Journalist and climate activist Catherine Dauriac signs Fashion from the collection Fake or not of Tana editions. She is also President and National Coordinator for France of the NGO fashion revolutioncampaigning for positive yet radical change in the fashion industry.
Fast fashion and ultra fast fashion cause environmental damage
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion corresponds to disposable fashion. It entered the fashion world in the 1990s, with Inditex (which produces for example for Zara) being one of the first to develop this concept of a fast and fast collection. But that’s not necessarily the worst, because Inditex produces fairly locally, everything happens in the Maghreb on short circuit. The main consequence of Inditex is that every month the public has instilled a desire for novelties, while there are traditionally four seasons a year. Since the 1990s, culminating in 2010, ultra-fast fashion has emerged, with brands such as Shein. They offer even cheaper clothing, with new items every day.
Today, fast fashion and ultra fast fashion cause environmental damage: polyester represents 65% of the world’s fabrics, to the chagrin of natural materials such as linen or cotton (25% of the fabrics). The factories pour the dyes into the rivers, polyester takes 200 years to break down in nature†
Another major problem of fast fashion is social harm. The workers do not receive a living wage – allowing them to take care of themselves, raise their children, etc. in addition to their basic needs. The Covid crisis showed that textile workers were particularly affected because they had no savings for hard knocks. There is also the problem of conflicts of interest within governments: in Bangladesh 80% of GDP comes from the textile industry and most government members are bosses of textile factories – no wonder the workers are not allowed to speak.
Then and finally there is the situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, who are clearly subject to forced labor (from cultivation to sewing): unfortunately cotton and slavery have a long common history.
The most ecological item of clothing is already hanging in your wardrobe.
Do you think we can be fashion lovers and eco responsible?
Given that being eco-responsible means carbon neutral, the best solution is to wear what we already have. Orsola de Castro, one of the founders of Fashion Revolution, puts it very aptly: “the most ecological clothing is already in your wardrobe”† When we get tired of the clothes we own, because our bodies and our tastes change, there is always the solution of swapping with friends: it costs € 0 and it is just fun.
Is the second hand a valid and interesting solution?
The second hand has always existed, as long as clothing has existed. The problem today is that second-hand clothing deposits are of very poor quality. Second-hand sites have been offering for 20 years a lot of damaged fast fashion, badly cut, with poor quality materials. Finding beautiful clothes is possible, Vinted offers high quality vintage wardrobes, but it is still quite rare, you have to have the eye and the time. 80% of the clothes on Vinted come from fast fashionn: bought as quickly as sold, and that’s a shame. The other negative side of the application is the digital pollution of the photos posted by hundreds of thousands.
Is recycling clothes a better option?
Recycling is difficult and overused. There are collection points in the street, or the buildings of the Red Cross and Oxfam. There, the associations make a skimming to preserve the best models and materials, which most correspond to the fashion. This resold clothing represents 1% of all collected clothing† The rest goes to sorting centers (Germany and Poland) where it is sorted a second time for recycling. Natural materials (cotton, wool) are reclaimed to make yarn again, but often fast fashion clothes are blends of cotton and polyester, which are impossible to recycle.
After this second sorting the rest (90%) goes to large second-hand markets (Ghana and China) in opaque bales of hundreds of kilos. The bales are bought blindly and if they do not meet the shops’ specialization, which is three quarters of the clothing, they are thrown into open landfills.
France has a big role to play.
Do you think that, given the revolution in the fashion and textile industry, France has a special role to play?
France has a big role to play. Paris is one of the fashion capitals, today for Fashion Weeks, but also since the 18th century, Marie-Antoinette is a great influencer of her time. The desire for fashion, textiles and stylistic innovations was born in France,
France must also act at the legislative level. There is already the Vigilance Act promulgated in 2017 that requires companies to be vigilant about their employees and their factories. This law will be discussed at the European Commission next year to be extended to the EU. Fashion Revolution offers 12 extra points through a European Citizens’ Initiative, to be launched from next summer in seven European countries, including France. The campaign is called “pay good clothing fairly”.
Another law that could make a difference is the January 2020 Anti-Waste Act (effective January 2022), which prohibits the destruction of unsold non-food items, including clothing. Indeed, in 2017 and 2018, Burberry and H&M have already been convicted of burning tons of unsold goods – Burberry to maintain its image of rarity and luxury, and H&M to lose inventory.
Are flax and hemp the future of the textile industry in France?
Hemp had somewhat disappeared, but the textile industry is rediscovering this fiber. It is mainly used in eco-construction, oilseeds, etc. Hemp is a more difficult fiber to work with than linen. Flax, on the other hand, has established itself well in the French and European industry. The sector is located in three European countries: France, the Netherlands and Belgium. These countries work together, farmers as tailors, in the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC) which has more than 10,000 members. Linen represents only 4% of the world’s fiber but it is a promising sector. However, the demand is stronger than the supply, linen remains a precious fabric. With a view to reindustrialisation, two flax factories are set up in Hauts de France this year.
Is there a lot of misinformation about fashion?
Yes, especially on Instagram, even when people think they’re doing it right. There is a lot of approach to the numbers: the aim of the book is to flatten the numbers and collect as much information as possible. Another fashion problem is greenwashing. One example is that of H&M and its ‘conscious choice’ collection that uses so-called organic cotton, when that is almost impossible. Organic cotton represents only 1% of the cotton used. For better cotton, it is better to go for fair trade cotton. The Max Haavelar label guarantees a living wage, sustainable agriculture and above all correct labor standards: the right to speak, unions, even if pesticides are sometimes used, because cotton is a vulnerable plant.
Regulators should be asked to agree, from north to south, on a common charter.
What would be the right levers to improve the millinery?
The main lever is that of regulation: regulators must be asked to agree on a common charter from north to south. This charter should cover wages, health care, safe working conditions and buildings. Awareness is also essential because we walk on our heads: the brands produce a lot to hope to sell, but they end up with tons of unsold items on their hands, they make lower quality clothes with a view to selling, this is absurd.
Young ethical brands also give hope, moving production by monitoring the entire chain: from the land of the fields to the recycling of natural materials. Added to the circular economy, these are interesting starting points.
We have probably reached the worst, the peak of overconsumption, because we are at the beginning of a major economic and energy crisis that will not allow us to adopt these modes of production.
During your research, did you find figures or facts that surprised you, which the average consumer cannot suspect?
Yes absolutely, I highlight two: firstly, 150 billion items of clothing are produced every year. Half of humanity does not buy clothes, half of the rest are poor, leaving about a billion buyers of the clothes produced. Next one, you only wear 30% of your wardrobe. I invite readers to try with theirs, it is a figure that traverses ages and social realities.
How does Fashion Revolution work?
Fashion Revolution is a 1901 legal association affiliated with the parent NGO, which is based in the United Kingdom. We are present in 85 countries worldwide† We raise awareness in fashion schools, business schools, conferences and campaigns.
The highlight of the year is the week of April 24, the Week of the fashion revolution† Indeed, April 24 marks the sad anniversary of the accident of the Rana Plaza in 2013, which killed more than 1,100 people in a factory that produced clothing for major Western brands such as Benetton and Mango. On this occasion, the Fashion Revolution collective was founded. The highlight of Fashion Revolution Week in Paris is April 20th, at the Climate Academy in the 4th arrondissement. Conferences and workshops on ethics and the environment in fashion are offered to all target groups.