The Digital Eco-label for Clothing: Will It Change Our Consumer Patterns?
Author: picupi | Sustainable fashion & green lifestyle promotion platform, founder Jean Chang
In a world where our food purchases come with production histories, why shouldn't our clothing have them too? How would our shopping habits change if every garment had its own exclusive digital eco-label?
Consumers are increasingly aware that their consumption patterns impact the environment. However, in a world where greenwashing is becoming more prevalent, how can consumers ensure that the products they buy are genuinely earth-friendly? With numerous brands making sustainability commitments, using the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 12—Responsible Production and Consumption, as the benchmark for eco-friendly production, and adopting more circular business models, these guidelines provide a framework for clothing brands striving to do the right thing. However, it also poses the risk of becoming a path for brands merely skimming the surface and avoiding substantial efforts. Therefore, providing accurate and detailed information, such as open disclosure of product lifecycle management, is crucial.
Increasing numbers of European fashion brands, including Burberry, Giorgio Armani, Chloé, and Stella McCartney, are responding to the call for sustainable fashion. They are jointly advocating for a new digital ID program aimed at helping consumers become more aware of a brand's sustainable practices, thereby influencing purchasing decisions. In today's world, where consumers seek to understand the sustainability of products and whether brands genuinely adhere to their stated commitments, transparency, traceability, and circularity are gradually becoming the future direction of the fashion industry.
Beyond high-end fashion brands, companies like Mulberry, resale platform Vestiaire Collective, and e-commerce platform Zalando are committing to participate in the digital ID program. This program, utilizing QR codes, allows consumers to scan with their smartphones to access information about supply chains and materials used. Each brand also commits to adopting a circular business model, including details on product resale or recycling, preventing products from ending up in landfills.
The QR code carries information about the brand's production, from raw materials and manufacturing to transportation and disposal. Crucial public information includes components and materials, the factory of origin, maintenance instructions, and more. Each brand can decide the sustainable story they want to convey to consumers.
While digital labels are not a new concept—the British label, Burberry, introduced sustainable labels as early as 2020, and Pangaia, a U.S. sportswear brand, launched a digital passport earlier this year to provide customers transparency and traceability—the highlight of this digital ID program is the willingness of brands to collectively use the same system. This step towards a more standardized labeling system across the industry will make it easier for consumers to understand and compare information between products.
The launch schedule of the digital ID initiative coincides with the European Union's preparations to introduce a new label system based on the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method. This marks the first instance of eco-labeling oversight within the fashion industry. However, some advocates argue that the EU framework may be misleading, as the current PEF method proposed tends to focus exclusively on disclosing the environmental impacts of synthetic fibers, while overlooking the destructive effects of natural fibers on the environment. They contend that issues such as the impact of fossil fuels, microplastic pollution, recyclability, and social impacts should all be incorporated into the labeling system.
While the EU label is yet to be finalized, if made mandatory, it will undoubtedly standardize and lend credibility to the fashion industry's labeling system. It will empower consumers to make more sustainable choices and find ways to extend the lifespan of products. This journey holds promise for the future.