By 2023, 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.
The French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe) is currently testing 11 proposals on ways to collect and compare data and what the resulting label might look like to consumers using 500 real-life items of clothing.
They are seeking to gather information on the origins of raw materials in clothing, what dyes were used, how far products travelled, and whether factories used solar energy or coal.
“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 of the coordinators at Ademe, told French news agency 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.”
Statistics are difficult to verify, but the UN says the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions, as well as a significant portion of water consumption and waste.
Campaigners say clothing labels can be a key part of 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,” said Victoire Satto, of The Good Goods, a media agency focused on sustainable fashion.
“Right now it seems infinitely complex,” she added. “But we’ve seen it applied in other industries such as medical supplies.”
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.”
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— Première Vision (@PremiereVision) July 20, 2022
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.”