BRICS Rises: A Changing Balance in Global Power?

In a remarkable development echoing the evolution of global geopolitics, the BRICS group is expanding its sphere of influence.

In a remarkable development echoing the evolution of global geopolitics, the BRICS group — an alliance heralding from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — is expanding its sphere of influence. Starting on January 1, 2024, the group welcomed newcomers United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Ethiopia into its ranks. The move signaled a shift in global power dynamics as countries outside of traditional Western spheres became more prominent players on the world stage.

Diplomatic Maneuvers Drive Disruption to G7 Dominance

It was Russian President Vladimir Putin who was at the helm of the negotiations leading to this robust expansion. While Vladimir Putin was not at last August’s South African BRICS summit, don’t underestimate his personal involvement in building the coalition into a superpower. He is committed to its success. Putin’s diplomatic journey to the Middle East last week has proved this. The trip included stops in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, a tête-à-tête with Iran in Moscow, and a telephonic chat with Egypt, underscoring the BRICS commitment to address thorny international dilemmas such as Ukraine, Gaza, and fluctuating energy dynamics.

The BRICS alliance, with its expanding roster, trails a divergent path from the traditional power blocs. In contrast with the G7, an alliance of developed nations, BRICS represents a wave of emerging economies. Collectively, the expanded BRICS now inhabits 45% of the global population, dwarfing the G7’s population share of 9.7%. This demographic edge mirrors the relative land size – with BRICS sprawling over 36% of the globe versus the G7’s 16.1%.

The expanded BRICS bloc also leads in resource bounty and output. Based on the 2021 data, the block’s wheat production encapsulates 48.7% of the global yield, overtaking G7’s 19.1%. In terms of oil reserves, BRICS holds a commanding 44.4% of the world’s known reserves, against G7’s meager 3.9%.

Amidst sanctions levied against Russia and Iran, the growth of BRICS into a formidable world union showcases influential sway, outdoing the G7 across several fronts.

China, a stalwart of the BRICS alliance, recognizes the ascendant influence of these nations as they shape a new world order. In the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping, “BRICS countries are playing a more important role in the current international landscape.”

Interestingly, the sanctions have proved ineffective in stifling the rise of such an influential alliance. While credit for the success of BRICS might arguably go to China or India, it’s undeniable that this ascendancy has been a multinational maneuver. Yet, one can hardly overlook Putin’s part, who valiantly challenged the G7 and the existing hegemony. To Putin, the BRICS union is a sign of global defiance and a potent tool mitigating against the sanctions’ effects. The rise of BRICS is a resounding testament to the multipolar world’s emergence, challenging once unchallenged unilateral dominance.

The Untapped Fashion Frontier

The BRICS alliance has traditionally focused its collective gaze on sectors such as energy, technology, and food security, leveraging the group’s potential to significantly impact these critical industries. However, venturing into the lucrative world of fashion could represent a new frontier for this global coalition. This was evident at the recent BRICS+ Fashion Summit in Moscow.

Globally, with an evaluation over $2,4 trillion, the textile and apparel industry ranks as the second largest consumer-driven sector, only surpassed by food production. This vast market presents myriad opportunities for innovative approaches and diversified influence.

China, India, and Pakistan have already established themselves as Top 3 powerhouses in the textile and apparel manufacturing sphere. To underscore this, 2022 statistics from the China National Bureau reveal that China’s clothing exports amounted to an impressive $182 billion, capturing 31.6% of the global market share, even without considering the contributions of India and Pakistan.

Nevertheless, the influence of BRICS countries on crucial aspects of the fashion industry, such as trends, brand development, and worldwide distribution, remains strikingly limited. Data from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) highlights a landscape dominated by a select few global brands. These well-known labels, though constituting less than 3% of all brands, capture approximately 50% of global sales, which creates an imbalance within the fashion sector.

Recent events in Russia, however, signal the possibility for change. In the past years, major international fashion giants, including Zara and Prada, have withdrawn from the Russian market due to sanctions. This has left a void that local brands have eagerly filled, capitalizing on the lack of competition from major international corporations. As a result, Russian fashion brands have been empowered, tapping into sizable local demand. According to Moscow’s government, this shift has led to a sevenfold increase in the manufacturing of apparel and home textiles in the Moscow region in the past year.

Taking cues from Russia’s experience, it is clear that, under the right circumstances, BRICS nations have the potential to make inroads into the fashion industry. By refocusing their efforts and adopting bespoke strategies, the alliance can elevate their fashion industry standing, transform trends and, by leveraging their existing manufacturing capabilities, assume a more prominent role on the global fashion stage.

Reshaping the Global Fashion Narrative

Fashion, with its potent mix of cultural influence, economic power, and global relevance, is a key sector that the BRICS nations are beginning to probe with the same alacrity gifted to other critical infrastructure projects, such as energy, sustainability, and security.

