What was fashion doing at COP26?

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The first time that fashion came close to an official United Nations climate conference like the one just held in Glasgow was in 2009. It was COP15 (COP stands for “conference of the parties” ), and it was held in Copenhagen. I write “close” to a COP because back then fashion was not considered a central part of the climate conversation. It was not, in a way, serious quite.

In fact, fashion was so marginalized that to talk about its role in creating and fighting climate change, it had to hold its own conference. This is how the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, focused on sustainability, was born.

It took over a decade, but things have changed. Much has been said this year that the bigwigs of finance are finally coming to the COP table, but this is the first year that fashion has had a significant and prolonged presence. As stated by Stella McCartney, who has created a special exhibition on “The Future of Fashion” materials at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, after nearly two decades of pushing fashion to recognize its effect on the environment, she was no longer a “police virgin”.

Here is what remained of me from COP26.

Right in the middle of the Blue Zone (the official delegates’ area – that is, where world leaders spoke) was an installation by a fashion collective called Generation of Waste designed to mimic a graphic at bars of the different stages of textile waste. , from design to raw materials, clothing production, etc.

The United Nations Environment Program has published a new version of the fashion charter initially created in 2018, now with 130 signatory companies, including, for the first time, LVMH, and with stronger commitments to halve carbon emissions by 2030 (and reach net zero by 2050).

On the sidelines, Federico Marchetti, former president of Yoox Net a Porter, unveiled a digital ID created by Prince Charles’ Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Fashion Working Group: a scannable clothing tag that acts like a DNA trace the manufacturing history of a product, using the blockchain. Technology.

And Textile Exchange, an NGO that looks like a fabric trading post but actually focuses on creating global fashion standards, has submitted a trade policy request to national governments backed by 50 brands. This is an unappealing term for advocating for the creation of tariff and import-export structures that encourage companies to use “environmentally friendly materials” rather than, say, polyester. It is also the most widely used material in the entire fashion industry.

No one has uttered the now discredited but once hugely popular fake statistic “Fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet”. Everyone finally agreed that this was one of the worst, and bad enough.

Decrease: that is, to produce less product. That is, measures taken in response to the fact that in the first 15 years of this century clothing production doubled in volume, but the number of times a garment was worn before being discarded decreased by 36%. For a long time, the response to this kind of data has been to urge consumers to “buy less!” and “wear longer!” Now, it seems brands have recognized their role in the problem.

That said, it is hard to imagine Bernard Arnault of LVMH or Ralph Lauren standing up at their annual meeting of shareholders and announcing that their strategy for 2022 is “degrowth”. (It almost sounds like a potential “Saturday Night Live” sketch.) Except that Halide Alagöz, head of sustainability at Ralph Lauren, revealed during a New York Times Climate Hub panel that the brand had secretly tried it. .

Yes: Ralph Lauren practices degrowth. Not that they call it that, exactly.

The company calls it “financial growth through diminishing resources,” according to Alagöz. Which is a terrible name for an interesting initiative, but Lauren is working on it. What he found was that he could decouple production from profit, so that even though the company was doing less, it was able to make money – largely by maximizing his understanding of selling. He ended up with less wasted product that had to be routed downstream to factory outlets.

“We have seen our finances improve even though we produce fewer units compared to five years ago,” said Ms Alagöz.

Designers are also creative when it comes to products that exist in the world. One of my favorite points came from William McDonough, author of “Cradle to Cradle,” a kind of founding manifesto on the circular economy, who emphasized that we should see clothes as raw materials that can be re- sourced for a second and third use.

That’s exactly what British designer Priya Ahluwalia thought when she teamed up with Microsoft to create a platform called Circulate, which allows consumers to send their own used clothes to her business. If the clothes are in acceptable condition, they will be remade and incorporated into their next collection, and the donor will get “reward points” for a new purchase with the brand. According to Ms Ahluwalia, this is a supply hack that has opened up a whole new channel for her for fabric and ideas.

It’s an increasingly buzzword, thanks to regenerative agriculture, an agricultural technique that helps restore soil health and nutrients. One of the least discussed aspects of fashion is how closely it is linked to agriculture – many brands are now investing in supporting regenerative agriculture – but word has jumped in its tracks and has spread. propagated to companies that boast of a “regenerative” and “regenerative” strategy. tactical ”, which seems to mean… well, it’s not clear what that means. But that sounds good, doesn’t it?

It’s the kind of fuzzy language that can lead to accusations of greenwashing, which is why Textile Exchange is working on a specific definition, which will be released next year.

Honestly, they could broaden the definition to encompass a whole fashion lexicon so that everyone is using the same language. For example, another word, I bet we’ll hear more, comes from a McKinsey report: “nearshoring,” that is, using suppliers who are not necessarily in your country but who are not nearby. the other end of the world. After all, according to a presentation by British brand Bamford, the average merino wool sweater travels 30,000 kilometers in its production cycle, from raw material to factory, workshop and store.

A project for COP27, perhaps.

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