The Role of Regulation in Ensuring Circular Fashion

With the aim of investigating the role of government regulation in reducing the environmental footprint of the sector and moving it towards an approach based on the circular economy, a document has been published online in Sustainability.

She studies: Regulations for the promotion of sustainable, fair and circular fashion. Image Credit: triocean / Shutterstock.com

The global growth of the fashion and apparel industry has come at a cost. The sustainability of increased apparel production has shed light on the industry’s contribution to climate change and increasing environmental damage.

The growing problem of sustainability in the fashion and clothing sector

As the global fashion and apparel industry grows come concerns about its sustainability and business practices. Recently, there has been significant media attention on the growth of so-called “fast fashion” and its impact on the apparel industry and society in general. Over the past four decades, there has been a 400% increase in the amount of clothing produced each year in the world. In addition, the average household spending on clothing and the average number of times the clothing is worn have decreased.

On the surface, the trends in terms of reduced costs and increased supply look good from the consumer’s point of view, reflecting what has been termed the “democratization of fashion”. However, these trends have far-reaching environmental and social consequences that have become evident in recent years.

The negative consequences of the global apparel and fashion industry can be seen all over the world. From microplastics that pose a threat to marine life and the food chain to 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted annually, the message is clear: the current business model that governs the activities of the apparel industry must change if its damage is to be mitigated for the benefit of future generations.

Additionally, the global apparel industry is responsible for increasing land use for fiber growth. By 2030, the amount of land used for this purpose is expected to increase by 35%, or 115,000 square kilometers (about the area of ​​Kentucky). Furthermore, the global apparel industry is responsible for a staggering amount of waste, which ends up in landfills or is burned. This causes additional environmental pressures.

An abstract model of circular economy, including barriers, in the field of fashion.

An abstract model of circular economy, including barriers, in the field of fashion. Image credit: Meital Peleg Mizrachi and Alon Tal, Sustainability

How the fashion and apparel industry is socially harmful

Western countries’ high demand for fast fashion leads to adverse social factors, especially in developing countries which produce most of the world’s clothing supply. 98% of workers in the fashion industry receive wages that do not support their families and keep them in poverty. 64% of women working in the fashion industry are abused, both physical and verbal. In addition to being a highly polluting industry, these statistics indicate that the fashion industry is highly exploitative.

Studies have indicated that over 85% of clothing consumed in the United States is thrown away within a year of purchase. Furthermore, only 1% of all used clothing is recycled, and the majority is disposed of in developing countries, compounding problems with sustainability and environmental and social damage. Therefore, a circular pattern for the global apparel industry is supportive and much of the achievement of this goal is expected to be due to government regulations and international agreements.

Aiming towards a sustainable, fair and circular future for the fashion industry

The new study published in Sustainability studied the potential role that regulation will have in bringing the fashion industry towards a circular economy model that will solve its problems with sustainability by making it a fairer industry for all who work there.

The research article begins by describing what circular manufacturing is and its principles. It also discusses regulatory expression, the challenges in achieving circular manufacturing and the benefits it will bring to the global fashion industry and how it will inform practices within the industry. Current efforts in global markets such as Europe are being analyzed and discussed to examine how these can address the challenges the fashion industry faces.

The authors stated in their study that there are opportunities for the fashion industry in particular to overcome its sustainability and ethical issues. There are opportunities for more regulation that tackles environmentally harmful consumption.

Possible national public policies that will encourage progress in the global fashion industry and place it on the path of ethical and sustainable fashion consumption are discussed. These are assessed according to the criteria of feasibility, compliance, fairness, sustainability and effectiveness. The authors evaluated four categories of policy proposals: incentives, educational initiatives, command and control interventions, and certification.

The analysis in the study suggests that there is a trade-off between the different criteria that influence the implementation of interventions and regulation. For example, an intervention can improve sustainability but do little to address social inequality.

However, a systematic assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of emerging public policies, regulations and interventions is vital in moving the fashion industry towards a sustainable, fair and circular approach that addresses its historical challenges. The study in Sustainability provides a meaningful knowledge base for future research and government regulation.

Further reading

Meital Peleg Mizrachi & Alon Tal (2022) Regulations for the promotion of sustainable, fair and circular fashion [online] Sustainability 14 (1) 502 | mdpi.com. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/14/1/502

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