sustainability in fashion the pr advisor

Welcome back to my ongoing series dissecting the McKinsey State of Fashion 2024 report. In this installment, I delve into a topic that has been looming on the horizon for some time but is now undeniably at the forefront of the fashion industry: sustainability regulations.


Sustainability Rules: The Fashion Industry’s Wake-Up Call

For years, fashion brands have largely relied on self-regulation when it comes to sustainability practices. While some have genuinely strived to reduce their environmental footprint and improve labor conditions, the reality is that many have greenwashed their way through, using vague claims to appear eco-friendly while often failing to deliver on those promises.

The fashion industry is about to face a reality check as the era of self-regulation draws to a close. Globally, governments and regulatory bodies are stepping in with legislation to hold the industry accountable for environmental impact.

The European Union Takes the Lead

Leading this charge is the European Union known for its stringent environmental standards and commitment to sustainability. In June 2023, the EU released its “Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles,” a comprehensive vision for the environment and social rights.

The scope of these regulations is astounding, with approximately 16 pieces of legislation under discussion in late 2023. The first set will take effect in 2024. These regulations span the entire fashion value chain, from product design and marketing to waste management.

Product design, for example, is set for change. The EU’s Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, expected to be fully effective by 2025, sets minimum design standards for all individual products sold within the EU. These standards include requirements for recyclability, durability, reusability, repairability, and the use of hazardous substances.

Marketing, too, is undergoing a makeover. In an era where greenwashing is high on both consumer and regulatory agendas, the new EU Green Claims Directive is putting a stop to vague and misleading sustainability claims. France has even taken the bold step of requiring carbon labels on all clothing sold in the country.

These sustainability regulations will extend far beyond the EU’s borders as roughly 70 percent of the EU’s textiles are manufactured in Asia, where much of fashion’s production occurs.  Asian countries are set to feel the reverberations of these regulations.

In the US, the New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act plans to hold major brands accountable for their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impacts. And in the UK, the Green Claims Code aims to curb greenwashing. Even the fashion industry’s colossal player, China, has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Sustainability Reporting and Standardization

One of the most challenging aspects of these regulations is the demand for standardized, comprehensive public disclosures. The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive are set to bring clarity and accountability to sustainability efforts. But the sheer volume of data and analysis required is disconcerting to many fashion executives.

Yet while these sustainability regulations pose significant challenges, they also present opportunities. For instance, some materials that have long been overlooked may suddenly become highly sought after, creating supply and demand dynamics that savvy brands can leverage.

Industry associations and trade groups have a crucial role to play in shaping policy. It behooves corporate leaders to engage these groups, contribute to discussions, and galvanize stakeholders to co-create effective regulation.

The Time to Act is Now

The fashion industry is at a crossroads, with sustainability regulations poised to reshape its future. This pivotal moment demands proactive adaptation, collaboration, and a holistic approach to sustainability that permeates every facet of the fashion world.

As the saying goes, the only constant in fashion is change, and this change is sustainability-driven. The time to act is now. The era of self-regulation is fading, and in its place, a new, more sustainable fashion industry is emerging—one that respects our planet and its people.


  1. The Era of Self-Regulation is Fading

Governments around the world are taking decisive steps to mandate sustainability actions across the entire value chain.

  1. The European Union Leads the Way

The EU’s Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, passed in June 2023, paints a vision of an industry driven by environmental respect and social responsibility. With up to 16 pieces of legislation under discussion and some already in force by 2024, brands are racing against time to adapt.

  1. Impacting Every Aspect of the Fashion World

These regulations transcend every aspect of fashion, from product design to marketing to waste management.

  1. Sustainability Reporting and Standardization

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive aim to bring clarity and accountability to sustainability efforts.

  1. Global Impact and Opportunities for Transformation

The impact of these regulations extends far beyond the EU, especially into Asia, where a significant portion of textiles is manufactured. Initiatives in the US, UK, and China further underline the global shift towards sustainability.

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