Milan Fashion Week and Fashion Law Trends: Sustainability and green claims

After that last September Lady Gaga walked the Venice Film Festival red carpet in a pink feathered Valentino gown, next season will be all about feathers. But where do feathers come from? Are they compliant with sustainability claims and animal welfare regulations?

Since consumers are increasingly sensitive towards sustainability problems and the ecological and ethical qualities of a product can influence the purchasing choices of the average consumer, the last trend in fashion is using materials and manufacturing processes that respect the environment and local communities, along with animal welfare and working conditions. During last Milan Fashion Week, the whole fashion system met at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards launched in 2017 to celebrate the commitment of luxury fashion houses to sustainability. Ex Spice Girl, now fashion designer Victoria Beckham announced that she will stop use of exotic leathers from A/W 2019 collection of her fashion brand, already fur free. The global sportswear brand Adidas committed to using only recycled plastic by 2024. Just yesterday the French luxury group LVMH launched the first standard for responsible crocodile leather sourcing across three pilot farms.

However, when making environmental and sustainability claims, fashion companies should ensure to comply with the relevant provisions aimed at avoiding that green marketing turns into “greenwashing“, by misleading consumers in relation to the characteristics of the product. In fact, in addition to the general provisions on misleading advertising, more precise indications only with respect to green claims in Italy come from the Code of Marketing Communication (“CAP”) and from the last version of the EU Commission UCPD Guidelines, updated in May 2016 to address the issue.

In particular, pursuant to art. 12 CAP, specifically referring to the protection of the natural environment, “Advertising claiming or suggesting environmental or ecological benefits must be based on truthful, pertinent and scientifically verifiable evidence. Such advertising must ensure a clear understanding of which aspect of the product or activity the claimed benefits refer to“.

In addition, although not binding, the UCPD Guidelines provide a check-list to be followed in the creation of a commercial communication emphasizing the sustainability of the products. In fact, they establish that traders must present their green claims in a clear, specific, accurate and unambiguous manner and must have the evidence to support their claims in an understandable way if the claim is challenged by the competent enforcement authorities.

According to this approach, vague and general claims, such as “environmentally friendly“, “green“, “nature’s friend“, “ecological“, “sustainable“, “environmentally correct“, “climate friendly“, or “gentle on the environment” are considered difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate and thus basically misleading per se.

Moreover, the UCPD Guidelines make clear that, when making a green claim, a fashion company should consider the main environmental impacts of the product over its whole life cycle, including its supply chain, and indicate which aspects of the product or its life cycle the claim refers to: the whole product, the whole company/organisation, or specific elements such as the manufacturing process, the packaging of the product, the transportation throughout the supply chain, or specific resource efficiency aspects.

In this framework, in order to support its sustainability claims through reliable evidence, a fashion company shall consider (i) to draft a Code of Conduct and possibly the Standards For Raw Materials And Manufacturing Processes for the company, to be included in all the agreements with its suppliers, whereby the suppliers agree to respect them; (ii) to provide broad auditing powers of the company in the agreements with its suppliers; (iii) to ensure, also trough technological measures (e.g. blockchain), the widest traceability of the products; and (iv) to request to its suppliers to obtain certifications of independent and well acknowledged bodies.

These are some steps that you might take if you would like to be the next winner of the sustainability fashion awards. The red carpet is turning green and you should ensure to wear the proper outfit!

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