Put a ring on it: Fashion circularity must be more than a proposal

The French Decree 2022-748 AGEC (Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Law) came into force in January this year, part of the French Government’s new ecological model where the sustainability specifications of consumer products – garments, shoes and home textiles – are made fully available to shoppers.

Debbie Shakespeare, senior director Avery Dennison, sustainability and compliance, discusses.

The broader vision is that industry and consumers will gradually switch away from the wastefulness of buying and irresponsibly discarding clothes, towards more sustainable, circular ways of living. This will involve returning unwanted items to stores, re-selling, repair, and mass recycling, all of which supports France’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.

It won’t be long before EU laws also come onto the statute books, for the same reasons. Responsible fashion laws are taking shape in the US too. All this activity has thrust the apparel industry’s value chain into the spotlight like never before. Frankly it’s daunting for fashion brands around the world. But so far incentives haven’t been hugely effective in driving greener models to date, the stick of legislation is perhaps inevitable.

What exactly is coming, and how can fashion brands get ready to make a full-blown commitment to carbon and waste reduction, and helping consumers shop sustainably?

Eco-labelling is at the heart of fashion’s transformation

To recap, since passage of the French law, customers will have access to environmental information, in French, revealing how a garment was made, from what materials, and how easy it is to recycle. Large fashion brands selling into the country must now comply with a new protocol for environmental labelling, making information on the environmental qualities and characteristics of a product available to consumers at the point of sale and after sale. This covers the product’s recyclability, traceability of textiles, and the presence of plastic microfibres. Interestingly, environmental claims such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘biodegradable’ are banned from product information. This shows how regulators are hoping to stamp out greenwashing in the fashion sector globally.

Initially this will only apply to the biggest fashion players selling in France (with a turnover above EUR50m), before a gradual extension over two years bringing companies with over EUR10m of turnover into scope. Those with an annual turnover below EUR10m need not comply, but this will undoubtedly change in the future.

More laws coming over the hill

The French Government’s zealous stance on product traceability is a sign of things to come in Europe and beyond.  

The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles sets out the vision and concrete actions aimed to ensure that by 2030, textile products placed on the EU market are designed to be durable and recyclable, made as much as possible of recycled fibres, free of hazardous substances and produced in respect of social rights and the environment. Incidentally, Avery Dennison’s Missing Billions report states that durability of garments was ranked by almost half of global consumers (48{5e37bb13eee9fcae577c356a6edbd948fa817adb745f8ff03ff00bd2962a045d}) as a top five important factor affecting purchase in retail segments.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but it’s thought the EU intends to implement Digital Product Passports (DPPs) for textile products, possibly by as early as 2025, with the goal of tracking the content, green credentials and manufacturing journey of every product.

Meanwhile, the US is also making headway on legal changes through California’s Senate Bill 62, the New York Fashion Act, and the proposed Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change Act (known as the Fabric Act).

To prepare for these incoming changes, the most forward-thinking fashion brands are exploring digital labelling technology, and organising vast amounts of sourcing, production and supply chain data to make it readily accessible to consumers, and regulators, via user-friendly cloud platforms.

Marrying physical products with digital data 

For fashion circularity to become more than a nice idea, the industry and consumers need to get to grips with this digital ID technology, which connects a purchased item to a digital twin, or Digital Product Passport (DPP) via a digital device. Collating a verified source of truth and linking it to a garment is going to be a game-changer. While transparency has long been championed as the key to driving circularity in apparel production and consumption, there is a lot for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to learn, before the circular economies we all aspire to can roll into action, and propel fashion towards a happy ending.

Thankfully the technology is market ready and in use by early adopters. For example, Avery Dennison is already supplying brands with smart garment care labels, which link to online DPPs. Simply by scanning QR codes on labels or NFC tags with a smartphone, consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders, can access a wealth of information stored on the atma.io connected product cloud.

Within a DPP, a consumer can learn about the authenticity and provenance of the textiles and dyes, or perhaps see a carbon calculation and water use rating of the item they want to buy. DPPs will give customers, retailers and recyclers all the information they need to facilitate circular models of return-to-store, resale and recycling. Certainly, sorters and recyclers cannot process garments without a wealth of product information at their disposal.

