Designer fashion makes its voice heard at European Union
The European Fashion Alliance (EFA), an association representing 25 national fashion industry bodies, has publicly addressed EU institutions for the first time. On Wednesday June 7, representatives of the leading organisations in designer fashion spoke at an unprecedented meeting held at the European Parliament in Brussels, expressing their opinions on a number of themes, among them sustainability and eco-design - highly topical issues, on which the EU is set to approve new, crucial legislation in the coming months.
More than one participant had no hesitation in labelling the occasion as “historic.” “The designer fashion industry has taken a ground-breaking stand. Until now, there hadn't been a coherent voice speaking out in this kind of political arena at the European level. Several new [EU] norms are in the offing, and we’re keen to take part in the discussions and speak up for our industry’s unique features,” said Pascal Morand, executive president of the French Fashion and Haute Couture Federation.
“Until now, we’d acted individually, interacting with the EU authorities in haphazard fashion. Europe-wide representative bodies for the textile industry, like Euratex, do of course exist, but the fashion industry’s cultural and creative dimensions weren’t represented by an official institution. With EFA, they now are,” said Carlo Capasa, head of the Italian Fashion Chamber (CNMI). EFA was founded in June 2022, and comprises 29 member organisations, representing 25 fashion industry associations from 23 countries, 10,000 SMEs and 11 fashion weeks.
The Brussels meeting wasn’t held in the parliamentary chamber, but in a quiet meeting room hosting an early morning breakfast. The debate was opened by German MEP Christian Ehler, member of the EU committee on industry, research and energy and rapporteur on EU strategy in sustainable textiles and circularity. He began by underlining that, until now, the EU institutions had no counterpart to engage with in this industry. “We need your expertise. Without you, progress cannot be made. Now is the time for taking decisions about the future, as we face the challenges of sustainable development and climate change,” said Ehler.
The issue is all the more urgent since, for the first time, the EU is set to allocate €2.3 billion to a research programme for the creative industries (the creative sector in general, not just fashion), hence it is important for the fashion industry to make its voice heard. “In practical terms, we need counterparts to talk to, and concrete projects to fund. Decisions are being made now, and an extra €1 billion must be allocated at the end of the year to a textile research programme,” said Ehler, who set up the EU Parliament’s culture and creative industries intergroup in 2014, with French MEP Pervenche Berès.
Thierry Breton, the EU Commissioner for Internal Market, opened the debate, putting the accent on crucial themes like sustainability, entrepreneurship and intellectual property protection. “Some of our colleagues haven’t yet realised how important you are. We’re keen to support you at this decisive time of global change,” he told the EFA delegates. “Your industry is at a turning point. We’re here to help you. You’re leaders in your sector, and we want you to continue in your pioneering role,” added Breton.
The other main discussion point was the resolution adopted by the European Commission on March 30, 2022, on the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) that is set to be debated in the EU parliament and adopted in 2024, potentially coming into effect in 2025. Among other measures, the bill will introduce digital passports for a wide range of products, including clothes. It also stipulates that it is forbidden to destroy unsold new clothes, and to recycle unsold inventory. The latter measure is notably targeting fast fashion, aiming to force the sector to produce less.
As Morand noted, “recycling is part of the circularity strategy adopted by many labels. There is the risk that the whole circular economy dimension could be threatened, stifling designers’ commitment towards this approach.” Morand went on to say that “there are short-term challenges with ESPR, a regulation in which we are stakeholders, alongside the timing of the French eco-design legislation. It's very important for us to make our voice heard.”
Capasa concluded by saying that “international competition too must be taken into account. It's clear we must wage a worldwide battle to make fashion sustainable. We have only one planet! We must therefore work together on a set of ethical rules, as well as on technology innovation. These are the twin elements on which the fashion of the future will be founded.”
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