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Fashion and sustainability in December 2023

By Simone Preuss


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Tree Girl. Illustration: Jackie Mallon

Towards the end of the year, the fashion industry stepped up its sustainability efforts once again: These were discussed at the COP28 climate conference, among others, but various studies also scrutinised supposedly sustainable initiatives such as biomass and textile collections for recycling purposes. Textile-to-textile recycling received a boost while greenwashing was called out.


This year's COP climate summit, which took place in Dubai, brought together delegates from 199 organisations to determine further steps to limit the rise in global temperatures. FashionUnited looked back at the notable events that took place during the two-week conference, many of which aimed to define the sustainable future of fashion.

The panel discussion “How to Clothe 10 Billion People Sustainably” brought together people from all parts of the supply chain, such as Ganni and Fashion Revoluten, to find actionable solutions and answer the question of how to clothe ten billion people sustainably.

Reports and tools

The global non-profit Textile Exchange unveiled its 2023 Materials Benchmark report, which shows the advancements made by both brands and suppliers in sourcing more sustainable materials.

Meanwhile, fashion innovation hub Fashion District teamed up with London-based social enterprise The Trampery and its learning business Evo Learning to launch the ‘Evo Fashion’ accelerator, which will provide high-impact training, valuable industry insights and networking opportunities.

To shed light on the essential steps that every fashion company must take to delve into sustainability, BCome, the Platform for Global Sustainability Management in the fashion industry, consulted with over 100 industry professionals exclusively shared insights with FashionUnited. In an article, it unveiled key recommendations being implemented by leading companies in the textile market to drive sustainability forward.


Earlier this year, several claims and statements from the Dutch arm of Primark came under scrutiny. The investigation was carried out by the Advertising Code Committee, which in October labelled several of the chain's expressions as misleading. Primark appealed, but to no avail. Now, the Board of Appeal has also ruled Primark's investigated claims as misleading. The investigation was conducted into advertisements in Primark's own shops in the Netherlands and on its Dutch website.

A number of new investigations by two environmental organisations have found areas in which the fashion industry is lacking when it comes to the onslaught of sustainability commitments made by brands and retailers in the sector. US-based Stand.earth and the Spanish subsidiary of Greenpeace each presented reports on notable issues they had individually found in the operations of global brands.

In Stand.earth’s report, titled ‘Biomass Burning: The Fashion Industry’s False Phase-Out’, the organisation spoke on the continued reliance of biomass by industry leaders and the inherent risks and harms associated with the utilisation of the non-fossilised, biodegradable material. Biomass has been positioned by fashion players as a low-cost alternative to fossil fuels, according to Stand.earth, and is often used as a means to claim a reduction in carbon emissions within supply chains.

For Greenpeace Spain, criticism fell towards the latter side of the clothing lifecycle, specifically the end-of-use process used clothing goes through. The organisation attempted to map the journey of 29 items of clothing using button-like tracking devices deposited in Spanish municipal containers and in Zara and Mango stores over the course of four months, only one of which it could ultimately determine to have been reused after it was purchased in a secondhand store in Romania.


At the beginning of the month, non-profit Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) organised a roadshow in collaboration with global sustainability initiative Fashion for Good to pave the way for chemical recycling of textiles in the country. It was supported by two tech start-ups, Circ and Infinited Fiber Company, which specialise in chemical textile-to-textile recycling. The textile recycling toolkit, which is a result of the Fashion for Good project "Sorting for Circularity India" launched two years ago, could perhaps help here.

In addition, the energy generated by coastal wind turbines in Bangladesh could flow into the country's electricity grid by 2028 and supply companies with renewable energy. A new offshore wind project aims to strengthen the country's green energy infrastructure. This is of interest to international fashion companies that produce in Bangladesh. Danish fashion group Bestseller and Swedish clothing giant H&M are some of the first to invest in the new project. Bestseller wants to raise up to 100 million US dollars (around 93 million euros), which would be the largest sustainability investment in the fashion company's history.


At the COP28 climate summit, British fashion designer Stella McCartney, together with US recycling company Protein Revolution, presented the world's first garment made from biologically recycled materials. The jacket is made from recycled polyester produced from plastic waste with the help of artificial intelligence and biological recycling.

FashionUnited also spoke to Christine Rochlitz, founder of Berlin-based slow fashion label Luckynelly, which focuses entirely on textile innovations - such as materials made from strawberries, apples, coconuts, pineapples or cork. All items are handmade and vegan and have already been seen on catwalks in New York, Paris and Berlin.


In recent years, many NGOs and citizens brought legal action against governments in the EU and multinationals for either failing to sufficiently reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (so-called “climate change litigation”) or for misleading consumers when making environmental or sustainability claims. In this background article, guest authors from Edson Legal examine why the fashion industry should take environmental claims and future legislative proposals on environmental claims seriously.

An agreement was also reached regarding the ban on the destruction of unsold clothing in the EU: Larger retailers will no longer be allowed to destroy unsold clothing in the EU in future. Negotiators from the European Parliament and the EU member states agreed earlier this month that the EU Commission can extend the ban to other products in future. According to the information provided, there are exceptions for small companies and a transitional period of six years for medium-sized companies. In principle, the ban is to be applied two years after the regulation comes into force.

Circular Fashion
Sustainable Fashion