But the way that most brands generate these new clothing lines, especially those that produce on a global scale, is damaging the environment. After food, housing and transport, European consumption of textiles has the fourth highest impact on the environment and climate. Textile waste, in particular, poses a huge problem globally, with one full truckload of old clothes and textiles going to landfill or incineration every second.
So, with climate crisis now taking centre stage, how will our wardrobes need to change? And what positive shifts and exciting innovations are already happening in the fashion industry? We talked to two European Climate Pact Ambassadors, Agnieszka Oleksyn-Wajda from Poland and Lidia Martin from Spain, to get their expert insights. Agnieszka, director of the Institute of Sustainable Development at the Lazarski University in Warsaw; and Lidia, who runs an online platform to raise awareness about sustainable fashion and the science behind it, tell us how the industry is evolving and what they think sustainable summer wardrobes will look like in 2030.
Putting fast fashion out of fashion
The impact of fast fashion is being felt all along the supply chain: from excessive water use to grow fibres such as cotton, to the use of fossil fuels to produce synthetic fibres; from water pollution during the dyeing and finishing processes, to carbon emissions generated during production and transportation.
But environmental awareness among consumers and companies in the fashion industry has increased rapidly in recent years, and there is a growing trend towards sustainability and transparency. Fast fashion is starting to go out of fashion.
In 2022, the European Commission adopted a new EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles. The strategy sets out a vision for the future of fashion: by 2030, textiles used by the industry will be long-lasting, made from recycled fibres and fully recyclable. A truly circular textile economy will also mean that reuse and repair services are widely available to consumers.
So, what will our clothes be made of?
Material innovation has advanced rapidly in the past few years. There are a range of new plant-based materials – often called ‘biomaterials’ – which are produced by mimicking natural processes and can compete with widely used synthetic materials. Lidia predicts that leather alternatives made from cactus, apple and pineapple will be widely available and affordable by 2030 – in the form of a pair of summer sandals or a handbag, for example. Other materials, such as polyester, have the potential to be produced without the need for any raw materials, with certain swimwear lines already now being made exclusively from recycled plastics.
But the 2030 summer wardrobe won’t just feature futuristic materials – it will also make full use of natural, sustainable and reliable fabrics that already exist today. One example is fabric made from hemp, a crop grown across Europe. “I hope hemp production will increase, because it's one of the most sustainable materials that we can use for clothing, along with bamboo and linen,” says Lidia. Not only are these natural, lightweight and durable, as well as fully compostable or recyclable, they are also better for our health and the environment, with fewer toxic chemicals used to produce them. Unlike polyester and nylon, for example, which are used to make many types of clothes today, they do not release plastic microfibres into household waste water when they are washed, which can go on to damage the environment and marine life.
How will we consume fashion?
Once natural or recycled materials are in use, they should have a long life before ultimately re-entering the supply chain, if they are to be truly circular. And innovative solutions are already emerging to support this cycle. “I believe new technologies will help limit waste across the whole supply chain,”Agnieszka says. These technologies will range from digital sampling (a virtual way to try on clothes) to apps for renting clothes or finding nearby repair services.
Digitalisation of the clothes-buying process also supports circularity, and the online second-hand and rental markets have exploded in recent years. Lidia even predicts that the second-hand market will be twice as big as fast fashion in 2030: “I would say that over 60% of our wardrobes will be second hand by 2030. The growth of the second-hand market is just staggering.”
Agnieszka is particularly excited about a transformative tool that is being introduced as part of the EU’s textile strategy – digital product passports containing reliable information about an item’s environmental and social impact. These will tell consumers how and where their clothes were made, and from what; how much water was used to produce them; what chemicals they contain; and whether they can be repaired, reused or recycled. Not only does this hold producers accountable, it also empowers consumers to make choices that are in line with their values.
Our wardrobes in 2030
· Leather alternatives made from cactus, apple and pineapple will be widely available and affordable.
· There will be an increase in the use of natural, sustainable and reliable fabrics that already exist today, as well as recycled raw materials.
· Digital sampling (a virtual way to try on clothes) and apps for renting clothes or finding nearby repair services will be commonplace.
· 60% of our wardrobe will be second-hand.
· Product passports containing reliable information about an item’s environmental and social impact will be provided with every new garment.
Will brands be more transparent?
With the introduction of digital product passports, fashion brands will no longer have a choice – they will need to become innovative, resilient, and truly sustainable.
And it seems to be happening already. “Fashion companies are more and more conscious about sustainable business,” Agnieszka points out. “I’m involved in some initiatives in Poland that engage with businesses, international organisations, NGOs and scientists. We try to understand each other and find ways forward for more sustainable and circular ways of doing business.”
And Lidia suggests consumers can encourage brands to be more transparent in the meantime. “You don't need a platform to be an activist or advocate for a cleaner fashion industry. You can write directly to fashion brands or take to social media to ask them for more information on their sustainability credentials,” she says.
The end of fast fashion?
The discussion about the future of fashion is an exciting one, with lots of new materials, business models and technologies emerging in response to changing consumer attitudes. The market is shifting, and this is supported by the EU’s textile strategy, which aims to stop fast fashion completely and reduce the carbon and environmental footprint of the industry. But how hopeful should we be that fast fashion will ultimately end? We asked our expert Climate Pact Ambassadors for their take.
“The clothing business will always exist because there is such a social need,” Agnieszka says. “But the Commission's aim is to reduce disgraceful practices such as poor waste management. This change will not happen in a year, or in two or even five years. It will be a long process. The Commission has set a cut-off date of 2030 for transformation in the fashion sector. Thanks to that, I think the way fashion is consumed and produced will change.”
Although Lidia thinks the EU is on track to achieve some of its own goals by 2030, especially for ethical and labour standards, she thinks 2050 is a more realistic timeframe for global transformation of the fashion industry. “By 2050, fast fashion will not be the norm at all. I think there is going to be a legislation shift, a consumer-mentality shift and a market shift, which will mark the end of fast fashion.”
In any case, by 2030 we could be well on our way to fast fashion becoming a thing of the past. Until then, there are steps we can take as consumers to have a more sustainable relationship with fashion.
Here’s what you can do next
- Buy less overall and invest in higher-quality items. Take time to consider your purchases and avoid impulse buying.
- Shop second-hand using apps or check out local vintage and charity shops.
- Check the labels of clothes before buying and look for natural, organic or recycled fibres. Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylic.
- Host a clothes swap with your friends and exchange unwanted items instead of throwing them away.
- Find local tailors and cobblers that you can rely on to adjust and repair your clothes and shoes.
You could also make a pledge to buy fewer clothes and wear them longer, or repair and reuse them, with the European Climate Pact and our partner Count Us In.
Whatever steps you take, you can encourage people to do the same on social media, by email, or by word of mouth, and share your progress using the hashtag #EUClimatePact.
- Publication date
- 18 August 2022