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March 24, 2022

Four ways fashion can rethink its economic model

A radical rethink of the fashion industry's economic model is the only way to curb its sustainability problem, a new report claims.

By Beth Wright

The new ‘Wellbeing Wardrobe’ study commissioned by the European Environmental Bureau, makes the case for moving fashion beyond growth towards a system where human and ecological health come first.

The report, which features research led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, comes amid building scepticism of economic strategies that are anchored in growing GDP at all costs. Plus, it sits alongside the European Commission’s plans to step up efforts to regulate the textile sector through a new sustainability strategy, explains the European Environmental Bureau.

“Fashion’s adherence to growth has contributed to it being one of the world’s most polluting, wasteful and exploitative industries, yet existing strategies to tackle fashion’s unsustainability – such as using more recycled materials in fast fashion or labelling schemes – stop short of questioning the industry’s problematic dominant economic model,” it notes.

Using the concept of the ‘wellbeing economy’ – an umbrella term to describe growth-alternative economic concepts – the research identified four guiding principles for building a post-growth direction for the fashion sector so that it works in the interest of the common good:

1. Establishing limits to reduce how much is produced and consumed in line with planetary boundaries
2. Promoting fairness to ensure social justice globally
3. Creating healthy and just governance to make sure the transition is inclusive and participatory
4. Embracing new exchange systems where clothing and textiles are provided in ways that do not depend on overproduction and overconsumption.

We are all aware of the environmental impacts of the sector – carbon emissions, water pollution and the growing problem of textile and clothing waste – and we are also all too familiar with poor social sustainability standards across the supply chain. This is after years, decades in some cases, of trying to address these issues. We need to urgently look at the sector in a new way,” says Dr Samantha Sharpe, research director from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

She adds: “We must change the focus away from growth, the cause of over-production and consumption, and onto wellbeing.”

Emily Macintosh, policy officer for textiles at the European Environmental Bureau points out: “Unravelling the fashion industry’s obsession with economic growth is the only way to stop environmentally damaging and exploitative overproduction. Politicians have a responsibility to ensure new EU rules on the textile industry are more than a greenwash of business-as-usual practices. It’s time to look beyond GDP and turn to wellbeing economy principles so we can redesign a textile system in line with human needs and the limits of our planet.”

Click here to access the report in full.

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