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The Ecomoda project

The Ecomoda project

Based on materials from the ECOMODA Project 

The environmental challenges of the garment and textile industries

More than 70% of textiles and clothing imported into the EU come from Asia (China, Bangladesh, Turkey, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.). However, the EU is still the second largest exporter of textiles and clothing after China, with a textile export value of around USD 66 billion. At the same time, the EU remains the leading importer of textiles and clothing, accounting for more than 23% of global imports, according to the WTO. The industry employs 1.5 million people across over 160,000 companies in the EU, most of which are SMEs, and the EU's annual turnover in 2019 was €162 billion. euro.

More than 1,900 chemicals are used in clothing production, 165 of which are classified as hazardous to health or the environment by the EU.

In addition, many apparel companies face problems with labor conditions throughout the supply chain from developing countries (Mckinsey, 2016), including child labor, low wages, and health risks.

The EU has introduced several regulations to address environmental challenges in the garment industry. REACH (Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006) prohibits the list of chemical products in the manufacture of clothing. ECOLABEL (Regulation (EC) No. 66/2010) is an optional process that certifies the environmental sustainability of clothing. The EU's recent Sustainable Textiles Strategy initiative aims to help "the EU's transition to a climate-neutral, circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy efficient." The EC has also taken some initial steps on due diligence requirements across the supply chain to address human rights abuses. As among the most polluting industries, but also the most profitable, it is crucial that the textile and clothing sector moves towards a more sustainable and ethical future.

According to the International Labor Organization (2019), new skills are and will be increasingly needed throughout the textile, clothing, leather and footwear (TCLF) supply chain, not only in relation to new production processes, but also in areas such as design, finance, new product development, logistics, marketing, sales and customer service.

Many of the jobs in these industries are not traditionally perceived as "green/environmental", such as fashion designers or vehicle maintenance technicians. However, the way in which these professional roles are performed can have an impact on the achievement of climate and sustainable development goals. Employers must require an active position from all employees to carry out their activities in a sustainable manner. In the future, it will be increasingly important to upskill and fill the skills gaps of both employers and workers so that they can adapt to new technologies, new materials and the increasing pressure to produce products in a sustainable way.

The circular economy and the Ecomoda Project

The textile and garment industries are some of the biggest industrial polluters. More than 20% of industrial water pollution is due to them. The circular economy and the application of sustainable practices for the production of clothes is in harmony with the expectations of customers and with the protection of human rights. Along with EU regulations, industry must adapt its ability to reduce the resources used to ensure the protection of the environment and human health. One of the EU's latest Sustainable Textiles Strategy initiatives is to "move the EU towards a climate neutral, circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy efficient". Some preliminary steps are being taken for supply chain due diligence. Although with a high impact on the environment and climate, these industries realize some of the highest profits, and this is crucial to be able to seek changes and apply business models characteristic of the circular economy.

What are the limiting factors for solving these challenges? First of all, it is the lack of a highly qualified and trained workforce in green practices. This can slow down the process of sustainable development of the industry and its competitiveness. Along with the training of new employees, the need for retraining and upskilling of the workforce in these industries is increasingly emerging. The application of lifelong learning is necessary. According to the report Greening with jobs: World Employment and Social Outlook, skills in the textile sector do not match the goals of achieving economic sustainability due to the lack of knowledge of the relationship between skills and the environment, the lack of regular employment forecasts and financial mechanisms to encourage investment in skills development. In many countries, environmental legislation reforms are already leading to the establishment/revision of professional qualification standards. Therefore, the initiators of the ECOMODA Project have come to the conclusion that the involvement of workers at all levels in an organization through training and digital tools can offer a consolidated solution to the stated challenges.

The ECOMODA Project is developing a package of knowledge, competences and skills on sustainability and ethical dimensions to be used by enterprises in the garment and textile industries. Environmental sustainability training and initiatives are planned for those working in the industry, including designers, suppliers, manufacturers, SME owners and managers and employees. Engaging all levels and departments of a textile or garment company in the process of creating "green skills" will lead to a change in the behavior of the company as a whole and help to improve the sustainability of the entire industry.The project is in action and proposes to achieve this by:

  • creating e-learning courses to upskill management level in enterprises as well as designers to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to support the "green transformation";
  • increasing the qualifications of workers through training in the field of sustainable development;
  • promoting a culture of shared participation where everyone contributes actively to the Sustainable Development Goals;
  • supporting both employers/managers and their employees through open access to a dedicated digital platform;
  • providing an opportunity to identify the environmental and social impacts of the industry and implement a sustainable development strategy.

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