As fashion comes into focus at the European Union, the fledgling European Fashion Alliance is giving a voice to creatives and small businesses at the legislative level.
And it has the EU’s ear.
“We have never in our life talked to someone in the fashion industry,” said Christian Ehler, the German member of the European Parliament who hosted the event. Ehler, a member of the committee on industry, research and energy, noted that other business sectors have traditionally been far more organized in their lobbying efforts at the international legislative level. “But you are 11 percent of European GDP, the industry and its fast-growing markets employ more young people than any other sector.”
Ehler revealed that the EU has 2.3 billion euros set aside for research and funding projects in the creative industries, yet hears little from the fashion sector. Panelists cited both gaming and music as well-organized creative industries with precise ideas about legislation.
“We need your expertise. It’s not a top-down exercise. Without you it’s not going to work,” he said of reforming the fashion industry.
Ehler noted that there are several regulations in the works, and that the textile manufacturing sector has been well represented. “I think it’s really urgent that you force your way into the partnership. The creative part of the fashion industry was not forseen,” he said.
Formed just under a year ago, the EFA brings together the federations of various countries, including France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda, the British Fashion Council as well as Copenhagen Fashion Week and Slovak Fashion Week, among others.
Under the guidance of Fashion Council Germany’s Scott Lipinski, serving as chief executive officer, the alliance has 29 members so far, including 25 fashion councils.
The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s Pascal Morand, Camera Nazionale della Moda’s Carlo Capasa, Copenhagen Fashion Week’s Cecilie Thorsmark, British Fashion Council’s Caroline Rush and Slovak Fashion Week’s Zuzana Bobikova were on hand to address some of the creative sector’s most pressing concerns.
That was part of the reason the participants called the event “historic,” as it was the first time fashion has had a seat at the European legislative table. The textile industry has its own arm in Euratex, which covers textile production, but the EFA makes it clear that it is oriented toward representing creatives and small designers which make up a bulk of the industry.
The meeting fell one week after the European Parliament adopted a text that proposes specific EU measures that calls for textile products to be more durable, easier to reuse, repair and recycle, and to be produced in a circular, sustainable and socially equitable way.
The text proposes a ban on the destruction of unsold and returned textiles; binding targets for textile waste prevention, collection, reuse and recycling; ending misleading “greenwashing” claims and measures to minimize microplastic release into the environment.
It was also one day after the commission released the Textiles Transition Pathway, a working document that invites stakeholders to submit comments.
Issues included the definitions contained in the upcoming Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) and its digital product passport. Other top concerns are the corporate due diligence directive.
Capasa said that main concerns for the industry are the definition of “end of life” of a product and the definition of recycling, which is different in the luxury industry in particular as companies may store items in their archives or work with old garments to upcycle or redesign items.
“All matters related to durability must be addressed in a better way,” said Capasa. “Durability can be something emotional, say a lace dress that stays in the family for three generations is more durable than a T-shirt made of plastic that you throw out after three months.” The creative industry wants to ensure it is not painted with the same brush as fast fashion.
Capasa added that any legislation should discern between oil-based textiles like polyester and biodegradable products like cotton or wool. In addition, rules that require all textile products sold in the EU be predominantly made of recycled fiber need to be examined, as natural fibers like cotton and wool need to be supported with virgin fiber in the recycling process.
“Quality is not something that can be expressed in metrics,” added Morand. He called for “granularity” at the data level and additional clarity on the governance of data and reporting systems to verify that sourcing information is true.
For the product-labeling digital product passport, which will include product information through the supply chain, Morand said there needs to be more clarity and specifics on what data are required and how they are obtained to create a level playing field.
The proposed DPP’s scope is also narrow, Morand alluded. “For us and for the brands, social labeling is something which is as important as environmental labeling,” he said. The proposed legislation is not clear on if it can be added to inform consumers of the labor behind a garment. “There is so much ambiguity.”
Panelists expressed divergent views on the information included in the digital product passport and concerns that it could reveal trade secrets. In remarks to the panel, Commissioner for Internal Market of the European Union Thierry Breton reassured the room that the EU wants to protect IP and fight counterfeiting.
“It is something that can kill your industry,” said Breton, indicating that the EU is willing to propose more current laws in this domain and sees the digital passport as a way to help verify legitimate products.
Breton noted that much of European industry is reliant on an “economy of non-material goods” such as brands, trademarks and cultural desirability. “The fashion industry is at a turning point,” he said, and urged the leaders in the room to embrace the moment. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for you, to [set the stage] for the willingness of human generations to continue to work, to innovate and to adapt to new needs.”
The ESPR is expected to be voted on in 2024, and once it goes through the legislative process, will be imposed quickly on large companies and rolling out to small and mid-sized enterprises shortly thereafter.
Corporate due diligence would require businesses to have traceable supply chains, something that might be difficult — if not impossible — for small and young designers to do when they purchase textiles to work with. Such regulation would require small designers to be aware of labor conditions in far-away factories, but could also open them up to liability from customers if issues were exposed, Ehler said.
Ehler also noted that tech companies are eager to get into textiles and wearables, citing Google as an example. “We do not want to leave that to the American big tech companies. We need to be innovative,” he said.
The alliance itself aims to continue to be heard at the international level. “We saw there was a gap in the European market,” said Lipinski. “This is the starting point. We are young — young and loud. That’s how I think we can progress.”
The alliance plans to release its first official position paper on Monday and will launch a Europe-wide survey to assess where the industry actually stands on sustainable practices. After closing the survey, the alliance will compile a report and plans to organize a large industry conference later in the year, once again in Brussels.