France plans a fashion revolution with climate impact labels

All clothing sold in France will require a label indicating its precise climate impact.

Is it better for the environment to buy a new or recycled cotton t-shirt?

Well, that depends.

Recycling has obvious benefits, but the process shortens the cotton fibers and therefore usually needs to be mixed with some oil-based material to prevent it from falling apart.

These pros and cons make it difficult to determine the true sustainability rating of clothing, but brands in Europe will soon have no choice.

By next year, every item of clothing sold in France will require a label detailing its precise climate impact, with a similar rule expected for the rest of the European Union by 2026.

That means juggling lots of different and conflicting data points: where and how were your raw materials grown? What was used to color it? How far did he travel? Was the factory powered by solar power or coal?

The French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe) is currently testing 11 proposals on how to collect and compare data, and what the resulting label might look like to consumers, using 500 real-life garments.

“The law’s message is clear: it will be mandatory, so brands need to prepare, make their products traceable, organize automatic data collection,” Erwan Autret, one of Ademe’s coordinators, told AFP.

“Some say the models are too simple, others say they are too complicated, but it is a sign of the maturity of the debate that no one questions the need for these calculations anymore.”

‘Transparent and informed’

The need for a change in fashion is urgent.

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

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

Brands will have to give accurate information about how their clothes are made

Brands will have to give accurate information about how their clothes are made.

“It will force brands to be more transparent and informed … to collect data and build long-term relationships with their suppliers, things they’re not used to,” said Victoire Satto of The Good Goods, a media agency. focused on sustainable fashion.

“Right now it seems endlessly complex,” he added. “But we have seen it applied in other industries, like medical supplies.”

Seeing how the winds blow, the textile industry has rushed to find technical solutions.

A recent presentation by Premiere Vision, a Paris-based textile conference, highlighted many new processes, including non-toxic leather tanning, dyes extracted from fruit and waste, and even biodegradable underwear that can be thrown into the compost.

But the key to sustainability is using the right fabric for the right garment, said Ariane Bigot, assistant fashion director at Premiere Vision.

That means oil-based and synthetic fabrics will still have a place, he said: “A strong synthetic fabric with a very long lifespan might be suitable for some uses, such as a low-wash garment.”

So capturing all these trade-offs in a single label on an item of clothing is tricky.

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

sustainable options

The French agency is due to collect the results of its testing phase next spring before delivering the results to lawmakers.

While the labels are welcomed by many, activists say this should only be part of a broader campaign against the fashion industry.

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

“The focus must 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,” he told AFP.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to struggle to find a sustainable option, that should be the default option.”

How are recycled garments made? And why is it so difficult to recycle them more?

© 2022 AFP

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