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Explainer: Why New Sustainability Rules Are Worrying the Fashion Industry

The European Fashion Alliance, a coalition of groups including France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode and Italy’s Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana, has weighed in on EU plans to regulate fashion. They’re not entirely happy.
EU flags flutter in the wind in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarters.
The European Fashion Alliance has published a position paper on the EU's planned sustainability rules for fashion. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

Key insights

  • Europe’s fashion councils are lobbying to influence EU plans to make the industry more sustainable.
  • In its first position paper, the European Fashion Alliance warned some proposed regulations could dent the industry’s competitiveness and stifle creativity.
  • The organisation raised concerns about proposed eco-design and disclosure requirements.

European policy makers have laid out ambitions to end fast fashion. The proposed regulations will change the entire industry.

Industry bodies including France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, Italy’s Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana and the UK’s British Fashion Council have spent the last year considering the potential impact on the sector they represent. They’re not entirely happy.

Some of the planned regulations could dent the industry’s competitiveness and stifle creativity, according to a new position paper published by the European Fashion Alliance, a coalition of fashion councils formed last June to lobby on behalf of the fashion industry.

Why Is Fashion Facing Tougher Regulation?

The European Union is taking aim at the fashion and textile sector as part of its Green Deal, a policy initiative geared towards bringing Europe’s economy in line with global ambitions to stave off the worst effects of climate change.


Textiles count among the bloc’s most polluting sectors, accounting for as much as six percent of its overall environmental impact, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

The EU’s sustainable-textile strategy aims to transform the industry by the end of the decade, introducing new rules around design to make sure products are longer-lasting and easier to repair and recycle as well as tighter controls on greenwashing, greater disclosure requirements and more accountability for what happens to clothes that can’t be sold or are no longer wanted.

What Are Europe’s Fashion Councils Worried About?

The ambitions jive with the EFA’s stated goal to foster sustainability across European markets, but some details have the industry concerned.

Plans to make companies disclose information about volumes of unsold and discarded inventory would mean making public “highly sensitive data,” the EFA warned. Instead, such information should be made available exclusively to officials, the group said.

Durability requirements also pose a challenge for luxury labels, whose clothes often aren’t designed to withstand the rigorous wash tests typically used to measure how long clothes might last. New metrics that take into account things like consumer care, quality, reusability and repairability are needed to measure durability in a more “holistic way,” according to the EFA.

A proposed ban on the destruction of unsold products touched a nerve as high-end labels have historically preferred to burn unsold and damaged items rather than expose their exclusive image to the risks that come with heavy discounts, grey market sales and counterfeiters. Any ban should only apply to products that are fit for sale and include carve outs for counterfeit goods, prototypes and samples, the EFA said.

Mandatory minimums for recycled content would restrict creative freedom and result in lower quality products, it added. The focus should be on promoting the use of other low-impact materials “rather than the implementation of unreasonable requirements,” according to the EFA.

Other moves to increase recycling requirements or introduce digital product passports need to take into account the current limits of technology and the industry’s data gathering capabilities, the EFA argued.


What Happens Next?

European legislators have signalled they strongly back tougher regulation of the fashion industry, but exactly what that will look like is subject to tough and ongoing policy debates.

Industry for its part is stepping up lobbying efforts, with a particular eye on a pending draft of requirements to make products that are longer-lasting, easier to repair and recycle.

Policies need to be “feasible, yet ambitious,” the EFA said.

For more BoF sustainability coverage, sign up now for our Weekly Sustainability Briefing by Sarah Kent.

Further Reading

The EU’s New Greenwashing Rules, Explained

Fashion brands will need to back up ‘green’ claims or risk fines of at least 4 percent of annual revenue in the offending market. But the regulations still leave a lot open to interpretation.

About the author
Sarah Kent
Sarah Kent

Sarah Kent is Chief Sustainability Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in London and drives BoF's coverage of critical environmental and labour issues.

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