The fashion industry, between ethics and sustainability

17 February 2020

Let’s do a little test: in our wardrobes how many clothes have the indication Made in Bangladesh o Vietnam on the label? And how many of these garments have been purchased in the last month?

Much is said and written about the environmental and social impact of fashion: and, although not everyone agrees on the seriousness of the former, on the living conditions of workers in the sector there are no voices out of the choir, and many brands – driven by sensitivity new generations of consumers – they are moving to certify respect for human rights in their production chain.

Environment side, net of the right distinctions, it is important not to underestimate the actual impact of an industry with a structurally demanding supply chain for the exploitation of resources and the impact of production processes: as reported by the documentary The True Cost, in the city of Kanpur alone, the Indian capital of leather exports, 50 million liters of chemicals are discharged into the river every day, contaminating the drinking water to which the population has access.

The question remains: what is the real cost of the fashion industry on the ecosystem? And how can we reduce this impact?

We talked about it with Matteo Mura, Scientific Director of Global MBA in Green Energy and Sustainable Businesses, Associate Professor of Management Engineering at the Department of Business Sciences of the University of Bologna and Visiting Professor at the Center for Business Performance of the Cranfield School of Management. “Fashion is undoubtedly one of the most impactful sectors in absolute: think of production processes that use highly polluting and carcinogenic solvents. The lack of environmental regulation in developing countries where so many big brands, such as fast fashion companies outsource production is at the center of international memorandums of understanding: right now in Strasbourg, it is discussing the urgency of defining commercial agreements with Vietnam that ensure minimum guarantees for the health and protection of workers”.

From the production chain to the final consumption, is it possible to make more ethical and sustainable choices?

“Even the consumer is involved in this process – Matteo Mura continues – and it is everyone’s responsibility to ask himself whether it is really necessary to change clothes for each collection. The fashion industry has a life cycle of 6 months, but it is also up to the individual to decide whether to fill or not your closets of unnecessary items”. Among the virtuous alternatives of the fashion sector, Mura mentions Patagonia, the Californian brand that since the Seventies leverages an eco-sustainable concept: “The 40% of the garments of this brand is produced in Fair Trade certified factories, which pay a bonus directly to the workers. According to company policy, customers are invited to buy less, with free repairs and discounts for those who buy a new item bringing back the old one. The use of organic raw materials has been shared for about ten years now. also by Ikea, which abandoned industrial cotton in favor of organic cotton supply chains”.

Those who continue to produce in an environmentally sustainable way will soon be presented with the bill: “The Green New Deal is upon us – concludes Mura – and taxes could soon be introduced on products made below certain environmental standards when they make their entry into the European market, as required by the Cross Border Carbon Tax”.


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