Overproduction, the real challenge of the fashion industry

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AFP Relax News

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November 7, 2023

Recycled materials, water and energy savings, reduction of CO2 emissions: all initiatives are good to take to reduce the impact of the textile industry on the environment. Except for one detail… these efforts will have little or no benefit as long as the quantities of clothing produced and purchased continue to increase, as a new report from a British NGO shows.

While it is difficult to determine whether overproduction or overconsumption is responsible for the textile industry’s impact on the planet, it is clear that the two are closely linked. And that’s no small feat when you consider that the increasing amount of clothing being produced (and purchased) means an environmental disaster. This is evident from a report by the British NGO The Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP), which estimates that efforts to reduce the environmental impact of clothing are being “outset” by the production boom.

“WRAP warns the textile industry of production levels that will offset critical environmental improvements in fashion and textiles,” reads the introduction to this report. This assesses the efforts of brands and retailers that have signed up to Textiles 2030, an initiative aimed at accelerating the UK fashion industry’s transition to a circular economy. One of the key findings of this report is that the average Briton buys 28 new fashion items every year, or 8 kilos per person, equivalent to over 500,000 tonnes for the whole country.

Attempts to emphasize

The Textiles 2030 initiative shows that it is possible to make fashion “greener” and reduce its impact on the planet, especially when brands work together to change the situation. Notably, signatory brands committed to transforming the UK fashion industry, including Asos, Primark and AllSaints, have managed to reduce the carbon impact of the textiles they produce by 12% and the impact associated with water use increasing by 4% per ton between 2019 and 2022. This is made possible by more sustainable design and increasing use of recycled materials and clothing.

WRAP indicates that brands are now increasingly using recycled polyester and polyamides, to limit the use of virgin materials – that is, materials that have never been used or transformed. The report also underlines that a significant portion of the cotton used by the signatories (71%) comes from “improved sources”, validated by programs and initiatives that work in favor of sustainability. So many efforts have made it possible to significantly reduce the carbon impact of their clothing, but today they seem insufficient in the face of overproduction and overconsumption.

Put an end to overproduction

Problem and not least: all measures taken by the brands and retailers involved have been reduced to zero due to the 13% increase in the volume of textiles produced and sold since 2019. If we look specifically at the water consumption per tonne, we learn that the decrease recorded thanks to the efforts made was offset by the increase in clothing produced and marketed, and worse… The overproduction actually increased water consumption by 8%, equivalent to 3.1 billion cubic meters. And the observation is the same for CO2 emissions, as their decline was moderated by the increase in clothing production, eventually reaching -2% (compared to -12% initially).

“Textiles and fashion are responsible for almost 10% of global CO2 emissions. The impact of Textiles 2030 shows that it is possible to change the situation. But as soon as there are improvements, these are offset by higher production. If we want to achieve that “As we move closer to the crucial goals of the Paris Agreement, we must take the textile issue seriously and everyone has a role to play. We need sustainable design, sustainable business models and more sustainable ways to buy and use clothing from more companies. “Manufacturing is clearly the key question (…),” warns Catherine David, director of behavior change and corporate programs within WRAP, in a statement.

Trade at all levels

To avoid overproduction, WRAP encourages companies to make clothes that last, therefore more qualitatively and sustainably, while relying on recycled materials, and recommends developing clothing rental and repair. However, the NGO specializing in climate action points out that consumers also have a role to play. “We work with companies to make clothes better, but the other part of the equation is our role as buyers. We buy more clothes than any other country in Europe. Our research shows that a quarter of most wardrobes disappear within a year goes unworn, and almost a quarter of us admit we only wear our clothes a few times,” says Catherine David.

Although this report is based solely on Britain, it should be noted that overproduction and overconsumption in the fashion industry is a global phenomenon. A survey by the Ecological Transition Agency (ADEME) confirms that consumers, regardless of nationality, say they buy far more than they need, whether they live in China (60%), Germany (50%) or Italy (50%) . If we look at the European example, 4 million tons of textiles end up in the trash or are resold second-hand every year. The French buy an average of 9.5 kilos of clothing and/or shoes per year, which shows how important it is to respond to these levers on an international scale.

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