Linking Covid support for fashion industry to sustainability?

The fashion industry continues to rely heavily on synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, but those textiles are highly polluting. A new study calls on Europe to intervene and even link coronavirus financial support to climate objectives.


Fossil fuels in clothing

"Not many consumers are aware of the fact that fast-fashion is actually fossil fashion," said Urska Trunk of the Changing Markets Foundation after a new report revealed how the use of synthetic fibres, polyester especially, in textiles has doubled over the past 20 years and is likely to continue to rise to almost three-quarters of total global fibre production by 2030.

"Fashion brands have become addicted to cheap polyester and other oil-derived fibres at a time when the world is moving away from fossil fuels. But instead of moving away from synthetic fibres, which are causing an ecological disaster, the brands want you to think they have the problem under control and that they can keep producing more and more clothes," is sharply said.


Microfibres and carbon emissions

Today, polyester is said to be found in more than half of all textiles. While the footprint of polyester production in 2015 was the equivalent of 700 million tonnes of CO2, which would be comparable to the total annual emissions of Mexico or 180 coal power stations. By 20310, that figure is expected to nearly double.

Besides, synthetic fabrics also leave behind microfibres in nature, which do not decompose naturally. During use, washing and disposal, synthetic clothing releases tiny fibres that are invisible to the eye. Consequently, according to the study, they are found everywhere today, from the Arctic oceans to 80 per cent of tap water.


Imposing higher standards

The initiative of Changing Markets Foundation, therefore, urges the European Commission to take far-reaching legislative measures. After all, the Commission is currently working on a textile strategy, which can be expected later this year. The NGO proposes to reduce the consumption of clothing, among other things, by detaching the fashion industry from fossil fuels, imposing higher quality and eco-standards and making the textile industry responsible for the end of the product cycle. 


Fashion companies that want to qualify for coronavirus financial support should only be granted funding if they promise to become more sustainable and the money is not used to "keep the failing fast-fashion model alive," Trunk argues.