Executive Summary

This study is written as part of an MA in Sustainable Design and is an anthropological study of refugees conducted after field studies on the French-Italian (Ventimiglia) border, working with an ONG in Greece (Ioannina), and an unaccompanied minors centre in France (Nice). It has led to a brief analysis of the textile industry, with a focus upon the effectiveness of humanitarian response with regards to clothing donations and distribution.

The fashion industry has a dramatic impact on the environment and contributes to global warming; extreme climate change can cause mass displacement and can therefore also cause an increase in the number of refugees. Through this study I aim to examine this ecosystem in further detail. What is the lifecycle of our garments, which innovations and measures are being undertaken by the textile industry, and how are clothing donations handled? This is in conjunction with a concise overview of the current refugee crisis.

Through the results from my research I will demonstrate the importance of how we dress and its correlation to enhancing human dignity. There is a need to ensure that donations are appropriate and sent with due consideration, both to those receiving them and, equally for the host culture.

According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humanity needs to satisfy its ‘physiological needs’ first. This can be contested. Should dignity and self-esteem not be equally as important? The role of a Sustainable Designer is to address the principles of social, cultural, economic and ecological sustainability.  This study also wishes to touch upon how environmental stewardship and humanitarian aid can work together in a more harmonious manner.

My conclusions and recommendations touch upon the humanitarian system currently in place, in a context of a material world where an abundance of textiles are used and also, ultimately, wasted. How can these resources be put to a greater, more sustainable use? Humanitarian action needs to be fit for the future, it needs to anticipate the risks and challenges which are being faced. Long term solutions need to be found both for refugees, for their safety, dignity and comfort, and equally for the planet.  Donors have a critical role to play: An increase in communication between those receiving aid, the NGOs, charities, governments, the general public and other potential stakeholders is necessary. Equally, further communication with brands and textile manufacturers is recommended in order that their waste products are put to optimal use.  Donors and organisations should also take into consideration the environmental impact of their decisions.