Innovation That Matters

Innovation Spotlight: sustainable fashion


Circularity is fashion’s next big thing

While consumer sentiment has had a part to play in fashion brands’ increased focus on sustainability, it is a raft of new rules and mandatory reporting requirements that promise to propel circularity in the fashion industry to the front row.

Catwalk shows are all about storytelling and creating excitement for the coming season. This year, a new narrative is gaining ground. The fashion industry has faced heavy criticism in recent years for its impact on the environment: in 2018, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted that a ‘business as usual’ approach by the fashion industry would use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. The same year, Burberry took the brunt of the backlash after it was revealed the brand had incinerated £28.6 million (around €33.4 million) worth of deadstock, but in reality, the practice of destroying deadstock and fabrics was prevalent among many luxury fashion labels to retain exclusivity and maintain prices.  

What’s changed?

In a word: regulation. Legislators have zeroed in on the textile industry and clothes manufacturers’ environmental performance, particularly around waste. The European Union’s (EU) revised Waste Framework Directive, updated in July last year, proposes an EU-wide extended producer responsibility (EPR) system that will require brands to pay fees for every product they put on the market to cover the costs of end-of-life collection, sorting, recycling, and responsible disposal.  EU member states must set up separate collections for used textiles and garments by 1st January 2025 – and this waste can no longer be sent to landfill or incinerated. 

In December 2023, the EU replaced its Ecodesign Directive with the updated Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, which is broad in scope but will prioritise certain industries, including textiles. One of the requirements will be digital product passports, which will require brands to supply consumers with a garment’s sustainability credentials via a QR code. Smart producers are getting ahead of the changes now.  

Who is driving change?

Historically, France has been an early adopter of rules to govern ‘end-of-life’ management of textiles, household linens, and shoes (TLCs). An EPR scheme for TLCs has been in place there since 2008, and marketers must either set up an individual system for collecting and sorting their products that become waste, or join and contribute to the approved eco-organisation, Refashion. There are currently 44,000 collection points for textiles and footwear in France, and sorters dealt with 156,000 tons of this waste in 2020.  

Several of Paris’ luxury fashion houses now offer deadstock fabrics for resale. One company was ahead of the curve in 2019: L’Atelier des Matières, an independent company pioneered by Chanel, draws on luxury’s traditional heritage of craftsmanship, combined with the latest innovations in reusing, recycling, and in some cases, completely reimagining unsold items and deadstock. The company works with various high-end and premium producers to source materials, which are then repurposed either into new yarns, recycled leathers and materials, or customised products for corporate gifting. The process begins with a full analysis of the product to see not only how it can be disassembled and reused, but what learnings it can share with its clients on what more can be done during the design process to enable easier recycling at end of life – fully anticipating the upcoming Ecodesign regulations. 

How can you find out more?

L’Atelier des Matières will be at the Première Vision show in Paris between 6th to 8th February. The show is a bi-annual event for fashion professionals looking to source sustainably and be environmentally responsible. For more details click here.  

Throughout 2024, Springwise will highlight L’Atelier des Matières’ work on the possibilities offered by unsold or used materials, and how brands can take advantage of it as a sustainable supplier.