Cop26: How fashion industry aims to make sustainability fashionable

British fashion houses united in show at climate summit

British fashion houses have united to showcase sustainability as the industry pledges to bolster its sustainability ambitions by calling on companies to halve their carbon emissions by 2030.

The sector previously had a target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 but through the Fashion Charter, it is now urging groups to set targets based on science.

On Tuesday, the British Fashion Council hosted GREAT Fashion for Climate Action, for which designers including Burberry, Phoebe English and Stella McCartney set out how they have adapted their work to increase sustainability and reduce their contribution to the climate crisis.

The sector is responsible for 10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than shipping and aviation combined – and pressure to find sustainable solutions is mounting.

“The GREAT campaign showcases the best of the UK’s creativity and ingenuity across the world,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“From infinitely recyclable clothing to carbon neutral companies, it’s brilliant to see these British fashion brands innovating and leading the industry towards a greener future.

“I know many more businesses will work hard to make fashion more sustainable in the years to come and I commend the industry’s resolve to play their part in this.”

British fashion designer Phoebe English said the event was a “huge opportunity”.

“We are pleased to be able to showcase our work and methods as part of the Cop26 conference,” she said.

“The fashion sector has a huge opportunity to be contributing to healthier less extractive systems. It is imperative that as an industry we are unified in our actions to make these approaches general practice across the international sector.

“The time is now.”

Mother of Pearl launched its first fully sustainable line, No Frills, in 2018 and urged the industry to follow suit.

“Sustainability has been a lifelong passion of mine and I’ve been on a mission for Mother of Pearl to reduce its impact on the planet,” the brand’s creative director, Amy Powney, said.

“However, it’s no longer about one brand. The fashion industry requires an entire system reset and a shift in consumer behaviour.

“We need to get back to valuing clothes as beautifully crafted pieces, not throwaway objects. The system needs to slow down; we need to invest in brands with the right values and consider closed loop systems which encourage us to rent, repair, recycle and resell, replacing impulse purchases and fast fashion methodology.”

At an event at the Cop26 climate summit on Monday, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action set out new targets to introduce sustainability measures faster in response to the climate crisis.

“We have realised [the charter we launched at Cop24] is not enough and we need to make it stronger, more concrete and call for companies to halve emissions by 2030,” said Niclas Svenningsen, manager of Global Climate Action at UN Climate Change.

“The science is clear – we have to do this. We do not have a choice.”

Jerome Le Bleis, chief supply officer at Burberry, said the industry needed to work together.

“We have to set bold targets supported by science,” he said.

“The focus on raw materials is extremely important and collaboration is key to making it happen. At Burberry we have set a bold ambition to become climate positive by 2040. It is not just setting the goals, but setting concrete actions.”

Further commitments in the updated Charter include ensuring all electricity used is from renewable sources by 2030, sourcing environmentally friendly raw materials and phasing out coal from the supply chain by the same date.

“This is an important milestone for the Fashion Charter, as it increases the ambition level in effort to align the industry with 1.5°C,” said Stefan Seidel of Puma, who is also co-chairman of the Fashion Industry Charter Steering Committee.

“It is a signal that we need to work closely together with our peers, our supply chain, policymakers and consumers to get on the track to net zero.”

Dr Delman Lee, vice chairman of Tal Apparel, has called for a sustainability index to rate companies.

More than 130 companies and 41 supporting organisations have signed the Fashion Charter, including H&M Group, Adidas, Nike and Chanel.

The renewed charter also calls for creating incentive mechanisms for supplier engagement in decarbonisation, as well as measures to engage policymakers and financial institutions.

“In a time when the climate crisis is accelerating to unprecedented levels, we need the real economy to lead on climate action,” Mr Svenningsen said.

“The strengthened commitments of the Fashion Charter signatories is an excellent example of such leadership.”

Last week, fashion designer Stella McCartney showed Britain’s Prince Charles her eco-fashion exhibit, the Future of Fashion, at Cop26.

She discussed vegan items with him and ways to avoid making football boots out of kangaroo leather.

The industry has been pioneering alternatives, including Dr Carmen Hijosa, who came up with the novel idea of using leftover pineapple leaves as an alternative to leather and created Pinatex.

More than 3,000 brands in about 80 countries use her Pinatex creation, including high-street names such as Hugo Boss and H&M.

Fashion brand Elvis & Kresse is leading the way using the London Fire Brigade’s old hoses, which had previously gone to landfill, to create designer bags and belts.

The business has also signed a five-year deal with Burberry to use 120 tonnes of its leather offcuts to create luxury items.

Primark has recently pledged to make all its clothing more sustainable by 2030 and to sell clothes that can be “recyclable by design” by 2027.

The clothing sector is worth £32 billion ($43.38bn) to the UK economy annually, and every year about a million tonnes of clothes are thrown away.

British researchers are developing ways of manufacturing textiles from household waste, such as food scraps and kitchen roll.

This year, luxury French fashion brand Saint Laurent announced it would stop using fur next year.

Research in the Netherlands found that the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production of one kilogram of mink fur was at least five times that of the highest-scoring textile, wool. This was in large part due to the production of the animals’ feed, emissions from their faeces and the processing of their pelts.

Updated: November 9th 2021, 5:40 PM
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