Kerry Bannigan

Women-led initiatives lack access to money, media and marketing resources

Understanding fashion’s critical role towards a sustainable future for humanity and nature, the Fashion Impact Fund values women-led educational fashion initiatives as imperative tools to shift the current narrative and achieve transformational sector change. In a chat with Shilpi Panjabi, Executive Director Kerry Bannigan tells how the Fund is committed to strengthen system change, amplify women leadership, and support the fashion sector to enhance women’s economic empowerment.

When was the Fashion Impact Fund founded? What led to the inception of the organisation?

The Fashion Impact Fund was introduced in September 2021 and officially launched in February 2022. My 15-year career as a social entrepreneur has entailed creating global fashion and media initiatives to advance the creative economy as a driving force for sustainable development. Throughout this I have constantly seen the solutions, systems and strategies for change that are majority women-led and yet these organisations and initiatives lack access to money, media and marketing resources. 

The Fashion Impact Fund supports women entrepreneurs leading educational initiatives that accelerate the fashion industry’s transition to a sector that values people and planet. The charitable fund is committed to advancing women-led programmes that harness education as a transformative tool to evolve an equitable, inclusive, and regenerative fashion ecosystem.

The Fashion Impact Fund has in-house flagship initiatives and supports women-led knowledge, media and skill-based fashion programmes. Our in-house flagship initiatives are in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guiding framework.

What is the extent to which SDGs, especially those relevant to gender equality, are adopted and accepted within the global fashion industry?

Given its scale, the fashion industry holds the unique ability to connect suppliers, designers, corporations, and consumers from all over the world. With this connectivity, the industry is uniquely positioned to increase engagement and collaboration around the 17 SDGs, particularly in relation to climate action, gender equality, and responsible consumption and production. Yet despite this potential, it is clear that more must be done to achieve sustainability across the sector.  

Today’s fashion industry is responsible for vast negative social and environmental impacts, including water pollution, textile waste, exploited labour, poverty, gender inequality and climate change. Globally, the $2.4 trillion-dollar fashion industry employs more than 300 million people along the value chain, as per Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Additionally, the fashion industry accounts for about 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and nearly 20 per cent of wastewater, according to the United Nations Commission for Europe. The State of Fashion 2017 report states that the global fashion industry would be the world’s seventh-largest economy if ranked alongside individual countries’ GDP. From an employment perspective, according to Fashion Revolution, the industry is heavily dominated by females – more than 70 per cent of garment workers in China are women, 85 per cent in Bangladesh, and 90 per cent in Cambodia. With this significant representation, the sector has great influence over gender equality, yet so often it is riddled with scandals of unliveable minimum wages and extreme overtime hours.

While progress is being made on these fronts, the industry still lacks the speed and scale necessary for substantial change. The advancement of SDG 5: Gender Equality is directly related to the fashion sector’s treatment of women and girls. For progress to be established, their needs must be a top priority for the sector. This includes delivering on liveable wages, occupational promotions, educational opportunities, and safe working conditions.

What are some of the causes and initiatives you have financed recently?

We worked with ONEOFEACH, a mother and daughter luxury African fashion brand located in Cape Town, to expand the Garment Construction and Fashion Accessories programme to launch The African Academy of Fashion. With over 40 years of cumulative experience, Pauline and Tamburai Chirume have developed The African Academy of Fashion, an academy that focuses on practical and hands-on training using the African Fashion Curriculum, a first of its kind, to equip participants with the fundamental principles, techniques, knowledge, and a set of start-up tools that will enable them to utilise the rewarding skills of constructing garments and accessories from start to finish. The programme, specifically designed for young women (under the age of 40) from underserved communities, will improve and extend the provision of high-quality learning opportunities in order to diversify the South African fashion industry – making it more inclusive. It also strengthens current and future skills needed in the textile, clothing and fashion sector. 

Additionally, we are powering a new radio show and podcast series. Fashion Stories is a weekly interview show featuring female fashion changemakers, disruptors and innovators that are uplifting and championing the global South Asian community. Hosted by fashion designer and environmentalist Runa Ray, Fashion Stories is available on Dash Radio’s Rukus Avenue Radio – the #1 most listened to South Asian digital radio station and podcast network in the world, amplifying the voice of South Asian representation and culture to 5.8 million daily global active unique listeners and a social media reach of 24.4 million people. Fashion Stories showcases the voices of notable and progressive women making a difference in sustainable fashion and the role they play in impacting change for the future, echoing the ethos of social and environmental justice amongst the global South Asian community – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

What is one of your in-house flagship programmes?

The Conscious Fashion Campaign, an initiative of the Fashion Impact Fund in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships and the PVBLIC Foundation, spotlights women entrepreneurs advancing fashion industry change on digital billboards. With the Global Media Monitoring Project 2020 – 2021 Final Report sharing that women receive only 25 per cent* of news features globally, the campaign amplifies the visibility and increases media representation of women entrepreneurs leading the fashion sector towards a responsible future. In support of the SDGs, the Conscious Fashion Campaign aims to educate, inform and inspire a diverse media landscape inclusive of women entrepreneurs shaping the fashion industry and society with innovative solutions.

The Conscious Fashion Campaign advisory committee of media representatives and impact advocates will select the honourees based on factors including supporting the advancement of at least one SDG, the innovations, solutions, or sustainable business practices they have implemented to support social, environmental and/or economic impact within the industry, and their contribution as a driving force for sustainable development in the fashion ecosystem. 

The advisory committee members for the NYFW September 2022 edition include: Paloma Costa, member, United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change; Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, founder and CEO, Malaika; Tara Donaldson, executive editor, WWD; Julia Gall, freelance fashion stylist, writer and consultant; Mary Gehlhar, fashion educator and author, The Fashion Designer Survival Guide; Arizona Muse, model and founder, DIRT— Foundation for the Regeneration of Earth; Femi Oke, senior host and journalist, Al Jazeera; Fernanda Simon, sustainability editor, Vogue Brazil and director, Fashion Revolution Brazil; Marina Spadafora, Fair Fashion ambassador; and Ariana Stolarz, managing director, Global Sustainability Lead x Product Innovation, Accenture.

Can you share any latest collaborations?

DRESSX, a platform for digital fashion and 3D digital clothing collections, has curated a collection inspired by the SDGs to benefit the Fashion Impact Fund. DRESSX is committed to drive positive change across the global fashion industry and support the achievement of the SDGs. With a key focus on ‘People, Planet, Prosperity, and Partnership’, DRESSX is supporting the work of the Fashion Impact Fund to accelerate the fashion industry’s transition to an equitable, inclusive, and regenerative sector.

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.