Their collective foray into the fashion world could potentially unlock significant economic growth, generate employment opportunities, and amplify cultural diplomacy.

The commitment as reflected during the COP28 summit in Dubai, by the BRICS nations to ecological improvements, marries well with the industry’s pressing need for sustainable practices. Fashion, after all, ranks among the world’s most polluting industries.

The interweaving of environmental consciousness with fashion ideology was convened at the recent BRICS+ Fashion Summit in Moscow. The far-reaching event, drawing more than 60 nations’ delegates, bore testament to the international gravitas of the fashion industry and the shared appetite for addressing its challenges and opportunities.

In the corridors of the Summit, earnest discussions were ignited about the primarily passive role of BRICS nations as masses of fashion consumers rather than as creators or trendsetters. A critical determination emerged from these conversations: that local markets must be unwrapped for local designers and their brands promoted internationally, thereby amplifying the creative echo of the BRICS alliance in the global sartorial arena.

Such sentiments gain urgency considering the expansive growth of the apparel and textile industries, which BRICS nations already significantly shape. The Summit lent its voice to the gospel of sustainability, stressing the urgency of addressing environmental issues head-on.

Addressing Labor and Environmental Concerns

But the sustainable issues that major apparel players China and India face could postpone their growth as trendsetters. For BRICS fashion brands, the draw of sourcing textiles from countries like China and India is unmistakable, given the strength of their manufacturing bases. Yet, this approach raises numerous sustainability issues that must be confronted, including a lack of education for textile workers, inadequate labor rights, and subpar working conditions.

India, for instance, relies heavily on an informal workforce, requiring significant investments in large-scale training programs to boost the skillsets of textile workers. To forge a truly sustainable supply chain, reforming the textile labor force within the BRICS countries is indispensable. This reform would involve substantial investments in shared infrastructure for recycling, as well as extensive vocational training programs to enhance understanding of regenerative textile agronomy.

Recognizing the sector’s influence on the market, institutions like the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Climate Change (UNCC) have joined forces to assemble a sustainable fashion communication toolkit. With communication’s persuasive power, the goal is to spur market shifts toward more sustainable lifestyle choices while decoupling value creation from resource extraction.

The updated UNCC fashion charter underscores the urgency of phasing out fossil fuel-based fashion. With polyester—accounting for 63% of the fiber market—still predominating, the journey toward environmental responsibility is far from over. Recent research has sounded an alarming bell, revealing that polyester is accountable for a staggering half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed from laundered clothing each year. This astonishing volume contributes significantly to the escalating concern of oceanic pollution.

Dealing with the multifaceted challenges presented by the fashion industry’s intricate ecosystem demands a cohesive and collaborative approach among the BRICS nations, as epitomized by the recent BRICS+ Fashion Summit. The Summit’s extensive dialogues, which engaged over 60 nations—home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population—successfully disseminated the environmental defense message across continents.

The urgency of such issues is evident in Africa, where the importation of textile waste from Europe has reached alarming levels, exceeding 1.7 million tons annually. This stark reality highlights the vital need for concerted efforts by BRICS countries to bring about meaningful change.

United by the belief that a more sustainable, ethical, and prosperous future in fashion is within reach, the BRICS nations must remain steadfast in their quest to confront labor and environmental issues head-on. Through deliberate and coordinated action, they possess the collective power to reshape the global fashion sector for the better.

A New Chapter in Consumer Economics 

The BRICS+ Fashion Summit served as an enlightening platform, emphasizing the utmost importance of cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in modern fashion design. The summit forged a clarion call to eschew cultural appropriation; it illuminated the critical necessity to understand, respect, and celebrate the bounty of varied cultures without resorting to misrepresentation, exploitation or theft.

Signalling a departure from their previous concerns around in-depth global mineral resources, the BRICS countries shimmered on this international platform, embarking on an exploratory collective journey into the realm of consumer economics. This shift marks the genesis of a new chapter in the historical logbook of the BRICS alliance, which is, in essence, a politically motivated configuration now establishing robust roots as a geopolitical heavyweight. A pivot towards consumer-focused sectors, with the emotionally charged and deeply saturated fashion industry in the crosshairs, signals an audacious challenge to the traditional Western stranglehold that has dominated the fashion domain for decades.

A considerable part of the summit’s dialogue centered on the revolutionary concept of a unified market for fashion commodities. As China already possesses a strong foothold as a key market, its potential confederation with other emerging economies could be the catalyst for a seismic business boom. This could potentially rival, if not eclipse, the entrenched fashion capitals – Milan, Paris, New York, and London.

As this fashion world order continues to unfold, there is an emerging trend towards the east and south. This shift propels other urban bedrocks to the fore. Beijing, Mumbai, Moscow, Cape Town and Dubai, the rapidly ascending star on the Middle Eastern stage, are prepared to vie for supremacy against the traditional fashion powerhouses. This shift portends an exhilarating reshaping of the global fashion cartography, following the BRICS expansion.