If one were to take a step back and look at the entire industry, how many fashion brands can genuinely claim to be the “real deal”?  

The fashion industry has shown time and time again that it might be big on sustainability commitments, but on a whole-industry level, it is smaller on backing them up. According to a Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, even with external regulation and consumer scrutiny, the rate of sustainable fashion progress is slowing down. This is why it is crucial that governments step in, set that bar and demand swift action and accountability because the fashion industry is unlikely to overcome its sustainability challenge through self-policing alone. 

Now the question is, could a body of rules force the fashion industry to be held accountable? And can innovation intervention prepare companies to meet sustainability legislation?

The Problem 

According to the UN, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of worldwide carbon emissions. Globally, our industry also accounts for a fifth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year.

In the UK, 140 million pounds of clothing are sent to landfills yearly. Polyester production for clothing emits 282 billion tons of carbon dioxide, triple that of cotton. Globally, garment workers continue to suffer from unlivable wages, child labour, modern slavery and unsafe working conditions. 

Also, some early successes have been highlighted by companies like Kering, who reduced their “environmental global impact” by 14% and its greenhouse gas emissions by 36%. They did this by selecting the lowest-impact solutions through its EP&L results. An example is Kering’s gradual phase-out of fossil fuels. 

As the sustainable fashion movement gains traction amongst consumers, who seek greater transparency around the material and labour content of their product journeys, some governments are stepping up and taking action by implementing initiatives that would make it difficult for fashion businesses to greenwash. Driving for greater disclosure could mean the fashion industry’s habit of making green decisions when convenient or strategic will no longer be the path most travelled. Instead, the introduction of greenwashing policies would support brands transition in a more clean, green and legally binding way.

“Soft measures won’t help much. Governments need to force companies through regulation to be transparent and more responsible. It is only through hard legislation that fashion companies will innovate and become creative as they adapt their practices,” stated Shannon van Schaeck Mathon in a recent conversation with The Interline. Van Schaeck Mathon, who specialises in EU affairs, believes that EU legislation could be an incentive to get the fashion industry moving. 

But if increasingly stringent regulations prove to be the key to making consumers and brands more aware of the shortcomings of current approaches to sustainability, what are the tools that will help fashion to reach the new high bar? Can technology help businesses adhere to new policies, hit vital targets, and forge new standards through innovation?

The Solutions

As technology disruption continues to fuel innovation and create sustainable value, the good news is that there are companies specifically built to help the fashion industry develop the best possible versions of their business. 

Creating a systemic change through innovation, these tech solutions have been hand-holding the fashion industry on its journey towards reducing its environmental impact. 

One of the companies making positive waves in this space is TrusTrace. Headquartered in Stockholm, TrusTrace has been helping to accelerate sustainable transformation in fashion since 2016. Providing digital traceability at scale, TrusTace makes it easier for companies to show proof of regulatory compliance or measure progress towards ESG goals, such as using certified materials like organic cotton or recycled polyester.

image courtesy of trustrace

TrusTrace provides digital traceability at scale, enabling brands to gather and digitise their supply chain data. They do this by giving fashion brands easy access to granular, validated supply chain data so they can prioritise actions and measure progress towards ESG targets, as well as substantiate product claims and prove regulatory compliance.

“Brands can no longer communicate based on an assumption or belief of ESG performance”, said Anja Sadock, Head of Marketing at TrusTrace to The Interline.

Sadock explains: “Companies have to support their claims with facts to ensure they correctly communicate the true impact of their products and to help consumers make better, more informed choices. However, this cannot happen without gathering and validating the production data from the supply chain, which is exactly what TrusTrace helps brands do.”

image courtesy of Circular.Fashion X Armedangels

Another solution that is helping fashion businesses be more credible is Reverse Resources. It is a platform that enables fashion brands and garment manufacturers to address pre-consumer waste for industrial upcycling. 

Finding ‘wealth in waste’, Reverse Resources makes it possible for fabric and garment factories to map and measure leftover fabrics and scraps so that these become traceable through their following life cycles.

image courtesy of Circular.Fashion (circularity.ID®)

Helping fashion companies transition to greener ways of doing business is Vaayu. They provide accurate and real-time data that allows retailers to make business decisions that produce credible carbon reductions. 

