EU fashion’s sustainability goals after the pandemic and the right to repair


The COVID-19 outbreak has undeniably been an unprecedented challenge for all types of industries, many of which found themselves unprepared to deal with the immediate economic impact of the pandemic. However, despite fears that the crisis would wipe away all the sustainability efforts of the past years in various segments of the fashion industry, the pandemic has also shown an unexpected societal impact, with a transformation of consumer behavior leaning towards a more conscious consumption that is clearly becoming part of the new normal. A recent study1 confirms that the current crisis demands that companies accelerate their progress on sustainability initiatives to be competitive in the market that will emerge after the pandemic.

What does the European strategy for a more sustainable fashion industry look like?

The textile and clothing industry plays an important role in Europe, employing 1.7 million people and generating an estimated turnover of EUR166 billion. However, it also has a significant impact on the environment which seems hardly compatible with the Commission’s European Green Deal and circular economy goals.

Over the past few years, the EU has been implementing a number of initiatives aimed at greening the sector which, undoubtedly, will leave their mark on the post-pandemic period, including the 2018 waste management rules package, imposing separated collection of textiles by 2025; the EU Ecolabel; and the Green Public Procurement (GPP) encouraging sustainability. However, a harmonized legal framework ensuring minimum sustainability and circularity standards across Member States still needs to be defined.

In the new Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted in March 2020, the European Commission announced an upcoming EU Strategy for Textiles with the ultimate goal to boost the European market for sustainable and circular textiles, to incentivize textile reuse versus fast fashion and to drive new business models. In particular, the Strategy shall:

  • introduce a new sustainable product framework ensuring that textile products are fit for circularity, i.e. are more durable, reusable, recyclable and not containing hazardous chemicals. The Commission is currently seeking views of various stakeholders on the roadmap that will guide the revision of the Ecodesign Directive, covering so far energy-related products but the scope of which might be broadened to include textiles;
  • provide guidance to achieve high levels of separate collection of textile waste, which Member States have to ensure by 2025;
  • encourage the sorting, re-use and recycling of textiles through regulatory measures such as the extended producer responsibility; and
  • extend the right to repair to garments.

Both legislative and non-legislative measures establishing a European right to repair are expected to be adopted by the Commission in 2021. In the meantime, France has recently approved national legislation requiring manufacturers and vendors of electronics to introduce a “reparability index,” a score from 1 to 10 informing consumers about the ease of repairing the product and official repairers of the availability of spare parts in order to grant repair options. In addition, repairers shall offer to consumers the choice between recycled spare parts and new ones. It is possible that EU legislation will be shaped after the French model.

In the path towards a more sustainable fashion sector, the right to repair is considered key also by the civil society that, in April 2020, published a position paper with recommendations to the Commission on how the 2021 EU Textile Strategy should look. In this so-called Civil Society Strategy, various organizations call for the respect of human rights and the establishment of high social and environmental standards throughout the whole value chain. They point out that the introduction of a right to repair would create new jobs, prevent textile waste and tackle the issue of hazardous chemicals contained in garments. The text has been backed by a number of Members of the European Parliament, who invited the Commission to endorse the Civil Society Strategy and include it in the development of the Union’s proposal for 2021.

It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the pandemic will affect these initiatives.

1Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19, Boston Consulting Group, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Higg Co.