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Fashion must end toxic relationship with economic growth

New ‘Wellbeing Wardrobe’ study shows EU action vital to build new textile systems

A new report [1] commissioned by the European Environmental Bureau says that only a radical rethink of its economic model can curb the fashion industry’s sustainability problem.

The research comes amid building scepticism of economic strategies anchored in growing GDP at all costs, [2] and as the European Commission prepares to step up efforts to regulate the textile sector through a new sustainability strategy. [3]

Fashion’s adherence to growth has contributed to it being one of the world’s most polluting, wasteful and exploitative industries, yet existing strategies to tackle fashion’s unsustainability – such as using more recycled materials in fast fashion or labelling schemes – stop short of questioning the industry’s problematic dominant economic model.

The research, led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, makes the case for moving fashion beyond growth towards a system where human and ecological health come first.

Using the concept of the ‘wellbeing economy’ – an umbrella term to describe growth-alternative economic concepts – the research identified four guiding principles for building a post-growth direction for the fashion sector so that it works in the interest of the common good:

1. Establishing limits to reduce how much is produced and consumed in line with planetary boundaries
2. Promoting fairness to ensure social justice globally
3. Creating healthy and just governance to make sure the transition is inclusive and participatory
4. Embracing new exchange systems where clothing and textiles are provided in ways that do not depend on overproduction and overconsumption

Dr Samantha Sharpe, Research Director from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, said: “We are all aware of the environmental impacts of the sector – carbon emissions, water pollution and the growing problem of textile and clothing waste – and we are also all too familiar with poor social sustainability standards across the supply chain. This is after years, decades in some cases, of trying to address these issues. We need to urgently look at the sector in a new way. We must change the focus away from growth, the cause of over-production and consumption, and onto wellbeing.”

Emily Macintosh, Policy Officer for Textiles at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “Unravelling the fashion industry’s obsession with economic growth is the only way to stop environmentally damaging and exploitative overproduction. Politicians have a responsibility to ensure new EU rules on the textile industry are more than a greenwash of business-as-usual practices. It’s time to look beyond GDP and turn to wellbeing economy principles so we can redesign a textile system in line with human needs and the limits of our planet.”

Mathilda Tham and Kate Fletcher, authors of Earth Logic [4] – a key reference point for this project, said: “Despite decades of sustainability work in the fashion sector; environmental and social impacts associated with the fashion system are getting worse, not better. This is because the rapid growth of the sector outruns the potential of improvements to mitigate its negative effects. It will continue to be the case when the logic driving the sector is to deliver economic growth. We hope this report can be the platform for policy action that marks a step change and genuinely prioritises the health and survival of Earth and all species, including humans through fashion provision and expression.

ENDS

Notes for editors:

[1]  Full report: https://eeb.org/library/wellbeing-wardrobe-a-wellbeing-economy-for-the-fashion-and-textile-sector/ Summary document: https://eeb.org/library/wellbeing-wardrobe-a-wellbeing-economy-for-the-fashion-and-textile-sector-summary/

[2]   https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/growth-without-economic-growth 

[3]   The Textile Strategy is part of EU efforts to boost the circular economy, established as a priority in 2019 when the Commission launched its European Green Deal commitment to making the EU climate-neutral by 2050.
[4] https://earthlogic.info/