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Fashion and COP28

Model twins Brett and Scott Staniland explain why fashion needs a seat at the table at climate talks
Model twins Brett and Scott Staniland

This article first appeared in our COP28 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 30 November 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Fashion has had a tough few years at COP.

Back at COP26 in 2021 fashion was, for the first time, given a seat at the table – yet it was largely left off the agenda.

I’m sure some of you will be wondering why fashion needs a spot on the schedule, but when you consider the amount of plastic and fossil-fuel derived materials upon which the industry relies, you’d think the 600+ delegates from each of the oil companies would be interested.

A history of disappointment

Targets were proposed to help reach the Paris agreement on global warming, including the switch to renewable energy, net zero emissions and climate-friendly raw materials.

Earlier this year the same topics were reiterated at COP27, which was filled with more disappointment and anticlimactic promises, mostly coming from the major voices in luxury fashion – LVMH and Kering.

Yet again discussions completely omitted the elephant in the room: fast fashion and the scale of production.

Who are the fast-fashion giants?

Since COP26 in Glasgow, fast fashion has continued to accelerate into further overproduction and exploitation.

Giants like Amazon, Shein, H&M and others have continuously reiterated their drive to scale production even further.

In April 2022 Shein was valued at $100bn; figures shown in the ‘Incomparable Churn’ on The Business of Fashion dwarfed those of companies we previously thought were the giants of fast fashion.

Production, manufacturing and processing create the most emissions throughout the lifespan of garments, yet COP27 failed to recognise the threat this poses to the environment and its contribution to the climate crisis.

So are we hopeful for fashion as we enter COP28? No. Not at all, to be honest.

The Fashion Act

The UK and the UN continue to drag their feet, setting targets so far in advance that they allow brands and businesses to play the waiting game until the last minute and continue to neglect their obligation to communities and the planet.

There are, at least, others who are taking matters into their own hands in a bid to enforce change before it becomes legally necessary.

For one, the Act on Fashion Coalition in New York is working on a landmark piece of legislation helping drive accountability and common sense within the fashion industry.

‘The Fashion Act’ strives for mandatory due diligence for brands’ social and environmental impacts, aiming to reverse fashion’s race to the bottom.

The legislation has some big-name supporters, all hoping that more awareness around this legislation will legally force brands to start operating in line with the Paris agreement and move away from fossil fuels.

New York is seen as a leader around the world; it is hoped that when a global community gets
behind something like this, others will follow.

Filter By Fabric

The Woolmark company also has a campaign that was created to change the way products are displayed to us online.

The goal of the ‘Filter By Fabric’ campaign is to make brands include the composition in the labelling of garments – out with ‘silky’ and ‘mesh’ and in with clearer definitions, such as ‘polyester knit dress’ and ‘cotton-acrylic blend’.

The filter feature usually only provides options to filter by price, style and newly added. Adding a fabric choice will allow shoppers to separate natural fibres from fossil-fuel fibres, and is backed by research which states this is more likely to help consumers make more sustainable choices.

Change fashion now

These are just a couple of options currently in the works; there is more localised planning to hold businesses accountable and mobilise some of the changes we so desperately need to see.

It all begs the question, though: while the large organisations and governments are dragging their feet, does the best way to influence action start with a local-first approach?

One thing is for sure, this is all extremely frustrating. We all know that the best way to make a big impact is for the massive conglomerates to start moving now, rather than leaving the smaller ones to do everything they can.

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