Sustainable fashion: The challenge of transforming the 2nd most polluting industry

Education Fundación Afi and the social impact venture capital Bolsa Social Fund, have organized in Madrid the debate "Sustainable fashion: The challenge of transforming the 2nd most polluting industry", with the aim of putting on the table the challenges facing this sector and its possible solutions.

In the meeting, relevant players in the fashion world attended such as Anna Cañadel, co-founder and co-CEO of the platform for sustainability management in the textile and clothing industry BCome; ; Miguel Ángel García, Product Manager at El Ganso; ; Fede Sainz de Robles, founder of the 'smart fashion' firm Sepiia; and Alberto Espinós, founder and CEO of the firm Tropicfeel; moderated by José Moncada, managing director of the Fondo Bolsa Social.

“In the fashion industry there is a remaining topic, which is to improve the social and environmental impact. Brands produce twice as many garments today as they did in 2000 and the low prices of this type of fast fashion- favor the throwaway phenomenon in this industry. In fact, Europeans consume almost 26 kg and throw away about 11 kg of clothes every year”, Moncada said.

Against this backdrop, the fashion sector faces a major challenge: to make the fashion industry and consumers more sustainable and responsible.

Consumer education

One of the great challenges of the sector is to achieve responsible consumption, in which the customer values the effort made by the firms to offer environmentally friendly products.

"All of us here could live the rest of our lives with what we have in our closet. But fashion is passionate and defines who we are. Although by necessity, we don't need it," commented Anna Cañadel, co-CEO of BCome, who also assured that it is very important to value, when buying, the impact behind it and how the clothe needs to be cared for so that it lasts for a long time.

Along the same lines, Alberto Espinós, founder and CEO of Tropicfeel, said: "I have clothes in my closet that I inherited from my father when I was young. We have to think about how we are going to use a garment and how long it can last. And then, from there on, we have to know the materials, etc. I have to know whether I'm making a decision on impulse or not," assures Espinós.

Another decision that consumers must make is what type of product to buy and, to do this, they need to have information about it at the point of sale, whether physical or online. However, this information is scarce and often difficult to understand.

Making a comparison with the food sector, in terms of the information that the consumer has when buying a product, Anna, from Bcome, considers that "it would be fantastic if, just as you go to a supermarket and you can understand what is in a packet of cookies, it would be the same with clothing".

However, for the founder of Sepiia, it is complicated to transmit to the consumer whether one garment is better than another in terms of sustainability because "the 100% sustainable product never exists". According to Sainz de Robles, different factors such as materials, manufacturing processes, whether production is local, etc., must be evaluated.

For this reason, both agree that, as with food, consumers should be informed of what they are buying, but there should also be greater consumer education (since it makes no sense to talk about the carbon footprint if they don't know what it means, for example). "It is a long work of education, certifications are needed and unification of criteria, so that we can compare ourselves among all," said Sainz de Robles.

Creating durable and timeless fashion

Another of the solutions that have been put on the table is the need to create timeless garments that can be used for many years.

This is the mission of the fashion company Tropicfeel: "The company was born with the aim of creating the largest community of travelers and being able to dress them from head to toe with attractive, yet versatile and high-impact products. We offer products that must last for a long time, so we offer simple models, far from trends," says its founder.

One of the major problems identified by the brand was that products on the market were very specialized (sports, mountain, adventure...), with a limited day-to-day use. Therefore, its offer is "to create products that can accompany you throughout your day-to-day and your life; all-terrain products that are not only useful for travel".

The steps taken by major companies on the road to sustainability

One of Spain's leading fashion brands, El Ganso, also took part in the debate. ; Miguel Ángel García, Product Manager of the brand, spoke about the steps they are taking towards sustainability, avoiding aggressive discount policies and offering the customer a service with which to extend the useful life of their clothes.

"We give the service of repairing garments in the workshop to the customer. To do this, we supply buttons and trimmings," commented García, who acknowledged that there is always room for improvement: "The road to sustainability is long, but we have come a long way. Sustainability and innovation are the company's roadmaps".

So much so that the company has obtained the Global Recycled Standard certification. "We are one of the few companies in Spain that are GRS. To be GRS, there needs be traceability of the entire product. It entails costs and requirements that many people do not even know about or recognize. There is a lack of communication and help from the administrations because it involves a lot of money, delays in production... But we believe that our value is to do it and communicate it, although sometimes you feel that it does not reach the customer, who does not know all the effort that goes into it," said García.

Waste Law 2021

Another of the topics discussed at the event was the 2021 Waste Law, which prohibits the destruction of unsold textile products and makes the collection of post-consumer textile materials mandatory as of this year, which implies the recovery of these materials to give them a "second life" through recycling or reuse1.

In view of the regulation, in the case of El Ganso, García ensured that "we dispose of the surplus through outlets and we have partnerships to recycle the garments that can be recycled and we try to extend the life of the garments with our workshops, repairing them.”

Cañadel, co-founder of BCome, also spoke about this new regulation , commenting that "although what the law prottle, things are happening and it seems that there iposes is great, it has to go much further. Little by lis an interest in measuring and bonusing or penalizing".

The participants in the debate agreed that there is a need for regulations that reward companies that are working to become more sustainable.

For example, Sepiia's founder compared the fashion industry with the automotive industry, another of the most polluting industries. "In the case of the automotive industry, they have been given the solution: innovation, i.e. electric cars. In this case, they have been given regulatory benefits to make it easier for them. The same should happen with fashion. There are no incentives for companies that do it well, that compete at the same level as companies that do it with worse conditions, worsematerials...", said Sainz de Robles.

The CEO of the "smart fashion" firm added that "perhaps, we should not penalize but benefit or provide public funding so that these industries can develop".

José Moncada (Fondo Bolsa Social), Miguel Angel García (El Ganso), Anna Cañadel (BCome), Alberto Espinós (Tropicfeel) y Federico Sainz de Robles (Sepiia)

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