The European Commission says it’s moving toward a bloc-wide crackdown on fast fashion as part of its efforts to reduce emissions and make supply chains more sustainable.
Last week, a report prepared for the European Environmental Bureau urged the EU to take a “new way forward” away from fast fashion and toward a more sustainable, circular industry. Now, the European Commission is proposing efforts to crack down on fast-fashion and throwaway culture in favor of more ethical options.
“It’s time to end the model of ‘take, make, break, and throw away’ that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy,” European Union executive vice-president Frans Timmermans said in a press conference earlier this week.
“The products we use every day need to last,” he told reporters. “If products break we should be able to fix them. A smartphone should not lose its functionality. The clothes we wear should last longer than three washes and should also be recyclable,” he added.
According to the Commission, the strategy would target every stage of the life cycle, from design to repair and recycling, and see a marked shift away from fast fashion by 2030. Recent data show that sales of secondhand fashion are already set to outpace fast fashion by 2030.
“The Commission seeks to put a halt on fast fashion by introducing rules on textiles to be used in the European market,” Iona Popescu of environmental NGO, the Environmental Coalition on Standards, said.
Tamara Cincik of the Fashion Roundtable think-tank said the move could impact the global fashion industry.
“If expectations of brands in the UK compared to the EU diverge, this will hopefully encourage stronger expectations of future UK legislation,” she told BBC.
“This is why it is so important for both UK brands and the government to be alert to this strategy, as the EU remains our largest, and indeed, closest trading partner for the textiles and fashion industry.”
Last week’s report entitled “The Wellbeing Wardrobe,” was prepared for the EEB by the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and the Centre for Innovation Research at Lund University.
“Fashion is one of the most unsustainable industries in the world, based on both environmental and social sustainability metrics,” it reads. “The sector’s rapid growth over the past decades has been enabled by the advent of fast fashion, globalised supply chains and a massive increase in the consumption of garments.”
The announcement, part of the bloc’s efforts to cut emissions by more than half over the coming decade, comes as recent data show the ethical fashion market is expected to surpass $10 billion by 2025, growing at a 9.7 percent CAGR from 2020 numbers.
The ethical fashion market includes organic and natural materials, recycled, and manmade. According to the findings, the manmade or regenerated segment was the largest driver of ethical fashion, accounting for more than 53 percent of the market in 2020. But that’s not expected to last. The findings suggest organic will take over, growing at a CAGR of 18.4 percent between 2020 and 2025.
That news comes on the heels of an investigation by the New York Times that found fraudulent certification rampant in India’s organic cotton industry, currently the world leader.
Under Europe’s new proposal, the commission would set new standards on the durability and reusability of clothing, aiming to extend their life. Companies would be required to include information on labels about the sustainability and recyclability of the items. It would also ban destroying unsold textiles.
Fashion is a big contributor to climate change; from the growth or production of textiles to the dyeing and treatment processes to the end-of-life impact, it has the fourth-highest environmental impact in the EU after food, housing, and transport.
In Europe, approximately 6.4 million tons of textiles are discarded every year, about 24 pounds per person. That also equates to nine cubic meters of water, 400 square meters of land, 391kg of raw materials, with a carbon footprint of about 270kg.
Europe’s announcement builds on its larger efforts to increase sustainability across a range of consumer goods categories including food, electronics, and packaging.
Similar efforts are underway in the U.S., with New York City outlining plans to bring accountability to the fashion industry. That effort has earned the support of celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Fonda.
If approved, fashion companies with revenue over $100 million would need to list and track at least half of their supply chain, detailing their climate impact.
Jane Fonda said she supports the measure to “do what is needed” to push the industry toward best practices.
“We must stop polluting the environment, cutting down forests, despoiling our oceans, and creating forever waste,” she said.