The shortcomings of fashion are a reflection of the shortcomings of our time: rampant overproduction and overconsumption result in enormous waste. Catherine Dauriac has warned of this mismanagement and has been trying for years to offer alternatives and ways to better consume textile products with the Fashion Revolution France association of which she is president. In his latest book written in collaboration with Isabelle Brockman, Fashionfrom the Fake or Not collection at Tana Editions, the author returns to the environmental and social impact of the textile, clothing and fast-fashion sector. GoodPlanet Mag’ spoke with Catherine Dauriac to understand the issues and solutions for more ethical and responsible fashion.
Why talk about fashion instead of clothes?
We chose the title Fashion for the book, but it’s actually more about the textile industry and its value chain. Fashion is of course clothing, but behind this theme many topics come to the fore. How do we get told to buy too many clothes? What are the environmental and social impacts of the sector? The book simply deals with these very complex topics.
When did the textile sector become adrift? How to explain it?
The boom in the textile sector did not start with the arrival of ready-to-wear in the 1960s, it existed before! There are several steps to understanding that this drift appears to predate the present time. It goes back to the industrial revolution and the birth of aggressive capitalism. The mass production of clothing started in the 18th century with uniforms for the army and navy. The industrial revolution is accompanied by mass production with the invention of the steam engine, the first sewing machines and the exodus to the cities of the poor peasants who provide abundant cheap labour.
† The boom in the textile sector did not start with the arrival of ready-to-wear in the 1960s.
In the late 1800s, advances in chemistry and World War I saw the development of synthetic materials, such as nylon, which gradually replaced natural fibers such as silk, linen, or hemp. Everything is connected with war and colonial expansion, much of which, well documented, was done on cotton. Textiles are therefore very political.
After the Second World War, ready-to-wear became accessible to everyone. Then, in the 1990s, the advent of fast fashion accelerated the movement. This is part of an expansion of capitalism.
Sobriety is topical, what do we mean by “dressing soberly”?
The current context of rising energy prices should prompt us to rethink our habits. In fact, 75% of the textiles we produce are petroleum-based. Polyester represents 65% of global textile production and artificial fibers approximately 10%. So if we want to decarbonise, we will have to learn to do without and consume differently. Sobriety doesn’t just apply to clothing, it means consuming less but better. It would be to buy second hand, to trade clothes where money is less important. These tendencies usually develop among young people and those who are aware of the environment. At the same time, there is a part of that same youth who is aware of ecological problems and who buy Shein, an ultra-fast fashion brand that constantly renews its collections and constantly offers new products for 5 or 10 euros. They made 10 billion euros in turnover. There is a dichotomy within the population between wanting to consume better without being willing to review certain practices.
† 75% of the textiles we produce are based on petroleum. †
[À lire aussi Avion, mode, viande, vidéo en ligne ou voiture, à quoi les Français, les Européens, les Américains et les Chinois sont-ils prêts à renoncer pour lutter contre le changement climatique ?]
Since we are talking about a dichotomy, the care of clothes, wouldn’t it be like standing at the crossroads between the essential (dressing) and the superficial (the hyper-distinction resulting from mad individualism)? And that fashion is therefore based on mass production as well as strong product differentiation?
Absolutely, that’s exactly it. When we talk about fashion, we cannot be reasonable because our desires for clothes are based on something irrational. Overproduction and overconsumption are major problems of our civilization which is at the end of its life. Overconsumption and overproduction can be found everywhere, both in fashion and in the food industry. The scheme is identical. Too much food is produced, or at least poorly distributed. Result: in rich countries, half of the population is overweight, even obese. The same goes for clothes. Our hives are obese. We produce 150 billion pieces a year for 7 billion people, half of whom don’t buy clothes and half of the other half can’t afford to make compulsive purchases. So in the end we produce 150 billion coins for 1.5 billion consumers.
† We produce 150 billion parts for 1.5 billion consumers† †
To get there, on the one hand, it would be necessary to stop producing too much and stop over-informing. Brands are obsessed with invading social ad networks. However, the general public needs to be better informed, there is information about the impact of fashion. But you have to have the curiosity to understand how clothes are made, to understand how they can be toxic. For example, today dyes contain toxic chemicals such as brain teasers, chromium, cadmium, etc. known for their health effects.
† When we talk about fashion, we cannot be reasonable because our desires for clothes are based on something irrational. †
In order to end fast-fashion, must we first of all put an end to advertising and the dictate of the ego that is reflected in the image we want to convey?
Certainly advertising. The ego is complicated because fashion is a way of presenting yourself to the world. However, when I look at the street, I see a standardization of looks without people being well dressed. Everyone buys from the same big brands. It is necessary to fight against the standardization of lines thanks to the second hand that allows to vary the parts.
† It is everyone’s responsibility to adapt their clothing consumption to their values. People with a developed ecological conscience buy less clothes† †
Are consumers ready to change their habits?
I think so for some of them. It is everyone’s responsibility to adapt their clothing consumption to their values. People with a developed ecological conscience buy less clothes. The topic of clothing production is rarely mentioned in environmental gatherings, although it is one of the most polluting and globalized industries. In France, brands try to produce cleanly on the territory or in neighboring countries. These are of course small brands that do not have the communication skills of the big brands.
“We can get out of excessive overconsumption by adopting a smaller wardrobe. †
What exactly are the ways to get out of the great paradox of a sector defined by short-lived and permanent renewal?
Sustainable fashion is an oxymoron. It is not possible for fashion to be sustainable because it is based on the constant change of seasons and colors, which turns out to be a form of planned obsolescence. We can get out of overconsumption by adopting a smaller wardrobe with a few well-thought-out pieces that we renew in 10 years, for example.
“We only put a third of what’s in our closets† †
In any case, the current dramatic economic situation and climate change are likely to lead to shortages and supply problems, especially in the cotton sector. It will not be possible to produce in India where temperatures can reach 50°C. Prices should therefore increase with the increase in raw material costs. The clothes are already not being sold for the right price, because the workers who make them are often underpaid and exploited.
[À lire aussi Valérie Guillard, auteure de Comment consommer avec sobriété ? : « il existe un marketing de la sobriété »]
Finally, nobody likes to waste. The pitfall of waste is that at the time of purchase we don’t necessarily realize that what we’re about to buy isn’t going to get much use. Do you have any tips for buying well?
There are simple questions to ask yourself before buying a garment, which may also apply to other purchases. Do I really need it? Don’t I already have the equivalent or something like that? Can I wait a week or two? Compulsive buying should be avoided. We can indulge every now and then, we are not ayatollahs, but we have to question our way of consuming. They are often emotional purchases: we had a hardship or a disappointment, we buy things to have fun.
† There are simple questions to ask yourself before buying a garment† †
Any other tips?
Sort your wardrobe and see what you’re really wearing. The first thing to do is try to get your dressing room in order. We need to look at what we’re really wearing, because generally we only put a third of what’s in our closets. Then you have to wonder what to do with the rest. Are we giving it away? Shall we trade it with friends? Do we sort it? Once we have looked at what we wear and what suits us, we renew our wardrobe according to our needs.
[À lire aussi Anaïs Rocci, sociologue à l’ADEME : « l’objectif de la sobriété est de trouver un modèle de société qui permette à la fois de respecter les limites des ressources planétaires et à chaque personne de vivre décemment »]
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