PARIS: Do you think it is better for the environment to buy a brand new cotton T-shirt than a recycled one?
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Well, it depends.
While recycling has obvious advantages, it also reduces the fibres of cotton. To keep it from falling apart, it must be mixed with an oil-based material.
These trade-offs make clothes hard to determine their true sustainability rating. However, brands in Europe will soon have no choice.
Each item of clothing sold within France will be required to have a label detailing the climate impact by next year. A similar rule is expected to apply to the rest of Europe by 2026.
This means you have to manage many conflicting data points. What was the colour used to color it? How far was it able to travel? Did the factory use solar energy or was it powered by coal?
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The French Agency for Ecological Transition is currently testing 11 ideas for how to collect and compare data. They also test the label that might be created for consumers using 500 real-life clothing items.
“The message of the law is clear – it will become obligatory, so brands need to prepare, to make their products traceable, to organise the automatic collection of data,”Erwan Autret, one the Ademe coordinators, said AFP.
“Some say the models are too simple, some say they’re too complicated, but it’s a sign of the maturity of the debate that no one questions the need for these calculations anymore.”
Fashion needs to change.
Statistics are notoriously difficult to verify. The UN states that the industry is responsible, in part, for 10 percent of global carbon emissions and significant amounts of water consumption.
Campaigners say labels can be a key part in the solution.
“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,”Victoire Sotto, from 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.”
The textile industry is racing for technical solutions because of the changing winds.
Premiere Vision, a Paris-based textiles conference presented new methods, including nontoxic leather tanning, dyes derived from fruits and other waste, and even biodegradable, compostable underwear.
Ariane BIGOT, Premiere Vision’s deputy fashion head, stated that sustainability is about choosing the right fabric to make the right garment.
This means that synthetic and oil-based textiles will still have a place, she stated. “A strong synthetic with a very long lifespan might be right for some uses, such as an over-garment that needs little washing.”
It is difficult to capture all these trade-offs on a single label for a piece of clothing.
“It’s very complicated,”Bigot. “But we need to get the machine started.”
The results of the testing phase will be collated by the French agency by spring next year, before being presented to lawmakers.
Although labels are welcomed by many, activists argue that they should be part of a larger 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,”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 spoke to AFP.
“Consumers should not have to fight to find a sustainable option — that should be the default.”