When it comes to promoting development in Africa, the fashion industry isn’t pulling any punches. Some of the sector’s biggest names are working with the United Nations through Fashion 4 Development, a burgeoning platform for advancing such Millennium Development Goals as poverty alleviation, education, gender equality, child and maternal health, environmental stability, and HIV/AIDS reduction by 2015. The fashion world can do much to encourage sustainable manufacturing in Africa, said Ray Chambers, an MDGs advocate and the secretary-general’s special envoy for malaria, at a news conference at the UN’s New York City headquarters on Thursday.

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“I believe that the fashion industry will lead the emergence of many developing economies,” said Chambers. “We need a big push to get us over the finish line.” Accompanying him were some of the initiative’s key figures: Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue and goodwill ambassador for F4D; Cesare Ragaglini, permanent representative of Italy to the United Nations; and Evie Evangelou, F4D’s co-founder and global chair.

With organization, guidance, and the “right materials at the right price,” quality garments can be profitably made in Africa.

F4D programs are already underway in Ghana, Nigeria, and Botswana, where the organization is working to reduce tariffs on threads and fabric, raise capital for new factories, train local artisans, and collaborate with established designers.

Although many people on the continent previously found employment in the garment and textile fields, Sozzani said, the industry is plagued by a lack of affordable materials, many of which are processed elsewhere.”Africa can really produce great things,” she said. “They have the best raw materials and the talent to succeed, but the raw materials are not treated there so we have to find and fund the textile industry in the continent.”

With organization, guidance, and the “right materials at the right price,” according to Sozzani, quality garments can be made at a profit. “It is important to show that Africa can really produce, like China,” she added.

Evangelou, who helms F4D, insists that the group is about work, not charity. Already dozens of brands and manufacturers have pledged their support, including plans to produce capsule collections featuring items produced in African countries. Other projects include creating scholarships for African garment workers and a partnership with Scandinavia’s Sustania consortium to produce a fashion shop featuring African-made products.

“I think the fashion industry will lead the emergence of so many of the developing economies,” Chambers said. “So the leadership of the fashion industry could not have come along at a better time.”

+ Fashion 4 Development

+ United Nations