The Law and Fast Fashion

WRITTEN BY Tara Finn

February 13, 2023

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The Law and Fast Fashion

Tara Finn

13 Feb, 2023

The textile industry is one of the most polluting, wasteful and harmful industries worldwide, yet it remains largely unregulated in the EU.

With 73% of garments ending up in landfill, the fashion industry leaves much to be desired in terms of sustainability, but when m the core concept of an industry relies on what’s ‘new’ and ‘trendy’, how can it become more resource sufficient?


’Sustainable fashion’ is becoming an everyday phrase used by individuals and businesses on an often nonchalant basis, or when trying to come up with a more eco-friendly lifestyle strategy.

Businesses are integrating it as a marketing angle,  hoping to boost sales by consumers deeming their products as ‘sustainably made’ and so ‘better than___’. This can, and has, led to greenwashing; an act in which businesses advertise goods as green or eco-friendly, even when that is not the case. As a consumer, it’s becoming increasingly hard to decipher what’s sustainably made and what’s not because of this and furthermore it begs the question: what even is sustainable fashion?

The onus shouldn’t be on the consumer to navigate this nuanced idea of ‘sustainability’, but instead on businesses to practice what they are preaching and have their claims regulated at a domestic and EU level. Even where brands have an ‘eco-friendly collection’ in which they claim to be using ‘up-cycled’ materials, most brands are not transparent when it comes to their production procedure.

We, as the consumer; have no real way of fact-checking these claims and deciphering what is marketing strategy from what is not. However, it should not be our duty to remain constantly vigilant when it comes to misleading siren campaigns.

 

It’s a vicious cycle, in terms of consumerism. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and promotions on social media, television and in real life, with celebrities and influencers plastered on billboards telling you that owning a certain item will bring you happiness. Human nature takes over, we buy it, scandal breaks that this company is dependant on landfill and refusing to pay workers a living wage, guilt ensues…and repeat.

This cycle can’t be the fault of the consumer. The sole blame is on the corporations that are mass producing, creating and fuelling this insatiable addiction. Strong laws need to be placed so we can target the ways these corporations operate, because if they are restricted on their production, we’re automatically restricted on our consumption.

Until March of 2022, there were no regulations or plans to adopt any laws at EU level. The existence of the Textile Regulation, which does nothing to tackle the problem of overproduction in fast-fashion, seemed to be the only legislation remotely related to controlling this issue. In March, the EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles was adopted – key word being strategy – but it’s not a law. This EU Strategy seems to be more of an encouraging message than anything else, however, it’s a stepping stone to what will hopefully become regulation. 

The Strategy details its aims of banning the destruction of unsold or returned goods, monitoring untrue claims of greenwashing, extending the responsibility on businesses to reuse or recycle materials and developing the skills and technology to make this possible.

The Strategy uses the phrase; ‘driving the fast out of fast-fashion’, which is exactly the manifesto we want to see. It also encourages companies to adopt a more circular business model, saying that the EU will endeavour to help financially support the development and innovation of these businesses through investments, in the hopes of battling mindless waste. Also detailed, is that all of the above will be monitored and enforced under the EU market surveillance legislation: an area that deals with the enforcement of actual EU laws.

This Strategy reads beautifully and seems to address most of the issues surrounding the fast-fashion industry. However, the problem with all of these ideas is that, that’s all they are, for now. Concrete laws and regulations have yet to be adopted by the EU. Really, this so-called Strategy can be deemed as no more than a political promise.

Ireland has yet to create laws specific to fashion waste. However, while the textile industry isn’t one of our main industries or producers, we have a great mechanism of auditing waste and enforcing these protocols through the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

EPA has the power to exercise authority over all businesses in Ireland where there has been a breach in waste management regulations. They oversee and inspect companies with penalties being given where breaches are found, and this has turned out to be an effective way of monitoring compliance in Ireland.

Should other countries adopt a similar mechanism? Unfortunately, there’s the issue of political structures – on which, the implementation of a structure like this depends. In countries where underpaid employees and unfair working conditions are allowed, it’s fair to assume that waste and the environment isn’t the principle concern of such governments. 

As you can see, the issue of fast fashion and the law delves much deeper than solely limiting material waste. For national governments to even consider implementing these practices, there needs to be a serious lack of bureaucracy. All we can do is hope that eventually the policies set out in the Strategy will become law, and therefore a ripple effect will force member states to comply.

With textile waste being one of the biggest contributors to landfill and pollution, the EU plan to be carbon neutral by 2050 simply cannot be achieved until a sufficient framework is developed to tackle these issues. 

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