Tech is therefore helping brands help consumers shop more sustainably. Item-level ID solutions like DPPs are paramount, enabling fashion shoppers to access information on how to repair, recycle, and resell their clothes. This will not only encourage more sustainable fashion choices but also boost the adoption of secondary marketplaces and take-back schemes.

With data at their fingertips, consumers can adopt circular behaviour, whereby clothes last longer, and when no longer wanted, are collected and processed so that textiles are re-integrated into clothing manufacture.

In a blossoming circular economy, re-commerce, second-hand styling, rental, recycling, and upcycling will become mainstream activities, reducing textile waste. Progress is being made in the industry with ESG-focused brands including Levi’s and H&M already introducing ‘take-back’ schemes, aiming to ‘close the loop’ by repurposing worn garments. Patagonia has a Repair Portal, offering care tips and free repairs, to help customers extend the life of their garments.

Fashion’s pressing climate challenge  

Circular models are urgently needed as the climate crisis unfolds. The World Economic Forum has identified the fashion industry as the world’s third-largest polluter. It releases 10{5e37bb13eee9fcae577c356a6edbd948fa817adb745f8ff03ff00bd2962a045d} of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions annually. Waste is a monumental problem; 1. 9 million tonnes of textiles waste are produced every year.

Of the 100 billion garments produced each year, 92 million tonnes end up in landfills. Without seismic change in the apparel industry, these problems will only ramp up in the coming years. Consumers have wised-up to unsubstantiated claims from some apparel producers, and are demanding science-based evidence of carbon reduction.

Over 15 kilograms of textile waste is generated per person each year in Europe, says McKinsey. Its 2022 report says at least one-fifth of textile waste could become new clothing, and a circular economy for textiles could create 15,000 new jobs in Europe by 2030, if enough investment in clothing collection, sorting and recycling is forthcoming. France’s bold new AGEC laws will certainly kick-start this much-needed green revolution.

Fashion now acknowledges the role supply chain transparency will play in supporting these models of circularity, and reducing the mountains of textile waste produced.

Once digital twins or DPPs become mainstream and understood, shoppers will have direct access to the proper information needed to make environmentally conscious decisions about their purchases. Beyond compliance, digital solutions also enable brands to enhance their consumer experience. With QR codes, for example, consumers can engage with the brand long after the initial purchase of a garment, simply by scanning them with a smartphone and connecting to a web page or cloud platform. Perhaps we will see loyalty schemes integrated into DPPs, so that customers can be rewarded with points or discounts when they return the clothes they no longer want to the store. Retailers are certainly  open to leveraging new revenue streams from collected pre-loved items. Thanks to the latest digital innovations, I believe we can engage with customers, and drive behaviour change right now. By extending the life of garments – repairing, reselling or upcycling worn items and recycling fabrics – we can make the biggest commitment imaginable – protecting the planet for future generations.

About the author: Debbie Shakespeare is senior director Avery Dennison, sustainability and compliance. While her entire career has revolved around the broader apparel supply chain, she has been driving meaningful and impactful results within the apparel solutions division of Avery Dennison for the past decade. She serves as a regular sustainability spokesperson to organisations and companies. During her time with Avery Dennison, Debbie has established a procurement organization within Hong Kong and China, which included the capacity building and integration of Avery Dennison supply chain requirements when it comes to sustainability and compliance.

[1] https://www.ecologie.gouv.fr/loi-anti-gaspillage-economie-circulaire

[2] https://environment.ec.europa.eu/publications/textiles-strategy_en

[3] https://www.supply-chain-waste.com/

[4] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB62

[5] https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S7428

[6] https://thefabricact.org/

[7] https://rbis.averydennison.com/en/home/digital-care-label.html

[8] https://www.atma.io/

[9] https://nrfretailweek.com/

[10] https://help.levi.com/hc/en-us/articles/360050122792-Levi-s-SecondHand-Trade-In-for-Gift-Card

[11] https://www2.hm.com/en_gb/sustainability-at-hm/our-work/close-the-loop.html

[12] https://eu.patagonia.com/gb/en/repairs/

[13] https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Net_Zero_Challenge_The_Supply_Chain_Opportunity_2021.pdf

[14] https://earth.org/statistics-about-fast-fashion-waste/

[15] https://www.averydennison.com/en/home/newsroom/press-releases/avery-dennison-emission-reduction-targets-approved-by-sbti.html

[16] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/scaling-textile-recycling-in-europe-turning-waste-into-value

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