France plans fashion revolution with climate-impact labels

TRANSPARENT AND INFORMED

The need for change in fashion is urgent.

Statistics are notoriously hard to verify, but the UN says the industry is responsible for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, as well as a significant portion of water consumption and waste.

Labels can be a key part of the solution, say campaigners.

“It will force brands to be more transparent and informed … to collect data and create long-term relationships with their suppliers – all things they’re not used to doing,” said Victoire Sotto, of The Good Goods, a fashion and sustainability consultancy.

“Right now it seems infinitely complex,” she added. “But we’ve seen it applied in other industries such as medical supplies.”

Seeing how the winds are blowing, the textile industry has been racing to come up with technical solutions.

A recent presentation by Premiere Vision, a Paris-based textiles conference, highlighted many new processes including non-toxic leather tanning, dyes drawn from fruits and waste – and even biodegradable underwear that can be thrown on the compost.

But the key to sustainability is using the right fabric for the right garment, said Ariane Bigot, Premiere Vision’s deputy head of fashion.

That means synthetic and oil-based fabrics will still have a place, she said: “A strong synthetic with a very long lifespan might be right for some uses, such as an over-garment that needs little washing.”

Capturing all these trade-offs in one simple label on an item of clothing is therefore tricky.

“It’s very complicated,” said Bigot. “But we need to get the machine started.”

SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS

The French agency is due to collate the results of its testing phase by next spring before handing the results to lawmakers.

While many welcome the labels, activists say this should only be part of a wider crackdown on the fashion industry.

“It’s really good to put an emphasis on life-cycle analysis but we need to do something about it beyond just labels,” said Valeria Botta, of the Environmental Coalition on Standards.

“The focus should be on setting clear rules on product design to ban the worst products from the market, ban the destruction of returned and unsold goods, and set production limits,” she told AFP.

“Consumers should not have to fight to find a sustainable option – that should be the default.”