Both fashion (textiles) and food are identified as key value chains: This plan considers establishing common sustainability practices for the different sectors:
- improving product durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability. Addressing the presence of hazardous chemicals/pesticides, use of water and artificial ingredients
- increasing recycled content in products/ also secondary and primary packaging in food;
- enabling remanufacturing and high-quality recycling;
- reducing carbon and environmental footprints.
- restricting disposable packaging or non-recyclable materials
- incentivising natural and eco ingredients
- mobilising the potential of digitalisation of product information, including solutions as QR for traceability of ingredients and re-usable packaging materials
In the EU, food is the first industry in the use of raw materials (1,600 Million Tn/year), and textiles is the fifth (including also household textiles) with 175 Million Tn/year; food is the first in water use, and textiles is the third; the same positions related to the land use; and first and fifth position respectively in the Greenhouse gas emissions (EEA, 2022).
Both sectors share some practices to shift to a circular economy: organic production, km0 sourcing, packaging 0; business models based on offering services instead of ownership, etc. And both share a concern on the waste they generate: an estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted in the UE (European Commission, 2019:15), while more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling (Ellen MacArthur, 2017)
The food sector has successfully positioned sustainable food as addressing consumer benefits, as well as wider societal implications (Centre for Sustainable Fashion, 2009) through raising awareness of sustainable concepts, such as: food-miles; food produced without chemical applications that pollute the soil; and negotiations between food producers and multi-national organisations.
Therefore, there is connection about how consumers transfer concepts of sustainability, such as organic, Fairtrade and carbon emissions, from the context of food to fashion. (Ritch 2015).
Analogies between the two industries:
Labelling is one of the obvious areas in which food products are miles ahead in the race for sustainability. Offering consumers, a clear and simple way of discerning which foods are vegan, locally grown or organic, the traffic light system of nutritional information sits alongside strict regulations on ingredients and packaging recycling instructions. These all help demystify the complex food supply chain.
- Farm to fork, earth to skirt.
Beyond regulation, perhaps the biggest lesson fashion can learn from food is the importance of building a close relationship with raw materials. Increasingly, we are curious about where food comes from and how it’s made, but this doesn't seem to be the case with what we wear—perhaps this discrepancy is because we regularly cook our own food but rarely make our own clothes. The farm-to-table and slow food movements can be almost directly transposed to the fashion industry. Through educating consumers on provenance and taking the time to appreciate the ‘ingredients’ of our clothes, slow fashion could see a similar revolution.
Fashion can look to the food industry for inspiration and influence in becoming more transparent and sustainable. Providing resources and support to suppliers and changing the marketing around sustainable options are two lessons fashion can learn from food. Even the food industry’s missed opportunities — like lifting up those most negatively impacted in the supply chain — offer insight.