Spotlight on eco-labeling in the fashion industry

Spotlight on eco-labeling in the fashion industry

With the launch of our labeling guide stimulating discussion among 2degrees members, and professionals across multiple sectors debating how best to communicate the sustainability credentials of products to consumers, PR professional Katharine Earley considers how the eco-labeling debate is shaping up in the fashion industry.

I was interested to learn that eco-labeling plays an important role in the purchasing decisions of almost half (47%) of EU citizens, according to a European Commission survey. Voluntary eco-labels for clothing in Europe include the EU Ecolabel and the Oeko-texBluesign and Nordic Swan labels. Each label awards a certification to brands that comply with stringent environmental, ethical or health-related criteria. However, as ethical consumerism takes a hold and the demand for transparency grows, so the debate on how best to communicate the sustainable and ethical values of clothing intensifies.

UK-based ethical fashion brand Rapanui is calling for a radical shake-up of eco-labeling for clothing. The Rapanui team, headed up by the entrepreneurial Drake-Knight brothers, is championing the creation of a new eco-labeling policy that would see clothing rated with an ‘A to G’ rating scheme similar to the EU energy rating scheme.

In theory it’s a great idea – a simple, visually-led scheme that would rapidly convey the ‘genetic make-up’ of clothes to consumers. The ‘A’ rating would be awarded to clothing that is produced both ethically and sustainably, while items produced using partially sustainable or unsustainable methods would be awarded a lower rating. The infrastructure needed to implement such a scheme would be challenging, and how would it be regulated? These will certainly be important questions for MEPs to consider, as they decide whether to investigate the proposal further.

Despite the complexity inherent to introducing such a scheme, Rapanui’s refreshing philosophy of proving ‘traceability from seed to shop’ is gaining traction among politicians, environmentalists and fashion leaders. This is particularly pertinent as the fashion industry is increasingly forced to rethink its supply chains and embrace greater accountability of its carbon, water and social footprints. How this positive action should then be communicated to consumers in a consistent, meaningful way has yet to be determined.

Any respected eco-labeling scheme should help consumers understand the environmental and social impact of their clothing choices. Ideally, fashion eco-labels aimed at consumers should send simple messages, be based on sound scientific reasoning and be relevant and applicable to the global clothing industry. Without a clear, independent and regulated system to quickly and simply classify the sustainability of clothing, many would argue that choosing sustainably is impossible.

Eco-labeling also represents a means for clothing manufacturers and their suppliers to increase brand loyalty by adopting a more transparent approach and building a closer relationship with retailers and consumers alike. By combining high quality, desirable brands with a transparent approach to communicating a brand’s green credentials, manufacturers stand to create true brand advocates.

Ultimately, while the compulsory system proposed by Rapanui would necessitate significant changes to fashion supply chains, it would also pave the way for ethical consumption to become ‘easier’ and more mainstream. As current sustainability thinking suggests, consumers are more motivated to make ethical purchasing decisions if industry does the work to make it an ‘easy’ choice. I’ll be interested to see how this proposal progresses. It has certainly stimulated some good debate!

This article was published on the 2degrees network website.