The future of fashion: is a sustainable transition possible?

 The future of fashion: is a sustainable transition possible?

Starting from the analysis of the “Just Fashion Transition 2023” study, the article develops a brief reflection on the human and environmental costs that the practice of fast fashion entails.

The primary objective is to raise awareness among companies and, above all, among consumers about the choices made in this area, hoping that these will become increasingly focused on environmental preservation.

by Gloria Malerba

Translation: Juliana Santos

Last October, the Venice Sustainable Fashion Forum saw the presentation of the “Just Fashion Transition 2023” study, promoted by Carlo Cici, head of the Sustainability Area of The European House of Ambrosetti, one of the first business consultancy firms founded in Italy.

Taking 2800 Italian and European companies in the fashion and textile fields as a reference, the study aims to analyze the challenges faced by the fashion sector in the field of sustainable transition and, therefore, to propose changes aimed at accelerating the process.

There are various issues highlighted.

First, there are doubts about the effectiveness of the regulatory pressure exerted by the European Union.

On the one hand, the Union’s commitment can clearly be seen in the development of the “EU Textile Strategy”, an initiative promoted in 2022 precisely to regulate the transition. On the other hand, the process presents severe delays, mainly due to the conflicting positions taken during the meetings and the influence exercised by the various interest groups.

In addition to the legislative problems, there are also difficulties at a technical level.

For example, the production cost of a sustainable garment is double that of a traditional one, and it can be resold at a price up to four times higher than the initial production cost.

Furthermore, natural fibers often tend to be perceived as more environmentally friendly, yet, in some cases, they can have a greater environmental impact than synthetic or artificial fibers.

To this, we must add the attitude of consumers, which is superficial and more oriented towards unsustainable choices.

The study, however, also illustrates current opportunities.

Recycling and reuse are the keywords of the future.

The European textile recycling industry is able to manage 32% of the textile waste generated on the continent every year.

Likewise, reuse allows you to avoid up to 97% of carbon dioxide emissions and reduce water consumption by 99% compared to chemical recycling.

Another fundamental factor is represented by the commitment of companies.

The market guidance is that more and more textile companies must report their sustainability path transparently.

In this sense, between 2021 and 2022 alone, the number of European fashion companies committed to ensuring sustainability increased by 17%.

Yet these efforts should not be misleading.

There are numerous companies that, faced with a greater demand for sustainable products, choose not to introduce changes in production, which would require the use of large sums of money, but simply to pass off their products as green and sustainable, implementing so-called greenwashing.

Likewise, consumers tend, more or less unconsciously, to fall into these traps, ending up supporting the growing fast fashion market.

You choose to buy clothing that is cheap, of poor quality, and not long-lasting, but that appears fashionable and is produced, made, and shipped quickly.

The success of this practice is due to the low prices and wide range of products available, which are constantly updated with the latest news.

The repercussions are mainly felt by workers and the environment.

Keeping prices low translates into exploitation of workers, who are forced to accept low wages and work in precarious conditions, in the absence of safety guarantees, with excessively long shifts, without breaks or holidays, and often illegally.

The places of manufacture, in fact, are mainly countries where regulation is less rigid. For example, currently, the top three clothing exporters to the European Union are China, Bangladesh and Turkey.

Furthermore, in order to be able to offer a low final price, companies often decide to forgo a series of measures that should be implemented to reduce the environmental impact.

The use of cheap raw materials, the so-called microplastics, such as polyester, nylon and elastane, has an impact that extends not only after, but also during use, since a small quantity of them is released into the environment while we wear or wash the clothes.

According to UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme), the annual production of clothing requires the consumption of 93 billion cubic meters of water and is responsible for 20% of aquifer pollution.

On average, we buy more than we need, and, as estimated by the European Commission, this trend will continue to increase. In fact, clothing consumption is expected to increase from 62 to 102 million tons by 2030.

Therefore, we need to monitor the actions of companies more stringently, but, at the same time, we must not underestimate the difference made by consumers, who, by choosing with more awareness, have the possibility of hindering the success of these companies and preventing the increase in these practices.

We need to focus on quality, rather than quantity. On reuse and recycling, rather than waste.

Let’s also remember this in view of the Christmas holidays, a time when purchases and consumption increase strongly. Let’s buy less and better, keeping in mind that every small individual action can make a difference.

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