PARIS — An organic cotton Claudie Pierlot sweater, washed out denim Pepe Jeans without chemicals, ecological nylon Stella McCartney windproof jackets. This past autumn, the capital's landmark Galeries Lafayette department store organized "Go for Good," where more than 400 brands (Carven, Patagonia, Louis Vuitton, Le Coq Sportif…) offered products that "don't claim perfection in all aspects, but which constitute significant advances to making the fashion industry more sustainable," says Guillaume Houze, communication chief for the Parisian store.
This project is meant to raise awareness among customers, and to put fashion on the right side of the issue. "The industry has become aware of the state of the planet, of the cost of the raw materials, and of the environmental mess," Houze said.
Long overdue, the apparel industry's awareness of environmental issues has finally reached a tipping point. "Up until the middle of the last decade, issues which concerned the sector were rather social, on the exploitation of workers," says Nathalie Alley, professor at the French Institute of Fashion. But prompted in part by the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, the industry started to look at the state of the planet and where its materials and production processes fit in.
Clearly, fashion has not given up on capitalism or globalization or economic growth, but there appears to be a shared commitment to "establish a more eco efficient business model."
Young employees are much more aware of these issues.
This change in attitude is due to several factors. Firstly, designer fears of scandal, multiplied by the power of social media. The deadly collapse in 2013 of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, which housed manufacturing workshops of "Primark" and Mango, among others, has symbolized the excesses of fast fashion, the clothing manufacturing at low prices in deplorable outsourcing conditions.
This year, Chanel is facing accusations of cutting down oaks and poplars in the northern French province of Perche to arrange the scene of a ten minute parade. Meanwhile Burberry has suffered the wrath of social media for burning some 31 million euros of unsold items in one year.
The arrival of a new generation in the creative studios also has an impact: "Our young employees are much more aware of these issues', says Sylvie Bénard, Director of LVMH Environment Department. One widely circulated report says that fashion is the second worst polluting industry the world, right behind oil.
That affirmation is disputed by data from the Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report, an annual publication of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and the audit firm BCG: agriculture, tourism and transport are bound to affect pollution to a larger extent. Still, that being said, in 2015, for example, the textile industry accounted for about 1.7 trillion tons of CO2 emissions,used 79 billion cubic meters of water and produced 92 million tons of solid waste.
In order for each label to measure its own expenditure, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition was founded in 2011. With more than 200 members (LVMH, Kering, Adidas, Levi's, Espirit, Asos, et al), this organization scores each company's performance through its Higg Index. "Before this tool, everyone reported on their own terms," says Jason Kibbey, the CEO of the entity based in San Francisco. "Today, we have clear, comparable results, which is useful for the client, the designer label and intermediaries. Each year, our members reduce their carbon footprint: having a scale encourages them to do so."
Once observed, "new practices must come from the top, otherwise it does not work," says Marie-Claire Daveu, Director of Sustainable Development at Kering. The American group PVH Corp., (owner of Calvin Klein) has established a three-year partnership for all of its brands with the NGO World Wildlife Fund. "This will help us to limit our water usage at all levels: in the supply chain, in the distribution and internally," says Dana Perlman, Senior Vice President.
In Paris, Kering, as well as its main competitor LVMH, adopted similar methods. Both have created their own environmental impact measuring tool, and have appointed in each company an environmental specialist manager. They have also set to achieve goals: At LVMH 70 % of the cotton must be organic by 2025; greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50% by 2025 at Kering. "We are also counting on research, in partnership with start-ups," says Marie-Claire Daveu. "We are trying to manufacture genuine leather in the laboratory, substances from fungi, or to learn how to dye a fabric with micro-organisms."
People know that zero pollution does not exist.
Sylvie Bénard, at LVMH, notes that in the fashion industry, the major limitation continues to be the relationship with time. "We are obsessed with speed. It is sometimes difficult to make a designer understand that he must change habits in terms of raw material or be patient for a merchandise arriving by boat and not by plane," she said.
