Slow Progress and the Ticking Clock of Change

12 Jul 2023 Blog

Urška Trunk – Campaign Manager at Changing Markets

Comment on the FR Transparency Index 2023:

In the realm of fashion, governments around the world are promising to finally regulate an industry long plagued by unsustainable practices. A wave of approaching legislation should serve as a wake-up call for the fashion industry that prioritizing genuine sustainability is no longer optional but necessary.

However, according to this year’s Fashion Revolution data it is as if the fashion industry missed the memo. The progress on transparency and sustainable practices are frustratingly slow, suggesting that many brands might be just paying lip service to green practices and will eventually find themselves left behind in the aftermath of the regulatory storm.

In an industry that claims to prioritize ethical and responsible practices, it should be commonplace for brands to openly share information about the types of fibres they use. This transparency serves as the foundation for building trust and fostering responsible consumption. Yet over two thirds (71%) of brands are still tiptoeing around the issue and failing to disclose the percentage or tonnes of fibres used.

While 51% of brands have disclosed sustainable materials strategy, roadmap, or targets, a glaring disparity emerges when compared to the mere 27% of brands actively reporting progress on reducing reliance on virgin fossil fuel-based fibres. This raises a critical question: can a sustainable materials strategy truly exist without addressing the need to reduce both virgin and recycled synthetic materials?

The industry’s selective approach to sustainability that conveniently ignores the link between synthetics and the destructive model of fast fashion, reeks of greenwashing. Despite the European Commission’s EU strategy for sustainable textiles highlighting this connection, the industry continues to turn a blind eye. Shockingly, our research from 2022 revealed that a quarter of major fashion companies increased their reliance on fossil-fuel-derived fibres during the climate emergency. Moreover, our website reveals that brands’ main sustainability materials strategy involves making clothes form plastic bottles; a false solution, as these items are much mor likely to end up on landfill than if they were recycled to bottles.

Furthermore, brands are also reluctant to confront overproduction and microplastic pollution. A mere 12% of fashion companies, down from 15% the previous year, disclose the quantity of products produced annually. Most disappointingly, as studies continue to shed light on the devastating environmental and human health impacts of microplastics, less than a quarter of brands (22%, down from 24% last year) disclose what they are doing to minimise the impact of microfibres. This discrepancy between grandiose sustainability claims and sluggish progress on these crucial issues, lays bare the dark side of greenwashing.

In a decade since the tragic Rana Plaza incident, the slow progress in the industry is disheartening. However, upcoming legislation offers hope for reshaping the landscape, increasing clothing sustainability, and holding brands accountable. It will deliver a blow to insidious greenwashing tactics and require substantial evidence for sustainability claims. This will restore trust, empower consumers, and encourage genuine sustainability practices, leaving behind the days of vague claims and empty promises.

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