18 - 24 October, 2021
The EU is considering the introduction of a mandatory eco-labelling system for clothing and footwear. In a nutshell, it will involve a colour coded system that will identify products environmental impact. This seems like a big step in the right direction towards achieving a global standard, helping us make more informed decisions about our purchases, with positive outcomes overall (if done right!).
However, from what I have read, the system is based on an incompatible, and incomplete methodology. Let me explain...
The intention of the sustainability labelling system for clothing and footwear is to minimise consumer confusion surrounding sustainability, encouraging a common language. However, there are concerns surrounding the use of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) system to measure a products environmental impact. These concerns stem from the PEF;
being somewhat outdated. The system was originally proposed in 2013, and a lot has happened since then (not all good).
measuring such things as ozone depletion, human toxicity (cancer and non-cancer effects), acidification, land use, among others, but ignoring micro-plastic pollution, the full impact of fossil fuels, renewability, recyclability and biodegradability, durability, product practices, and social impacts. These measures (or lack of) result in polyester, for example, being identified as better for the environment than natural fibres.
not aligning with the EU's sustainability and circularity goals.
If you are interested in finding out more about the PEF, I recommending heading to Make the Label Count to read their report, and the Guardian article EU eco-labels for fabrics not strict enough, say campaigners, which originally drew my attention to the labelling system.
For this week's wrap I have also included articles that focuses on how;
What we thought was true about cotton, may actually turn out to be false,
The fashion industry is still destroying unsold inventory.
What we think happens to our returns, doesn't.
Take a watch
Make the Label Count describe themselves as an international coalition of organisations, working towards ensuring that the EU’s clothing sustainability labels are credible (transparent, curate, complete). This short clip (linked on their website) is a great summation of the PEF. It touches on the PEF in its current form, while also suggesting ways on how we can make it better to ensure that consumers are properly informed and empowered.
Take a read
Last week I mentioned that I was working my way through the report from Transformers Foundations titled The Biggest Myths About Cotton… And What The Real Situation Is. I won't lie, I only just finished reading this today. While it is lengthy, it is easily digestible, and offers some great tips on how we can all be more critical when it comes to data, and clarifies some terms that we are all probably guilty of misusing (e.g. water use verses water consumption). I can definitely see myself referring back to this report in the future.
While, I could try to summarise the whole report, I feel that, that would risk presenting an incomplete picture. But if I could recommend reading one part of it, it would be Section 2 - Cotton and Water: The Reality. The definitions and in depth description of the water cycle will definitely have you thinking deeper than "how many litres of water does it take to grow a pair of jeans".
N.B.: It is worth noting that this report was written in collaboration with representatives of the denim industry. However, this doesn’t detract from the interesting and highly valuable information presented.
Unsold, damaged or returned stock is nothing new. In fact, the problem has only been exacerbated by the rise of online sales and coinciding online returns. However, neither is the practice of destroying (whether it be simply throwing away, deliberately damaging, or burning) unsold inventory.
You may remember the widely publicised reports in 2018 claiming that Burberry was burning unsold stock (over 28 million pounds). As the Vogue Business article Why destroying products is still an “Everest of a problem” for fashion points out, this time it’s luxury brand Coach that is in the spotlight. The brand recently received backlash after a TikTok video was released showing various "slashed" handbags. This type of practice is viewed as a means of retaining brand value, stopping goods from being stolen and/or sold, being cheaper than recycling or repurposing, and in some cases legal.
The article unpacks the problem of discarded fashion and accessories, drawing attention to;
Clothing's lack of consideration for disassembly during the design and manufacturing process, which results in no real means of recycling.
The need to address the issue of overproduction first.
The lack of investment in recycling technologies and infrastructure for textiles in general.
The Atlantic article The Nasty Logistics of Returning Your Too-Small Pants reveals the scary truth behind what happens to our returns. What you think happens, probably doesn't!
Some of the key takeaways from the piece include:
Remember change (or fitting) rooms? With the advent of online shopping, the change room has almost become a foreign concept. Customers have also come to the realisation that you can simply order an item in multiple sizes, and try it on in the comfort of your own home. This practice has only increased since the pandemic and resulting lockdowns.
An increase in online sales, has coincided with an increase in returns.
Brands often encourage the behaviour, offering free shipping and returns, in order to please customers and make them feel more comfortable.
Returns are far from harmless. While returns have been around for a long time, the scale at which they are now occurring is extremely harmful and inefficient. From the transportation involved, to the fact that what is returned is highly unlikely to end up back in the hands of another owner.
Forward verses reverse logistics. Forward logistics is described as "straightforward madness", involving the moving of goods from manufacturers to end users. Reverse logistics, on the other hand, is described as "nasty", and time and labour intensive. The process of returning an item involves the collection process, sorting, and deciphering of whether it has been used or worn, is it what was actually purchased, and/or is it salvageable?
What about donating returns? This certainly seems like a logical, moral, even good for PR solution. However, due to brand dilution - “If paying customers catch you giving things to poor people for free, the logic goes, they’ll feel like the things you sell are no longer valuable." - this is unlikely to happen.
Returns are not talked about. There is a lack of focus, avoidance even, when it comes to the topic of returns - reverse logistics isn't part of business education, brands don’t want to talk about it for fear of tarnishing their image, and shareholders often remain in the dark.
New on the blog
October for us northern-hemisphere-ers is marked by shorter days, colder tempatrures, autumnal colours, and Halloween.
Despite never really being one to celebrate Halloween (it was never really big back home in Australia), one thing I have learnt over the years about the festival is the unexpected horrors.
Check out my article Want to be ghoulishly good this Halloween? to find out how you can still enjoy yourself while being kind to the environment, and your wallet, as I share some easy switches we can all adopt that will make a real difference during the Halloween season.
Please GET IN TOUCH or leave me a comment. I would love to know what you have been reading, listening or watching this week.