Where does the fashion industry stand on environmental and social challenges? #710


On the morning of 3 April 2023, the five round tables that animated the presentation of the study, initiated by Paris Good Fashion X Climate Chance, on the strategy of French fashion actors in terms of sustainable development, were packed in the amphitheater of the Institut Français de la Mode.

The document presented by Paris Good Fashion* (PGF) is intended to be a tool for transformation projects. It allows to share a vision and to support a dynamic. “This is the first time that 24 French textile industry players have shared their data on the key themes of climate, biodiversity, circularity, production and social governance issues,” introduces Sylvie Bénard, President of Paris Good Fashion.

“In order to progress, we must know how to measure ourselves and acquire scientific tools for a global vision,” explains Isabelle Lefort, co-founder of PGF and moderator of the morning session. The method combines a synthesis of existing written sources (collection of data, public or not, from 24 actors), completed by interviews with a panel of fifty French fashion professionals, representing a turnover of around seventy billion euros in 2021.

Opening the debate, European deputy Raphaël Glucksmann reminded the audience of fashion’s “duty to set an example”: “this conference comes before the great revolution, the end of a cycle, that of globalisation without rules, marked by the destruction of the climate, human rights and overconsumption. These are issues that will eventually lead to the question of autonomy and taking back control of our destiny.

25 speakers, including entrepreneurs, economists and CEOs, then took part in the five thematic round tables, providing their insights to fuel reflection and act in the direction of transformation.

Fibre production is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions

In this desire to move closer to scientific research and reliable data, Ronan Dantec, Senator and President of Climate Chance**, pointed out during the first round table the role of his observatory in “moving away from the logic of commitment and entering into scientific approaches on how these commitments are met”.

Companies are becoming more transparent about their climate impact. The CSR function is a relatively recent development, including at executive committee level. The level of impact measurement is uneven and companies in the textile sector are still struggling to formulate transition plans for the 2050 horizon.

Many commitments and actions are being made on renewable electricity supply and reducing transport needs, but few on fibre production and industrial processes.

However, most of the emissions concern the upstream part of the production chain (manufacturing, extraction). The main sources of emissions are extraction (cotton, synthetic fibres), manufacturing (including weaving, tanning), transport, distribution and use. From 8.4 kg/person in 1975, fibre production has increased to 14 kg/person in 2020, and could grow to 17.5 kg/person in 2030, according to Textile Exchange. In particular, synthetic fibres account for almost two-thirds of the fibres produced, with polyester fibres alone accounting for 54 per cent, which have overtaken cotton production since the 1990s.

The problem of plastic pollution by synthetic microfibres is becoming a major one

Five companies mention water pollution by plastic microfibres, but few specific targets are set. The use of natural or cellulosic fibres or the improvement of the physical durability of products contribute to reducing their rate of degradation and the release of polluting microfibres. Two avenues have been clearly identified to reduce the impact of fibre production in particular and raw materials in general (vegetable or animal): the incorporation of recycled materials and the use of organic farming.

Under pressure from the legislator (AGEC Law Art. 13, environmental labelling) over the past three years, the steps taken to obtain visibility and control over the entire value chain through transparency and traceability operations have multiplied. The majority of the panel interviewed for the study has embarked on this programme, thanks to the support of specialist service providers (CrystalChain, Fairly Made, Good Fabric, Trustrace, etc.).

A French textile recycling industry would represent a real French competitive advantage

Frank Gana, founder of (Re)set, indicates that he has advanced discussions with three international players who could set up production units in France (in Aquitaine, in the Hauts de France and in Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur).

Sophie Hersan, co-founder of Vestiaire Collective, recalls that fifteen million textile products arrive in Ghana every week, 60 percent of which are unusable. With Paris Good Fashion and a small committee of stakeholders, Vestiaire Collective is launching a study to better understand textile waste flows, which will make it possible to draft a “position paper” (a document signed by all) intended for the European institutions (Commission and Parliament) to regulate the export of end-of-life TLC (Textile-Linen-Shoes).

PGF has initiated a working group for a better regulation of TLC waste exports. (Re)Paire offers own-brand shoemaking solutions and training for shoemakers. A working group on plastic hangers and polybags is in the middle of a field experiment. Initial feedback indicates that pollution is generally underestimated.

The action to promote reusable packages (cf. Paris Good Fashionx Make.org campaign, carried out in France on 600,000 Decaux billboards) will continue. The next step is to target the major players in online sales (Vinted, Amazon, etc.) to raise their awareness of the use of recyclable materials.

Nature protection: one million species are threatened worldwide

For the moment, actions are focused on limiting risks in the value chain (sourcing, animal welfare), in the transformation processes (dyeing, washing, tanning, etc.) and in the production of raw materials.

The problem is that there is no global unit of measurement and the impacts are usually local. There are some impact measurement tools (LCA – Life Cycle Assessment, governmental platform) but a global view is missing. Julia Marton-Lefevre, The Tyler Prize For Environmental Achievement, underlined the interest that the sector would have in getting closer to institutions such as the International Council for Science, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the ISPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services).

Growth or decline, our societal model is no longer sustainable

The crucial question of business models is raised during the round table, moderated by Lucas Delattre, professor at the IFM. Philippe Aghion, an economist and professor at the Collège de France, spoke against degrowth as a solution. If “growth is undoubtedly responsible for global warming” according to him, the solution is to be found in a virtuous triangle composed of the State, which drives a green industrial policy, consumers and civil society. For Timothée Parrique, an economist at Lund University and author of a book entitled “Ralentir ou Périr (éditions du Seuil): l’école de la décroissance”, GDP is “uncorrelated with the quality of life”. He calls for a reduction in production and sobriety in consumption. It is already too late to engage in a policy other than capitalism,” replied Philippe Moati, Université Paris Cité. We have not managed to green growth fast enough. We will have to move away from quantity, produce less but better.

Pascal Morand, Executive President of the FHCM, agrees, addressing the subject of volumes: “Since 2017, they have not stopped growing. Digital technology is bringing new players to the market and there should not be, on the one hand, leading brands committed to the most virtuous and, on the other hand, new players who do not care about anything. We need a global vision.

Finally, concluding this intense half-day of discussions, Valérie Martin, Head of the Mobilisation & Consumer Department at ADEME, spoke about the dangers of greenwashing and the tools put in place to flush it out. She spoke about the dangers of greenwashing and the tools that have been put in place to detect it. Greenwashing is fuelled by advertising but also by influence marketing, which now weighs heavily on brand strategies. She recalls the education on waste that the ADEME study “Dare to change” and its famous BISOU method had carried out: B for “do I really need it”, I to question the immediacy of the purchase, S to check if we don’t already have something similar in our cupboards, O to question the origin of the product and U to find out if it is really useful.

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