Fashion Green Days event in France zeroes in on fashion’s ethical, societal challenges

Fashion Green Days event in France zeroes in on fashion’s ethical, societal challenges

Translated by

Nicola Mira

The Fashion Green Days event (FGD) was held in Roubaix, France, on June 27 and 28, inside the majestic historic building home to the National School of Textile Arts and Industries (ENSAIT). It was an opportunity for producers, designers and other industry players to discuss the socio-economic challenges facing the apparel sector.

Olivier Segard (Segard Masurel), Catherine Dauriac (Fashion Revolution), Zineb Danon (Intertek) and Ietje Klaver (Pyratex) – MG/FNW

Fashion Green Hub, a Roubaix-based association promoting sustainable fashion, staged 15 interactive conferences and workshops during the event. In the course of two days, FGD provided an overview of the main technological, ethical and societal challenges the industry is grappling with: from how to make apparel a driver of renewed social connections to integrating health and disability issues in fashion design, from product life-cycle analysis to consumer perceptions.

“A Europe-wide strategy focusing only on greenhouse gas emissions, but resulting in increased water and chemicals consumption, would be very damaging even if [the industry’s] carbon footprint could be controlled,” said Christophe Girardier, president of Glimpact, a solution provider supporting companies such as DecathlonLacosteChantelleCarrefour

According to Jean-Placide Nyombe, in charge of public and regulatory affairs at the French knitwear, lingerie and beachwear association, such tools will enable companies to take the initiative, but he also pointed out that shortcomings must be anticipated. “Ineffective customs checks are an issue: it’s easy to establish regulations based on intra-European standards, but it’s very difficult to ensure compliance with such regulations with respect to products imported into Europe,” he said. “And we must also take into account e-commerce orders that go through the cracks and are shipped directly to consumers,” he added.

Noxious clothes and textile workers’ health

Catherine Dauriac, president of Fashion Revolutionhighlighted in a report commissioned by a Belgian MEPMilletFashionNetwork.comabout the alarming data she gathered on the health of textile workers

On this topic, the industry seems still reluctant to engage with the ZDHC (zero discharge of hazardous chemicals) initiative first advocated by Greenpeace

Fashion Green Days was held at ENSAIT in Roubaix, France – MG/FNW

According to Olivier Segard, managing director of wool merchant Segard Masurel, one of the solutions is to think about materials. Segard, who works in France as well as in New Zealand and South Africa, notably mentioned the potential of French wool, which is currently exported in great quantities to Asia, but could become a useful resource for local companies. “We’re facing many difficulties along the way, because going down this road means redefining the status of local players. Especially [sheep] breeders, from whom we used to buy wool for next to nothing. To sell it at a better price, they must undertake to weed out contaminants like straw and dust, which can taint wool during shearing. Once this is achieved, we have an opportunity to source locally a material that is biodegradable and renewable,” said Segard.

According to Danon of Intertek, new materials are all potentially worth investigating. “To replace synthetic materials, the industry is seeking to develop high-performance natural fabrics endowed with specific properties, like being irritant-free, breathable, anti-bacterial and acting as a UV barrier,” she said. She also mentioned her work with Orange Fiber, a producer that can derive fibres from citrus waste. “For example, it’s possible to create a material similar to Lyocell,” she added.

Fashion struggles

FGD’s first day was also an opportunity to review the different stages of the textile industry’s gradual shift towards industrialisation over the last few centuries, a historical process that has a connection with present-day topics too. “French textile manufacturers once succeeded in having a strong competitor like Asian cotton banned,” said Majorie Meiss, a lecturer at the University of Lille, talking about the 17th century. “But the ban didn’t work and led to smuggling, and the preference for colourful cotton became a driver of change for some European manufacturers, usually more set in their ways,” she added.

Several speakers focused on the role played by fashion in how we perceive our bodies. Guénolée Milleret, a fashion history teacher at ENSAD, France’s decorative arts academy in Paris, has charted the impact of generations of fashion designers on the perception of the female body.

From corsets, which allowed women to cheat at a time when taking care of one’s body was not a concern, to the unisex looks that first cropped up the 1970s, not forgetting how the post-war years spawned the classic image of the Parisian woman, dark-haired, thin and dressed in black by DiorChanelAtlantic

Aurore Bardey (Burgundy School of Business), Amel Qouba (a mental coach specialised in emotion) and Caroline Nappée (a non-verbal education consultant) – MG/FNW

Women’s relationship with their bodies was also at the heart of a discussion on the phobias caused by fashion’s homogenised looks. Studies cited during the debate reportedly found that 91% of women dislike their bodies, and 67% of men are fixated with their body weight.

“We’re dealing with consumers who, when clothes don’t fit them, begin to think that their body is the problem, and not the garment,” said Amel Qouba, a mental coach specialised in nutrition and emotion. “Let’s stop following trends and wearing things that don’t suit us,” said Aurore Bardey, associate professor of marketing and an expert in fashion psychology. According to non-verbal communication specialist Caroline Nappée, this mindset could be eliminated if people were taught to dress primarily according to their physical assets.

“In our society, the focus is more on fast-fashion than on sustainable fashion,” said Bardey. “However, studies have shown that adopting a minimalist wardrobe for three weeks reduces stress. This element is related to a broader study that will occupy me for the coming decade, which seeks to identify the consumers for whom a minimalist, CSR-conscious fashion approach could be the relevant answer. Because this path is not suitable for everyone,” she added.

Two more editions of FGD will be held in France this year. The first will take place in Lyon on September 19-20. The second is scheduled on November 16-17 at the Nantes School of Design.

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