Vaayu does this by leveraging proprietary AI and machine learning technology to draw insights from production, sales and logistics. As a result, they provide retailers with unparalleled, actionable insights into their entire supply chain, empowering them to lower emissions and collectively reduce one gigaton of carbon emissions by 2030. 

Namrata Sandhu, Co-founder & CEO at Vaayu, disclosed: “Our technology provides retailers with incredibly granular data on their operations, where their carbon emissions are the worst and, most importantly, where they should focus their efforts. By automating the process, Vaayu improves the accuracy and immediacy of actual data across operations and helps to simplify complex carbon analytics for retailers.”

When it comes to communicating sustainability achievements successfully, Sandhu advises that it is vital for businesses to develop communications strategies and assets that are credible, specific, clear and accurate. 

“Adhering to these principles enables businesses to provide stronger and more meaningful information on their carbon footprint to external audiences – including consumers. At Vaayu, we strongly believe that transparency in communicating your emissions and reduction efforts demonstrates a real commitment to tackling climate change”, shared Sandhu. 

Then there is Green Story. Understanding that verifying claims is a big problem for the fashion industry, the Stockholm-based company has developed a way to ensure that a business’ green claims are always credible, verifiable, and backed by third-party verified data. 

image courtesy of Green Story

Driven to empower the industry to comply with global greenwashing regulations, Green Story’s ‘Know Your Impact’ tool uses the global standard of LCA methodology with data sourced from accredited international partners to assist fashion companies looking to combine supply-chain sustainability analysis with interactive data and impact visuals.

Lastly, there is Circular.Fashion. The Global Change Award winner (2019) has helped brands like Monki, Zalando, and the H&M Group get their house in order with its software that makes circular design easier and actionable for brands, designers and all supply chain partners. 

Taking a holistic approach to circularity, Circular.Fashion allows brands to discover materials suitable for sustainability and circularity, align their products with circularity standards, digitalise their products, and enable circularity.

With new solutions promising to propel the environmentally conscious movement forward and change the narrative, Kurt Svegård, Chief Operating Officer for the Fashion Innovation Center in Sweden believes that the industry needs to also understand: “There is no one size fits all solution.” 

He continues: “The fashion and textile industry needs cross-sector pollination to get up to speed to comply with current and coming legislation,” which means that technological innovation might be a great partner for fashion businesses looking to transition and adhere to any new legislation but it is not a silver bullet, yet.

What’s Next? 

So, could a body of rules force the fashion industry to finally be held accountable? And does technology hold the key to unlocking that visibility through measurable action and improvement? 

Well, as the calls for regulation and accountability get louder, the truth of the matter is that new legislation could well be the tool that helps the fashion industry reign in its unsustainable habits and push the industry to innovate quicker. It appears clear at this point that self-regulation is not yielding the results that shoppers, governments, NGOs, and investors want to see from an industry that is quickly becoming weighed down by its environment and humanitarian impacts.

On the rise of innovation intervention, van Schaeck Mathon believes that most solutions have been built on helping the industry make the fashion ecosystem not only fit for the circular economy but also ready for new legislation. But she warns: ” When it comes to change right now, a lot of it depends on the legislation and especially the scope, like to whom does it apply, where does it apply.”

In the end, the message is clear: we can no longer rely on voluntary industry initiatives from the fashion industry that deliver only incremental change, and the replacement of those voluntary initiatives with a multinational framework of mandatory, data-backed disclosures it set to place a great deal of pressure on fashion brands, retailers, and their suppliers – all of whom have so far tackled sustainability less formally. 

On a more positive note, developments of new tech solutions is making it easier for the fashion industry to have all its ducks lined up for when the EU legislation comes knocking. looking for credible and verifiable claims that align with the new rules.

So if you are going to take one thing away from this article, let it be this: legislation is not the industry’s kryptonite. It could potentially help fashion companies re-imagine their intentions, goals, and success markers, so they are less ‘old world’ and more ‘new beginnings’. Because whether you like it or not, those new beginnings are coming.