Here’s a roundup of some of the finest sustainable fashion stories that hit the news in January.
January 11th, 2024
The EU has long been seen by American tech companies as taking a very assertive (to put it politely in their view) stance on regulation. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft have seen a combination of industry-wide regulations as well as specific company-level action that have hampered their efforts to grow.
The EU, however, would contend that its actions have always been about protecting customers. In addition to its work on technology regulation, there has been a lot of effort put into protecting the environment and encouraging sustainability. Just last month, we wrote about the EU’s new law to ban the destruction of unsold clothing.
One of the biggest shots in the arm to sustainability has arguably been the Inflation Reduction Act which has a key stated goal of a 40% reduction in carbon emissions. But more can still be done, potentially at State level rather than federal. Therefore, Washington State Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, has sponsored a bill to help regulate large fashion companies.
The bill would require these large companies to report their environmental due diligence policies and environmental impacts. By Jan. 1, 2027, the companies would have to establish and track performance targets and face penalties if these targets are not met.
While critics say that the bill should also apply to smaller companies, it appears large companies believe that it will be costly for them to comply. With other states such as New York bringing forth similar laws, it looks like fashion firms in the US will likely have to sharpen up.
January 15th, 2024
The East Midlands textile industry was once a key part of the UK’s worldwide dominance. However, as overseas competition soared, the industry in the East Midlands dwindled. In recent years, through a combination of some UK brands opting for increased local production as well as the impact of Covid on supply chains, textiles have come back into sharp focus.
One of these UK brands with local production is of course Boohoo. Back in 2020, it had over £1bn knocked off its market valuation as it was discovered that some of its clothes were made by a supplier’s garment workers that were earning less than the national minimum wage. After a company review found that there were “many failings” in its Leicester supply chain, Boohoo started production at its own site in Leicester in 2022. Boohoo is now considering closing the site after staff were found to be pressuring suppliers for lower prices after deals had already been agreed.
In response to the initial concerns about garment worker conditions in Leicester, Fab-L (Fashion-workers’ Advice Bureau Leicester) was set up in 2022. It is a collaboration with unions Unite and GMB, backed by clothing brands including Asos, Next, River Island and Boohoo. Its aim is to help garment workers understand and enforce their employment rights.
It seems that these poor conditions are persisting with Fab-L claiming to have won workers £160,000 in unpaid or underpaid wages since the start of the project. In one particular example, a woman agreed to work for £5/hour and when she started, she was told she could not be given a contract or a payslip because of problems with the computer system. When it came to getting paid, she estimated that she had worked for 200 hours but her boss was only willing to pay her for 100 and tried to reduce her wage even further.
Despite such cases, Fab-L still has to make a case to workers about the value of unions but sadly its work is taking place at a time of dwindling orders. Union reps and community organisers acknowledge that there is now much less work to go around in the city’s garment sector than there was a few years ago.
The rush of “reshoring” that came with Covid as supply chains to China were abruptly severed has been replaced by a fresh wave of outsourcing, including to Morocco.
January 17th, 2024
If there’s one industry notorious for its egregious greenwashing, it’s fashion.
Luckily, there’s hope. The EU has passed legislation banning misleading environmental claims, vague green credentials, and false sustainability advertising - terms such as "climate neutral" that rely on offsetting, or "environmentally friendly" without evidence. Only sustainability labels with approved certification schemes will be allowed. The law also targets companies that market an entire product/brand as sustainable, when only a minor part of a product/brand was made sustainably. This move by the EU aims to banish greenwashing tactics and empower people to make more informed choices. Once the directive is published in the Official Journal of the EU, member states have two years to implement national legislation.
We’re finally seeing a systemic change that could be impactful and put a lot less pressure on buyers to be hyperaware just to do the right thing.
January 25th, 2024
Now here’s a story that came as a surprise to us as a circular brand. Apparently, despite increased discussions, global circularity has decreased from 9.1% in 2018 to 7.2% in 2023 - according to the Circle Economy Foundation’s new Circularity Gap Report 2024.
A large part of the problem is the pervasive nature of fast fashion. It would seem that we have not yet hit “peak fast fashion” as this wasteful, pollutive segment of the fashion industry is forecast to grow significantly by 2027.
The report comes out with a number of key recommendations such as:
• Strengthening Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes;
• Banning the destruction of unsold goods;
• Restricting advertising of high-impact goods;
• Requiring environmental score labels for garments; and
• Incentivising sustainable consumer habits.
To achieve these goals, the report makes clear the need for coordination by governments, financial institutions, and the private sector to support a circular economy. In particular, the report identifies policy, finance, and labour market reforms as crucial for enhancing circularity in sectors like manufacturing, construction, and mobility.
Furthermore, the report advocates for a cultural shift towards valuing quality and sustainability over quantity, suggesting that a move towards simpler, more connected lifestyles could be a key to addressing ecological challenges.
January 29th, 2024
Sustainable materials company Keel Labs is making waves with its recently revealed algae t-shirt: the Kelsun T-Shirt featuring Kelsun™ fibre derived from seaweed. This eco-friendly tee is made from a blend of 70% Kelsun and 30% cotton, adorned with Keel Labs’ signature Spun K logo printed using Algae Ink. It's a statement piece born from nature.
The piece was created in collaboration with sustainable fashion activist Aditi Mayer. "With a brand's material choices alone being responsible for over half its total emissions, there's a dire need for the industry to revisit its chosen fibres,” she says.
With its impressive stats—reducing water usage by 70 times over and eliminating land use by 100% when compared to cotton—Kelsun™ is a promising development in an industry drowning in waste.
The t-shirt is Keel Labs’ very first in-house garment created using Kelsun™. CEO Tessa Callaghan hints at more groundbreaking launches ahead.
January 30th, 2024
The EU is throwing down the gauntlet on the cosmetics industry, decreeing they foot at least 80% of the bill for the harmful substances going into city sewage. The agreement was triggered by a 2022 proposal from the European Commission, which outed beauty and pharma as the chief culprits behind a whopping 92% of toxic discharges.
Following the 'polluter pays' mantra, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) thrusts the burden of extra treatment squarely onto these industries' shoulders. It’s a seismic shift in the EU’s eco-rules. The directive sets objectives for large treatment plants, with mid-term checks by 2033 and 2039 for good measure.
The main goal is to set ironclad standards for treating urban wastewater so that nasty toxins like microplastics and PFAS stop escaping into nature, harming human and planetary health.
Pending the green light from Parliament and Council, this agreement eagerly awaits its turn to become official legislation.