is good. Attainable goals are good. 2016 has already been a good year for sustainability in the fashion industry. More people are talking about it and more consumers are showing interest. What the CNMI is doing is taking that interest one step farther and actually putting guidelines and restrictions in place.

The CNMI knows that what they are doing is revolutionary, and they intend to inspire other countries to take similar actions; “In two or three years, when the themes of raw material origins and the environment will also have been covered, the documentation [of environmental and social impacts] will be complete and consist of a set of rules that Italy intends to share with all countries that produce fashion.” It’s time to watch Italia; they’ve got something good goin’ on.

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