Jean-Marc Chauve is currently a consultant and the Artistic Director of IFA Paris. He studied marketing, fashion design and socio-semiology of fashion, and used to work at Nelly Rodi and Maison Martin Margiela.
The fashion industry is considered to be the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. Facing consumers more and more aware of the problem, large luxury and mass market brands multiply the initiatives. But are these initiatives really “eco-responsible” or are they above all a communication tool?
With an estimated value in 2016 of $2400 billion by the McKinsey Global Fashion Index, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. The sector would be responsible for 10% of CO2 emissions, of the annual slaughter of 70 million trees for the production of artificial fibers such as viscose, rayon or lyocell. The manufacturing of these materials also generate toxic emissions that pollute many rivers in China, India or Indonesia, with serious consequences on the health of local people, according to the Changing Market Foundation, in a report published in June 2017 and titled “Dirty Fashion”.
But consumers are more sensitive to the environmental consequences of the industry, and according to the McKinsey Global Fashion Index, 66 percent of the millennials are today willing to spend more for ‘sustainable ‘ brands.
A number of major brands therefore take into account this environmental factor and multiply the initiatives to present itself as environmentally responsible. Thus, in the luxury sector, Stella McCartney is often presented as an example, the brand proclaims itself “sustainable luxury fashion“ and it is particularly famous for refusing the animal suffering and outlaw any use of leather. While it is true that animal husbandry is often cited as producing significant releases of CO2, the leather is replaced at Stella McCartney by materials “alter nappa” or “alter suede”, actually 100% polyester plastics or polyurethane mixtures and polyester, directly from the chemistry of oil and are much polluting than, for example, vegetable tanning leathers.
Regarding clothing, Stella McCartney says that 53 percent of its’ womens clothing and 45 percent of its mens clothing are produced in a sustainable way. It is true that its denim is woven mainly from organic cotton, but also found in its collections of non-biological cotton, rayon, acetate and even fiber polyester and polyamide which can hardly be considered as ‘sustainable ‘…
“Honest by” website
In another position but with a similar strategy at H&M, and its line of “Conscious”. Touted as eco-friendly, this line offers yet articles in non-biological cotton or polyester “partially of recycled origin” although it is not possible to know what is the percentage of this “partially”. Then, a line of “partially” sustainable products to distract from the rest of a production that is not at all? H&M is indeed one of the pinned by the Changing Market Production for its purchases of viscose in especially polluting factories. More generally it is paradoxical for signs of mass market, i.e. businesses whose success is based on a production more and more rapid and exponential of products with a durability becoming increasingly short, to claim to be ‘sustainable’ when one of the main ecological problems of the fashion industry is the production of clothes that almost immediately become waste. According to the American environmental protection agency, the fashion industry would be responsible for 21 billion tons of textile waste landfilled. A problem even more important that to find a way to recycle these waste, namely the frippe in developing countries especially the African market, is drying up. Many of these countries are becoming increasingly reluctant to accommodate waste from Western fast fashion because it prevents the development of a local textile industry and no longer corresponds to the aspirations of a middle class, which grows up and wants to consume new products.
Then, is it possible for a fashion industry to be ‘sustainable’? Small brands as Veja or Ekyog in France for example, show that it is possible to be more demanding and do better in this area than many famous brands. But to become more “eco-friendly”, the fashion industry will not be saving a real reflection on the durability of its’ products and on the pace of their renewal. Nor on greater transparency when in the full cycle of production of clothing, which would allow the consumer to check the sincerity of the eco-responsible commitment of its companies. From this point of view, a brand as “Honest by” and its’ transparency to 100% is a model to follow.