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Fast fashion as a climate killer - Now only regulation from Brussels can help

Hasna Kourda locates the origins of her business model in the house of her ancestors.

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Fast fashion as a climate killer - Now only regulation from Brussels can help

Hasna Kourda locates the origins of her business model in the house of her ancestors. “My grandmother used old, discarded clothing to sew artistic carpets, which we call Kilim in Tunisia. We used that to keep the floors cool when it got hot in the summer months.” Even as a child, she was impressed that something new can be created from things that have had their day.

The Tunisian got to know a completely different way of dealing with textiles and fashion when she came to London: she describes a throwaway culture with little understanding of how textiles and fashion are produced. "That's how the idea for 'Save your Wardrobe' came about - helping consumers to shop for what they needed while being mindful of the environment."

Two different aspects make up the “Save your Wardrobe” offer. The app can be used to catalog your own wardrobe. This can help in the store to determine whether a piece is a suitable addition to the existing range - or whether it is already available in a very similar way.

The program also provides support with the care of clothing, with tips for cleaning, simple repairs and information on tailoring alterations or darning. "This is how we want to discourage people from excessive consumption and extend the life of clothing," says Kourda, describing the concept.

Among other things, she was able to win two German companies as cooperation partners. Online retailer Zalando works with Save your Wardrobe to give customers repair and care tips. As part of a pilot project, Hugo Boss customers in Hamburg and Berlin can also use the app.

With success: The feedback from the shops and the reactions of the customers are positive, says a Boss spokeswoman. We are very satisfied with the previous bookings for repairs.

The clothing industry is facing a fundamental change. Ever faster rotating collections, selling as much as possible as quickly as possible - the pattern of the past two decades is coming under pressure from several sides because of emissions, water consumption and waste production.

Consumers are starting to think differently. Above all, however, the textile companies are moving into the focus of regulation. Stricter rules at EU level are intended to make clothing more durable, simplify recycling and reduce resource consumption.

According to data from the European Commission, the textile sector ranks fourth in terms of its impact on the environment and climate, behind food, housing and mobility. When it comes to fresh water consumption, clothing is in the top 3. At the same time, the production of textiles has been growing rapidly for years, doubling worldwide between 2000 and 2015.

In western industrialized countries, more and more is being consumed, but each individual piece is often only used very little. On average, a European throws away eleven kilos of clothing every year, especially since the triumph of fast fashion, new collections in ever shorter succession, has often scratched the quality.

Anna Pownell is convinced that things cannot go on like this. “Everything I wear is secondhand or homemade,” says the student from Holland Park, west London, who is about to graduate. Textile design is one of her main subjects and she enjoys experimenting.

She likes to rummage through the many shops in the city that sell used clothes for a good cause, tailoring pieces. She even sewed a coat out of old food packaging.

Young people between the ages of 18 and 29 in particular are showing increasing interest in second-hand clothing, according to market research by the retailer Zalando. The desire to consume more sustainably plays an important role in this.

The trend has not yet caught on in the general population. And the industry itself is far from doing enough to remedy the situation, warns Emilien Gasc, responsible for climate and environmental issues at the EU delegation in Great Britain. "That will only work with more regulation," Gasc concludes.

This is already in the works. In spring 2022, the EU Commission presented a strategy to make the industry more sustainable by the end of the decade. This includes new design and quality requirements to make garments easier to repair and more durable.

The separate collection of textile waste is intended to simplify the reuse of fibers - this only happens with one percent of all clothes today - and exports of old clothes are made significantly more difficult. Manufacturers are also required to significantly reduce the leaching of microplastics from synthetic fibers.

In anticipation, fashion labels have been experimenting with alternatives to the classic model for some time, producing garments that are worn for a while and eventually thrown away. Repairs and maintenance, the Save your Wardrobe model, are considered an important step, which some brands also offer directly.

Zara, part of Spanish retailer Inditex, is one of them. In some stores, customers can have damaged Zara clothing repaired directly.

Another way is to recycle pieces from your own label that have already been used. Hugo Boss has been selling second-hand products from its own online shop in France since September. In industry parlance, second-hand goods are often referred to as “preloved”.

Zalando also offers the option of buying and selling used items in its own online shops. The Berlin-based retailer is also trimming its own brands for easier recycling. The company reports that future recycling is already taken into account during design and production. This means, for example, fewer textiles made from mixed fibers or no patches or sequins.

Short term clothing rental is another option. This works in the British market, for example, via specialized online platforms such as Matches Fashion or My Wardrobe HQ. A series of stamps, by H

Even the British royal family is in on the trend: at the end of last year, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, wore a light green evening dress to the Earthshot awards ceremony in Boston, which she had rented from the Hurr platform for £74.

For most consumers, however, there is still a clear gap between what is claimed and what is reality. According to a study by Zalando, this becomes clear during repairs. 58 percent of those surveyed find them important in order to extend the lifespan of clothing.

But less than a quarter regularly use a needle and thread to darn a hole or sew on a button. When patching becomes more complicated, three quarters are unsure what to do. Although 60 percent of those surveyed emphasize that transparency is very important to them, only a fifth make the effort to actively find out more about the production, material and more of a garment before making a purchase.

Zalando wants to help close the gap with information campaigns, close contact with customers and cooperation such as the repair app. According to the company, the topic is still at the beginning of a learning phase.

The fact that change is necessary is clearly seen within the industry. "Ultimately, there's no way around making less stuff and making better clothes," says Shailja Dubé of the British Council.

For consumers, this means significant adjustments. According to a study by Hot or Cool, a Berlin-based think tank, an individual’s closet-related carbon emissions – the production, use and disposal of textiles – should not exceed around 128 kilograms per year in order to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

Today, the values ​​for frontrunners such as Australia, Japan or the USA are well over 350 kilograms, Germany comes to 266 kilograms. On average, individuals should not buy more than nine pieces of clothing a year, says Luca Coscieme, co-author of the study. For comparison: Brits who are financially well-off add an average of 50 items to their wardrobes a year.

The example of France shows the role that regulation can play in achieving this goal. For several years, the government has been trying to reduce the impact of fashion retail on the environment through regulations. The destruction, often by burning, of unsold items is prohibited, and textile manufacturers are obliged to take care of the recycling or disposal of their products themselves.

In one of the most important centers of the fashion industry, of all places, significantly less fashion is therefore consumed. At 146 kilograms per person per year, emissions in France attributable to textiles are by far the lowest of any industrialized country.

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