Fast fashion has a 'linear and exploitative business model' ©  Tetra Images/Getty Images
Fast fashion has a 'linear and exploitative business model' © Tetra Images/Getty Images

Why upcoming textile law 'must end fast fashion'

18 June 2021

Upcoming EU textile legislation should make fashion brands reduce resource use in their supply chains, according to a group of NGOs.

The group, a coalition including the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), is demanding an end to ‘fast fashion’ in the textile industry, which it claims is one of the world’s largest polluters.

The European Commission is currently gathering feedback from industry and civil society organisations, with the aim of putting forward new measures by the end of the year.

As part of the Wardrobe Change campaign, NGOs are calling for new policies to stop overproduction of textiles.

Proposed measures include minimum standards for how long clothes should last, a ban on the destruction of unsold and returned goods, rules to verify and substantiate green claims, and ambitious targets for an absolute reduction in the amount of natural resources used across the supply chain.

The group is also calling for urgent rules on hazardous chemicals in fashion, and for moves to combat environmental harm and end labour rights’ violations in supply chains.

Emily Macintosh, EEB policy officer for textiles, said: “We can’t ask people to do their part when it comes to sustainability if the multi-billion-dollar companies responsible for promoting such unsustainable consumption habits are not being held to account.

“EU laws should focus on reducing the amount of resources used across supply chains and on boosting the market for second-hand and repairable textiles. Fast fashion’s linear and exploitative business model must become a thing of the past.”

The group cited European Environmental Agency figures estimating that 675m tonnes of raw materials are being used annually to fuel EU consumption of clothing, footwear, and household textiles. The global fast fashion market is expected to grow from $25bin in 2020 to $40bn in 2025, according to the group.

The EU consultation runs until 4 August and a legislative proposal for the strategy is expected by the end of the year.

Valeria Botta, programme manager at the Environmental Coalition on Standards, said: “Our clothes need to last longer, be easier to mend and reuse, and be made without harmful materials and substances.

“To make sure textiles and their production are truly circular, we need ambitious EU laws that set minimum requirements, push the market towards the best option, and include ambitious binding targets for material and consumption footprints.

“The EU should grasp this opportunity to finally regulate this industry and inspire others.”

Meanwhile, an analysis by the Royal Society for Arts (RSA) of 10,000 fashion items sold online found the vast majority contained new plastics, with half made entirely from petrochemically-derived polymers such as polyester, acrylic, elastane and nylon.

In a report, Fashion Fashion’s Plastic Problem, the RSA said plastics required large amounts of energy, damaged the environment, and could take thousands of years to break down. It said this, combined with a ‘throwaway culture’, meant most items would end up in landfill.

The study, involving clothing from Asos, Boohoo, Missguided and PrettyLittleThing, estimated the average item was 61% plastic and an average of just 3% of clothes containing plastics used recycled polymers.

Josie Warden, co-author of the report and head of regenerative design at the RSA, said: “These fabrics may be cheap at the point of sale, but they form part of a petrochemical economy which is fuelling runaway climate change and pollution.

“In the year that the UK hosts COP26, we need to see action from the government and industry to create a more sustainable fashion system.”

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