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With great gusto, the French government is building a new ecological model where the sustainability specifications of consumer products, such as garments, shoes and home textiles, are clearly flagged to shoppers. The broader vision behind new legislation is that industry and consumers will gradually switch away from the wastefulness of linear consumption, towards more sustainable, circular ways of living, which in turn supports France’s ambitious carbon reduction targets. 

Customers will have access to environmental information, revealing how the item was made, what from, and how easy it is to recycle. 

A French anti-waste law designed to support the circular economy came into force this month. Large fashion brands must now comply with a new protocol for environmental labelling, making information on the environmental qualities and characteristics of a product available to consumers at the point of sale and after sale. This covers the product’s recyclability, traceability of textiles, and the presence of plastic microfibres. Certain environmental claims such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘biodegradable’ are banned from product information.

It will initially apply to the largest players selling in France, those with a turnover above €50 million, before a gradual extension over two years, to include companies with over €10 million of turnover from January 2025. At the same time, the EU is scoping out how to bring in Digital Product Passport (DPP) legislation across the bloc, and industry groups in the USA are pressuring legislators to implement laws on carbon labelling for better visibility and more accountability in the apparel industry. To prepare for these incoming changes, the most forward-thinking fashion brands are rushing to invest in digital labelling technology, and organising their production and supply chain data to make it readily accessible to consumers via user-friendly cloud platforms. This means shoppers will have direct access to the proper information needed in order to make environmentally conscious decisions about their purchases. Beyond compliance, digital solutions also enable brands to enhance their consumer experience and make use of interactive tools such as QR codes and RFID technology. With QR codes, for example, consumers can engage with the brand long after the initial purchase of a garment, simply by scanning them with a smartphone and connecting to a web page or cloud platform. 

Digital Product Passports hold the key 

It’s become clear in recent years that collating a verified source of truth and linking it to a garment is going to be a game-changer in the apparel industry. While transparency has long been championed as the key to driving circularity in fashion production and consumption, there is a lot for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers to learn, before the circular economies we all aspire to can roll into action.

Complex, yet user-friendly systems for accessing the eco-credentials of every pair of jeans and trainers must be developed. The French AGEC law requires product information to be made available to consumers at the point of sale and in a durable format for use after sale – so accessible as a product page online, on labels, or in another printed format in the shop. 

Brands are turning to QR code technology, for instance printed on care labels, to share information with customers, store supply chain information, and enable track and trace post-purchase. This is achievable because the technology is already developed and in use. For example, Avery Dennison is already supplying leading brands with smart garment care labels, which link to online Digital Product Passports (DPP). Simply by scanning QR codes on labels or NFC tags with a smartphone, consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders, can access a wealth of information.

Tech is therefore helping brands help consumers shop more sustainably. Item-level ID solutions like DPPs are paramount, enabling fashion shoppers to have a better understanding of how to repair, recycle, and resell their clothes. This will not only encourage more sustainable fashion choices but also boost the adoption of secondary marketplaces. 

No time to waste 

Over 15 kilograms of textile waste is generated per person each year in Europe, says McKinsey. Their 2022 report says at least one-fifth of textile waste could become new clothing, and a circular economy for textiles could create 15,000 new jobs in Europe by 2030, if enough investment in clothing collection, sorting and recycling is forthcoming. France’s bold new AGEC laws will certainly kick-start the revolution.

Fashion now acknowledges the role supply chain transparency will play in supporting these models of circularity, and reducing the mountains of textile waste produced. Thanks to the latest digital innovations, we can engage with customers, and drive behaviour change right now. By extending the life of garments – reselling or upcycling worn items and recycling fabrics – we can make real progress towards crucial sustainability goals.

The post Eco labelling is setting fashion circularity in motion  first appeared on Innovators magazine.

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