Is tackling fast fashion an answer to the industry's sustainability problem?


The topic of fashion is a cross-cutting one, found in all the issues surrounding agriculture, energy, and even science... So fashion is on the agenda at COP27, even if it is true that the subject is not present as such. Photo:

With COP27 currently underway (Nov 6 to 18), we wanted to find out if the fashion industry has made real progress in recent years, and whether it is on track to reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Speaking on the subject is Julia Faure, co-founder of the France-based environmentally friendly clothing brand Loom and member of the En Mode Climat collective, who calls out the lack of legislation to tackle the fast fashion model, and emphasises the need for more measures to make the fashion industry (truly) virtuous.

Julia Faure, co-founder of responsible clothing brand Loom and member of the En Mode Climat collective. Photo: AFPJulia Faure, co-founder of responsible clothing brand Loom and member of the En Mode Climat collective. Photo: AFPCOP27 brings together the largest nations to work on solutions for accelerating the fight against global warming. Agriculture, food, energy, and science are among the topics discussed, but fashion is one of the big absentees. Why is that?

The topic of fashion is a cross-cutting one, found in all the issues surrounding agriculture, energy, and even science... So fashion is on the agenda at COP27, even if it is true that the subject is not present as such.

Something that's even more regrettable since this edition focuses on the problems of the Global South, namely the poorest countries, emitting the least amount of carbon and yet the first victims of global warming. And in the fashion sector, the inequalities between emitting countries and victim countries are quite obvious.

We can take the example of Pakistan which, before being covered by water, was a great nation for textiles, especially for cotton, and which is now paying the price of global warming with these floods.

The same is true for African countries that receive used clothes from the Global North, in other words, our textile waste, and do not have the infrastructure to manage them, and therefore end up with our clothes [waste] in their nature.

I don't know why fashion isn't among the topics being discussed, but it is important to talk about certain issues, including overproduction, which is directly linked to the rise of the fast fashion model that relies on low-cost clothing thanks to offshore outsourcing and on the incentive to consume.

Read more: Has the fashion industry truly reduced its carbon footprint, or is it just talk?

A growing number of labels and collectives, such as En Mode Climat, are committed to effecting change in terms of ethical and sustainable fashion, but is this enough at a time when fast fashion seems to be the driving force of the fashion industry?

No, unfortunately it is not enough. The existence and economic success of ethical brands doesn't slow down the growth of fast fashion.

Patagonia, the most emblematic of ethical brands, has never been so strong, but this hasn't prevented the appearance and growth of Shein, which has pushed the cursor of fast fashion to its paroxysm by producing ever cheaper fashion and inciting constantly more consumption. Nor does the economic success of ethical brands slow down the ecological impact of fashion: greenhouse gas emissions, textile waste production, and water consumption have never slowed.

More and more clothes are produced, in deplorable conditions, and on the other side of the world. Nearly 2.8 billion garments are put on the market each year in France, it was half that in 1983... The situation is only getting worse.

This is why the En Mode Climat collective believes that the solution will not come from the emergence of ethical brands or the awakening of consumers, but from state regulations that will slow down the fast fashion model.

Today, nothing challenges fast fashion, there's no law that enables this economic model to be checked, and the consequences are serious. The more unscrupulous and efficient the fast fashion model is, the more market share it takes. It is urgent to have laws in place that protect us from these deleterious companies.

Second-hand, upcycling, ethical brands, green materials... It may seem like we've taken a giant step forward in just a few years, but figures show an increase in clothing production, that so-called alternative materials account for just a paltry share compared to those that pollute the most. Are the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement achievable?

There is no chance that the textile industry will do its part in the objectives set by the Paris Agreement. The growth of second-hand has never been at the expense of first-hand purchases. It is therefore not a solution. Upcycling is a very good thing, but it remains extremely marginal, while ethical brands, as I said earlier, don't change the game despite their success. The same is true for eco-responsible materials, whose impact is also marginal.

All these solutions are not enough for the fashion industry to do its part in the fight against global warming.

The only real solution is restraint or frugality: we must buy less clothing. If we want to divide the carbon impact of the textile sector by three, we must at least divide production – and consumption – of clothes by two.

Contrary to what one might think, it's not a question of shunning clothes, but simply of returning to the level of consumption in France in the 1980s, in other words to a level of consumption that would no longer be wasteful. And for this, we need laws that align everyone with this objective.

Looking at the members of the En Mode Climat collective, or brands committed to a fully transparent approach, the same names always seem to show up. Brands that have ethical, sustainable and eco-responsible fashion in their DNA. But isn't it a bit like preaching to the choir when the most polluting players remain non-committal on the matter?

This is indeed the case... However, more and more conventional brands are realising that they themselves are victims of a certain system – that is, they cannot relocate as long as their competitors also don't relocate.

En Mode Climat does not seek to exclusively bring together ethical brands, but all brands, whatever their practices, that have a common goal. It is not about asking brands to improve individually, but about asking the government to impose laws to compel us to do better, and to make the textile industry do its part in the fight against global warming.

It is essential for our industry in order to become virtuous.

Read more: A look inside the fast-paced, ultra-cheap throwaway fashion industry of China

Fast fashion is constantly being criticised for its environmental footprint, but shouldn't luxury be leading the way by advocating more sustainable fashion?

I'm not an expert in luxury but I think that, in one way or another, everyone should be on the path to more sustainable fashion. If we go back to our main solution, which is to produce and consume less clothing, we can say that the luxury of today isn't associated with a restrained attitude. Nobody is calling for consuming less but better, nor for keeping clothes longer.

In 2023, environmental labelling will be mandatory for the textile sector in the EU, and the French government wants to introduce a bonus for the most sustainable textile products. Can this change the game?

If it is done well, it could indeed change things. In itself, environmental labelling is not going to revolutionise anything, but negative grades inflicted on fast fashion could have an impact on consumers' purchasing practices, as with the Nutri-Score [for food]. And it can also guide market practices.

The fact remains that negotiations on environmental labelling are currently being dominated by the fast fashion lobby. In other words, there is a good chance that a garment from a fast-fashion brand will be rated almost as highly as a garment from an ethical brand, since the score could depend on many criteria depending on the methodology used.

Bonuses given to the most sustainable textile products seem to me to be a good thing, but it isn't enough... We also need penalties on fast fashion and ultra-fast-fashion clothes.

As the founder of a sustainable clothing brand and a member of a committed collective, what changes do you expect?

I am hoping to see legislative changes that could finally tackle the problems head on. I would like a government, or Europe, to really ask itself how to slash greenhouse gas emissions from textiles by three by 2050, with a real action plan.

We would realise that all the "small measures" that are currently being taken will not allow us to reach this objective. If we really want our industry to be compatible with global warming that doesn't rise beyond 1.5°C, we must take strong measures of restraint.

The fast fashion model must be penalised economically. There's nothing stopping fast fashion's advances today, and it's sweeping up everything in its path, with companies dying... By doing nothing, we are condoning all these closures, and the unemployment that goes with them. – AFP Relaxnews

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fashion , green fashion , sustainability , COP27


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