Executive summary - The current model of fast fashion is one of the main drivers of
overconsumption, resource depletion and social exploitation. The impact of the
current business model based on fast fashion has revealed detrimental social
and environmental impacts.
The European Union (EU) has published a Textiles Strategy
laying out how it plans to tackle this issue. Until
now global textile corporations have been unable to articulate a proper vision of what sustainable fashion
systems could look like; think tanks such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have published proposals to
address the topic; and non-governmental organisations have denounced the many inconsistencies and
shortcomings of current performance and future plans.
As a result, there are a number of legislative initiatives aimed at restructuring the sector - mainly in the field of
eco-design and waste management of textile products.
During the last decades, the use of cheap synthetic fibres has been fueling the current business model based
on overproduction, combined with limited accountability for negative environmental and social impacts. This
overproduction represents the biggest environmental impact of the fashion sector, way ahead of the impact of
end-of-life management. Yet, the legislative tools considered to date focus on products and waste, rather than
on systemic factors or business models. Since overproduction is a systemic feature of a growth-dependent
business model, the current legislative measures and the latest EU textiles strategy leave the most significant
When looking at voluntary measures such as labels, which should help consumers to make sustainable
choices, they are currently limited to toxicity, circularity, and transparency, but lack a systemic approach which
could lead to fostering a desirable and sustainable business model.
The current push to increase the circularity of fashion products is a step in the right direction but insufficient to
change the current business models. As a result, given the additional resources that are often required to
produce quality and lasting products, the efforts of the sector to move towards sustainable production could
paradoxically lead to a higher environmental impact if the model continues to be based on overproduction.
Given the novelty of the topic, there is not much literature, let alone consensus, as to what are the features of a
sustainable, fair, and zero waste business model for textiles. Building on the best practices in the European
market, we have identified 4 criteria which, when applied simultaneously, could be considered as key to
identify what a virtuous business model that goes beyond circularity would look like. These are:
1. Design for physical and emotional durability;
2. Demand-driven production to phase out unsolds and discounts;
3. Full supply chain transparency and traceability post-sale;
4. Extending the use-phase after first ownership.
Given the fact that this is the first study pointing at the difference between sustainable textile products and
sustainable textile business models, and given the fact that textiles are also a relatively new field for policy
intervention, more research and action would be needed in the particular fields of:
● Gains, costs, and externalities associated to a radical change of current business model to one that is
fair, sustainable, and zero waste;
● Fashion and climate - in particular, looking at the carbon budget available for the sector as a way to
inform future legislative steps;
● Fashion and biodiversity - studying the impact of fast fashion on current biodiversity decline;
● Identification of existing best practices from a business model perspective;
● Design policies to encourage the transition to, or/and creation of, new businesses following the
n the coming years, Zero Waste Europe intends to track the progress in the textiles world according to the
classification above. In addition to this, we will further research what a virtuous business model looks like; and
we will launch legislative and non-legislative actions to promote it.
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