Fashion leader Kerry Bannigan

Words with Women: Kerry Bannigan, Founder, The Conscious Fashion Campaign


Kerry Bannigan wears many hats (stylishly we might add). Her current titles are a long list and include: Founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, Independent Retailer Conference, President of the Board of the PVBLIC Foundation, Executive Producer of SDG Media Zone, and Founder of the Conscious Fashion Campaign

The latter is an initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships to create engagement through leading global industry events, initiatives, and activations to facilitate collective action towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. “The campaign coordinates advocacy, education, and engagement of fashion industry stakeholders to implement responsible business practices that are mindful of social, economic, and environmental impact,” explains Kerry. 

Initiative for Global Fashion Sustainability  

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 goals, adopted in 2015, that are focused on ways to make the world better for people and the planet. “These goals were set that by 2030 we have a better place to live that is more inclusive, more equitable, and more fair for everyone.” Kerry, having herself been in the fashion industry for close to 15 years, understands how influential the industry can be. “They employ over 60 million people, 80% of whom are women, and they are not treated fairly or correctly, ranging from the working conditions to the wages, and even the work that was available for them to do. The fashion industry is noted for creating up to 4% of the water waste and the stats just literally keep going up.”

Kerry was instrumental in making the U.N. take notice of these problems. “The fashion industry can be turned around, it can do this for good, you’re looking at a $2.4 trillion sector, what if we take those numbers that have been counted as so negative, just causing so many problems, and let’s see what we can do to accelerate collective action in the industry.” And so the Conscious Fashion Campaign set out to do this in 2018.

Focused on bringing practical solutions and incremental changes to all segments of the industry, Kerry’s own “aha” moment came when she was producing fashion shows and working with designers, in a role that she thought was cultivating art and culture for the world. “The show was about to start, and I just thought about how we were going to get these independent designs attention, coverage, and maybe get them picked up in stores. But we don’t know how they are treating their staff. We don’t know what gender equality is looking like in their offices. What the diversity looks like, what their chemical use is, their chemical disposal. And it really just started playing on my mind that we were a part of this. We thought we were helping designers with economic development, but we were a part of this bigger picture and playing a role as an actor in the destruction. So I started doing some research and I basically fell down the rabbit hole of discovering more and more on the negative impacts of the industry.” 

If the Fashion Industry Changes, So Will Consumer Habits 

Kerry insists the responsibility should be placed more firmly on the industry rather than on consumers as it has been. She doesn’t want people to feel guilty for going shopping for fun or wanting to take part in a current trend. Instead she sees a more ground-up sustainability. “It is on the brands, the retailers and the sector, to give consumers only good choices, so that when you come into the store, whether it is brick and mortar or ecommerce, you’re looking for a certain pair of shoes for an occasion, you’re only actually picking from good, responsibly-produced products. The reality is we really do need to move away from saying, ‘we’ll wait for consumer demand,’ just as fashion media and advertising create trends, they are the ones that need to act first.” 

5 Lessons for Five Years Ago 

When asked what she would say if she had the chance to talk to her younger self, five years ago, and give five pieces of advice, here’s what Kerry would want to impart:

Celebrate yourself, equally, if not more, as the way that you celebrate others.

I think as women, we have a very nurturing side, let me give this to you, or let me love you and help you. But you’ve also got to remember to do that to yourself without shaming yourself. I think that that’s really important. And five years ago, I was in my early 30s. And I think I was coming around to understanding the importance of that. Now as somebody that’s in my late 30s, I love celebrating myself, even the smallest of wins, I’m like, well done me, I don’t need somebody else to tell me that that was okay. I don’t need permission for that. And I think as women and especially as younger women, to have to remember that. It’s okay to be proud of yourself, no matter how small the accomplishment.

You can be a career woman and a mother at the same time

When I look back five years ago, where I was in my life, I was trying for my first child. As being  extremely career driven, I would love to have said to myself back then, ‘it’s actually okay to have the desire to still remain a career driven working mother.’ And I love it. Now that I’m here, he’s just turned four we’re in a really great place. And one thing I will say that my son having a mother that I love working, I love it. And I think even I wish I I wish I knew it was okay to say that out loud.

II think we get racked with so much guilt on whether we’re taking a moment away from our child. Actually you’re not. I love now seeing with my son, especially at this age, how he is drawn to and how he responds to women in authority. He has a lot of respect for them. I see it in his preschool. He listens to the female leader.

Joy is essential. It’s not a reward. 

“You have to find joy. And that definition is different to all of us. And again, it could be the smallest thing. Is it having a hot bath? Reading a book? Is it working out? Or eating junk food and watching movie marathons? Is it being with a friend, there’s so many ways that joy could be it may be working, right? But it is important that joy is definitely not a reward. And then it’s embedded in your life. Where we are today, right? And so many are probably sitting there saying, ‘I wish I had done this, this would have made me so happy or this or that.'” 

Speak up and be confident with your words 

“I think that no matter what age I do feel I’m getting wiser as I get older but I still think we have these barriers in ourselves because of societal pressures and expectations to let somebody else in the room speak before you. I’m working hard to shatter that illusion in my own life. Because I’ve got things to say. And what you have to say is valuable. Even if it’s not used in that moment, you still in yourself, you spoke up and were a part of whatever was happening. And I don’t just mean at work, I mean, in your family, with your friends, in any relationship in your life, don’t stay silent. People want to hear from you, and they value you.”

It’s your responsibility to be the best version of yourself. 

“We look to the trends and magazines, what’s going on with health, what’s the latest fitness thing, all of this, but none of that can actually make you be the best version of yourself. You need to look at what you want to achieve. If you don’t know, get inspired by people, speak to potential mentors, speak to your peers, but just speak to people and don’t wait for anybody to make your life better, because it’s on you.


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