Everyone's seen those "eco-responsible" or "ethical" labels hanging proudly over that little sweater on sale or those trendy sneakers. But between you and me, who still believes these fine promises? Is this really the sign of a fashion industry in full transformation, or just another marketing ploy to get us to open our wallets? Let's delve into the not-so-chic underbelly of fashion to untangle the real from the fake. And let's ask ourselves: does the "ethical" fashion industry have a chance of transforming the fashion industry... in the short term?
I. Greenwashing by the fashion giants:
Ethical fashion is all the rage. Store shelves are overflowing with "green" collections, and every major brand seems to want its share of the eco-friendly cake. Here, a range in organic cotton, there, another in recycled materials. But what does the promise of more responsible fashion really hide beneath these attractive labels?
For many of these brands, the notion of transparency remains blurred. Take those "organic" clothes: if the cotton is grown without pesticides, that's a good start. But what about the rest of the production chain? Very often, these "green" garments are assembled in the same factories, using the same processes, as their less "green" counterparts. And what about traceability? It's often lost along the way. If we know where a T-shirt is made, where the cotton comes from, what about the yarn, the dyes, or even the buttons?
Greenwashing as a strategy. Ethical fashion remains above all a marketing argument, a means of seducing a new clientele without really rethinking the underlying model.
The challenge for us consumers? Sort out the real from the fake, understand what's really behind these "green" initiatives and decide whether they meet our ethical expectations.
II. Empirical consumer choice: between price and brand image
The reality is simple and unambiguous: when faced with a basic T-shirt, the majority will opt for the cheapest option. And what about luxury? In this case, brand image takes precedence, without ethical considerations being the least of our concerns.
Commercial phenomena such as Black Friday and sales illustrate this trend perfectly. Why is this? Because price and brand image take precedence over everything else. In the rush to get the "best deal", few question the provenance and working conditions in which their clothes were made.
Shein is a case in point. Despite all the controversy, the brand is enjoying explosive growth. Why is this? Because it meets two crucial needs: affordability and the constant renewal of trendy offers.
At the same time, platforms like Vinted suggest a greener alternative. It looks good on paper: giving clothes a second life. But in practice? We overconsume and then resell. We've come full circle, and we're far from changing the game.
The question that remains for ethical brands: "how can they make their message more legible and more desirable to consumers?"
III. Measuring impact: between illusions and realities
"100% organic cotton", "ethically manufactured", "environmentally friendly". What do these labels mean? How can we measure the impact of these promises?
Of course, "organic" is good, but it's no guarantee. Certainly, growing cotton without pesticides is a step forward. But when that organic cotton is spun, woven, dyed and assembled in the same problematic factories (in 10 different countries) as their non-organic counterparts, what do you get? A garment that may be less toxic, but which is produced in opaque conditions. Traceability is a real headache: where do the yarns, dyes and buttons come from?
Then there's the real rub: energy consumption. Most "ethical" initiatives fail to address one of the industry's biggest problems: the energy consumption linked to the production of raw materials and the catastrophic management of textile waste. The production of cotton, even organic cotton, requires a lot of water. And what can we say about the mountains of non-recyclable clothes that end up in landfill every year?
So how do you find your way through this jungle of contradictory information and unclear approaches? How do you know whether a brand is really "green" or just riding the eco-responsible wave to give itself a good image? The answer may lie in stricter regulation and more thorough independent certification. But in the meantime, consumers are left to their own devices, trying to sort out the true from the false in a market saturated with false promises.
IV. Fashion's intrinsic business model: the hidden enemy
Is the fashion industry, with its frenetic pace and business model, really compatible with the principles of sustainability? Let's take a look at the current life cycle of collections. Every year, window displays change, trends evolve and new collections are born. At least twice a year. But where does this frenzy come from?
Simple: the rigidity imposed by the fashion behemoths, who have not yet been able to reinvent their models. This imposed pace leads to systematic overproduction. The result? Mountains of unsold stock, a monumental waste of resources, and a soaring carbon footprint.
But why change a system that, from an economic point of view, has always worked "well"? For everyone, the status quo is comfortable. Break with the past, experiment, innovate... What's the point? So, as long as there are no incentives to deviate from the well-trodden path, we all prefer to stay on a familiar path, even if it's fundamentally unsustainable.
Faced with the giant that is the fashion industry, the question arises: how do you shake a system so firmly entrenched and push a behemoth to evolve? Rethinking fashion as a whole is a colossal task, and for the moment, it's hard to see how...
V. Ethical fashion on a global scale: a revolution yet to come
You'd think that Western countries, with their societal advances and growing ecological awareness, would be at the forefront of embracing ethical fashion. But a closer look tells a different story.
Certainly, in countries like France, the craze for sustainability and ethics seems to be growing, with local initiatives, public debates, and even government policies advocating a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle. But, in reality, how many people actually adopt these principles in their daily lives, and more particularly in their choice of clothing?
The harsh reality is that, in most countries, including those in the West, ethical fashion has yet to make its mark. Between the economic situation, which often pushes people to choose the lowest price, regulatory obstacles and the powerful marketing of industry giants, the path of ethical fashion is strewn with pitfalls.
Faced with the mountain of obstacles that lie ahead, it's clear that the road to a truly ethical and sustainable fashion industry is still a long one. Yes, solutions do exist. From upcycling to transparent supply chains and more eco-responsible production practices, the spectrum of possible initiatives is wide. But the problem? For the time being, the market, guided by its traditional habits and aspirations, shows a reluctance to adopt these changes on a large scale.
It's not so much a problem of a lack of solutions, but rather a clear lack of interest in them. Until the majority of industry players and consumers fully embrace the vision of ethical fashion, it will remain on the sidelines. And if the ultimate question remains: are we really prepared to pay the price for a sustainable future in fashion? Unfortunately, the current market seems to be working against ethical fashion... for now!