Comply or Die, the future of fashion and the industry’s potential mass extinction.

Andrea Batilla in conversation with Lisa Lang

The European government institutions’ structure is deeply complex, which perhaps would explain why so few truly understand their internal dynamics. This level of complexity, however, is essential for handling the diverse and often conflicting interests of the European Union’s 27 member states. The European Parliament, the only institution elected by the citizens, is where decisions are made. Adjacent to it, the European Commission serves as the operational arm of the Parliament, functioning both as the executive and legislative body. Nevertheless, the immense task of navigating the EU’s complexities falls on many other individuals. Some are politicians, but others are people like us, professionals who have dedicated their lives to improving the world.

One of the external entities that play specialised roles in assisting the European Union in achieving its objectives is the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The EIT is supposed to foster collaboration among countries in the realm of innovation. Within the EIT are various Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs), including one focused on climate. These entities operate within the sphere of the European Green Deal. This deal sets forth clear objectives: carbon emissions must be reduced by at least 55% by 2030 and completely eliminated by 2050.

The scenario of the European Green Deal seems like science fiction but is entirely real and one that all European countries must follow, as well as all industries—including fashion. To understand exactly what will happen, we spoke with Lisa Lang, the EU policy and affairs director at EIT Climate KIC. