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21st Nov 2022

Could new sustainability laws signal the end of fast fashion?

A series of new laws in Europe and the USA could change the landscape of the industry.

Over the past few years, fast fashion has seen rapid acceleration. Large retailers, depending on low-paid garment workers and cheap materials, have been churning out products at an alarming pace, with over 53 million tons of clothes generated per year. But could new laws and regulations targeting fast fashion’s unsustainable practices signal an end to the industry?

Over the next few years, Europe and the US are set to introduce laws calling for increased transparency regarding materials and practices.

From January 1 2023, all garments sold by large companies in France must display exactly where the steps of the manufacturing practice took place (knitting, dying, sewing etc.), and they must declare the presence of hazardous substances. If synthetic fibres constitute over 50% of the garment, the label must contain the sentence “releases plastic microfibers into the environment during washing”.

The decree also cracks down on greenwashing claims. For instance, brands will not be allowed to state that they are “biodegradable”, or “environmentally friendly”. Instead, a garment’s recyclability will be calculated by Leko, French environmental group, and their assessment must be displayed on the product’s label. The term “fully recycled product” can only be applied on the label of clothes where over 95% of the product is made from recycled materials.

The laws will be introduced gradually. In the first year of implementation, companies that have a turnover of €50 million or more must comply, and in the following two years, the threshold will be reduced, with more companies coming under the regulation.

Meanwhile, the European Union will introduce a series of measures targeting fast fashion companies by 2030. Under the new rules, textiles must be produced in accordance with eco-design requirements, while a digital product passport will ensure increased transparency about a garment’s origin, and its carbon footprint. Moreover, companies will have to reduce the number of collections released each year, and EU companies will offer “favourable taxation measures” for companies in the reuse and repair sector.

Elsewhere, in the US, a proposed New York act would see certain companies be legally required to disclose their environmental and social due diligence policies, processes and outcomes.

But just how effective would the above measures actually be in targeting the fast fashion industry’s unsustainable practices? Would requiring increased disclosure be enough of an incentive for large retailers to change the way they work?

One designer who anticipates change as a result of the new regulations is Grėtė Švėgždaitė, the designer behind the sustainable loungewear brand GRETES. 

“There will be no hiding behind vague labels—brands will be forced to disclose internal information which might show that certain manufacturing processes are detrimental to the environment,” she said. “Ultimately, brands will need to invest more in acquiring sustainable fabrics and accessories and, consequentially, reduce how much polyester, the cheapest fabric in the market, they use. The principle of ‘cheaper, faster, and prettier’ will no longer apply as quality, sustainable clothing demands increased costs and time.”

Grėtė anticipates that these new regulations will also bring an end to ‘greenwashing’ – a practice where brands hide their unethical practices behind inaccurate claims about sustainability.

There is, however, a feeling that these changes do not go far enough, and that more urgent action is required in order to make a difference.

The sense among climate activists is that measures to combat fast fashion will only be effective if there is a financial incentive for companies.

Frank Zambrelli, the director of Fordham University’s Responsible Business Coalition said that if the disclosure requirements were accompanied with financial penalties, then we could see some positive changes.

He told Good On You: “If doing better creates a financial incentive, then you’re more likely to do that because there’s just no good reason not to.”

Having said that, the aforementioned laws could change the industry. It seems that only time will tell, but in a climate emergency, time is a luxury we cannot afford.

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