For Sébastien Kopp, co-founder of Veja, a brand which sells off 600,000 pairs of shoes per year, in organic cotton and rubber, being transparent to the consumer is key. "People know that zero pollution does not exist, but they are right to demand knowing manufacturing conditions," he said. On its site, the brand describes its production process and even publishes its cost estimate.
Another trend: upcycling. Making new clothes from scraps has been adopted by H&M, which just inaugurated on these bases its clothing line Afound, by Cheap Monday, which launches a special collection on October 1st by young talents such as Kevin Germanier and Marine Serre. "I get scarves or shirts in warehouses," says the 26-year-old French designer. "With my team, we sort them, clean them, check that there are no holes… Each one is unique and, often, there is a need to find a technical solution when the boss isn't satisfied with them."
Half civic battle, half sales pitch, some designer labels now are betting their brand on ecological responsibility, including Stella McCartney, Rombaut, Christopher Raeburn and Reformation. Even in the fashion schools, "students all say they are "sustainable," says a designer in his 20s committed to the cause. "But when you look into it, you see that often it's a lot of hot air, they purely make it a marketing strategy."
And consumers? One of the next challenges will be to encourage them to save water by washing their clothes less often. "We're considering raising awareness about it, but it is a delicate issue. Going directly to the customer can lead to being very quickly accused of "greenwashing."
- Chinese Fashion: The Chic Side Of Made In China - Worldcrunch ›
- School Uniforms, The Plainest Solution To The World's Biggest Problems - Worldcrunch ›
- Political Fashion In Latin America Leaves White Men In Suits Behind - Worldcrunch ›
- Shein IRL? Why China's Online Fashion Giant Has A Major Worker Exploitation Problem - Worldcrunch ›
The country's worst economic crisis in decades has toppled the government and led to soaring prices. Pregnant women struggle to access essential supplies.
Venezuela is to create free economic zones to attract foreign capital into the Venezuelan economy, but who would take "clean" money to a lawless land run by rapacious revolutionaries?
Emerging religions and cults in Asia are deeply intertwined with politics: in China, religions need political approval, while in Japan religious groups use political platforms to assert themselves. Not even the killing of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, carried out by a member of the Unification Church, has prompted a closer look at exactly what role religion plays in society.
African countries have mostly stayed quiet on the war in Ukraine. And with good reason. Western influence is diminishing on the continent, and Russian President Vladimir Putin knows how to push the right buttons of African autocrats.
Seventy years after her death, displays in Buenos Aires, including a vast collection of pictures shown online, recall the life and times of "Evita" Perón, the Argentine first lady turned icon of popular culture.
Rishi Sunak, a Hindu of Indian origin, is in the running to become the UK's next prime minister. His religion has not factored at all into debates — a fierce contrast to a religiously divided India.
Russian troops have so far been unable to mount a decisive offensive in the east, as Ukraine records small but meaningful successes near the southern city of Kherson. This is not how Vladimir Putin had it planned.
In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where many people believe in witchcraft, allegations occasionally flare into violence and death.
Initially used to measure the link between exploited resources and final results in the industrial production process, the concept of productivity is the most widely used economic indicator. It is also sorely out-of-date.
As hostilities flare again between Serbia and Kosovo, the writer draws connections between the dissolutions of both the USSR and Yugoslavia, and the leaders who exploit upheaval and feed the worst kind of nationalism.
In the northern Italian region of Veneto, drought has forced half the municipalities to ration water resources. In contrast, the region's Coca-Cola plant has upped production, using even more water that it gets for a cheap price.
The Asian country is experiencing record inflation and soaring food costs as imports dry up due to the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. Senate has ratified NATO membership for the two Nordic countries. But one sticking point remains: Turkey wants the Nordic nations to adopt tougher anti-Kurdish policies.
War In Ukraine, Day 163: Lavrov And Blinken Confirm Prisoner Swap Possibility, Following Griner Sentence
Still, both foreign ministers had tough words for the other country....