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01 July 2022

Challenges for the textile, clothing and fashion industry

The challenges facing the textile, clothing and fashion industry are spread throughout the supply chain and require collaboration and dialogue between parties, manageable through an open innovation approach. 

Europe is developing a framework of conditions and incentives to improve the competitiveness, sustainability and resilience of the sector.  

These include Directive 2018/849/EU, which obliges member states to sort textile waste by 2025. Italy has activated separate collection of the textile fraction of waste as early as January 1°, 2022, 3 years ahead of international requirements.   

The Italian challenges in textile disposal concern both the production of pre-consumer waste (unsold, production waste along the supply chain) and the management of post-consumer waste. The first flow often shows a good quality and homogeneity, while the post-consumer is characterized by large volumes of different materials, even coupled together, which for the most part comes out from national borders to be disposed of in landfills or incinerated. A smaller percentage is recycled to obtain secondary raw materials for other industrial sectors (padding, insulation material). 

End-of-life management of products can be organized according to simple or complex supply chains. For complex supply chains, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has been established, whereby, according to the basic "polluter pays" principle, it is the producer who must assume financial and organizational responsibility for the sustainable management of the waste resulting from the products he has placed on the market. These regulations force companies to make strategic choices to avoid serious penalties.   

Another example comes from France, where new legislation by Parliament has introduced mandatory environmental labelling for all products, with priority given to textiles and clothing, including the "carbon score".  

In addition, from 2022, the Anti Waste law came into force, prohibiting the destruction of unsold goods. Manufacturers and distributors with unsold inventory are required to donate or recycle it, rather than incinerate or dispose of it in landfills. Thanks to the Anti Waste Act, these practices are no longer allowed, and companies are working to find alternative solutions, such as garment reconditioning programs or the development of online resale sites.  

Financial investors are also turning their attention to researching and analyzing ESG indicators as a means of identifying risks and opportunities for corporate performance. Numerous stock market indices linked to sustainability performance are becoming increasingly relevant in the extra-financial evaluation of companies.  

Another key challenge facing companies in the textile and fashion sector is digital transformation. The main trends that have emerged in this area concern the ability of enabling technologies to integrate machines, people, products and information systems, and the implementation of product traceability, made possible by technologies such as blockchain or RFID readers, able to follow garments and fabrics throughout the processing phases and providing information on their origin. 

Finally, consumer choice, particularly among emerging generations, is increasingly aligning with sustainability challenges, driving change in purchasing habits and raising expectations towards more sustainable products and new consumption patterns. In addition to the focus on sustainability and traceability of materials, many circular models are aimed at increasing the useful life of garments, such as the rental (product-as-a-service) and sale of second-hand clothes (often through online platforms), offering great opportunities to fashion brands and from which consumers can benefit both economically and environmentally.