Ocean Flag: Using fashion for change

IOC-UNESCO, 27.07.2022

A three trillion dollar industry, fashion is responsible for 20% of the global wastewater generated through pesticides for land cultivation, dyes and textiles – which often flows back into the ocean. The Ocean Decade endorsed Activity “Ocean Flag”, showcased during the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, aims to bridge the gap between fashion’s environmental pollution and educating the public on the detriments of climate change on the ocean through the lens of fashion.

Building on educational and training programs to encourage public participation in addressing climate change and its effects, the Ocean Flag creates awareness and facilitates the exchange of information across all sectors of society to develop meaningful responses for ocean health.

The materialization of this initiative literally takes the form of an actual flag made of various pieces of clothing that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. These fabrics are then upcycled and converted into canvases upon which individuals create their pledges towards ocean action. Participants write and sign their commitments, some even draw.

Runa Ray, leader of the initiative, brought the Ocean Flag to display at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference to help get people mobilized, inspired and educated for ocean action.

“A signature is the most basic form of artistic expression… When elaborated into a word, a sentence or even an artwork, that signature is expanded and finds its place in history and becomes a commitment,” she said.

By changing consumer behavior, growing coalitions, collaborating with governments and cross-sectoral organizations, the Ocean Flag is creating a wealth of commitments towards the ocean, encouraging ocean literacy – and reversing the trend on fashion’s waste.

Furthermore, Runa had the opportunity to showcase a new fashion collection, with the support of the United Nations Global Compact and the Safe Seaweed Coalition. The collection revived an indigenous printing technique from 12th century Japan, which reduces water wastage and pollution by using seaweed as an agent.

The increasing relevance of fashion’s impacts was also raised at the Conference by Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, around the urgency for the industry to rethink alternatives to waste when it comes to addressing marine pollution. Similarly, the importance of education was emphasized by all Heads of State to help engage the general public and youth for the future of the ocean.

The Ocean Flag is also a mobilizing partner of the UN Global Week to #ACT4SDGs (16-25 September 2022) and will be displayed in September at the UN Headquarters in New York, helping connect 193 countries through fashion and educate the world about ocean action.


About the Ocean Decade:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.

About the Ocean Flag:

The aims of the Ocean Flag are to:

  • Garner half a billion ocean commitments by 2030
  • Educate people on the intersection between climate change and the ocean
  • Reuse fashion’s waste for a social cause
  • Remedy fashion’s pollution
  • Unify humanity for ocean literacy
  • Bring to light various aspects that threaten ocean and marine ecosystems and communities
  • Involve the public to lobby for human rights and climate action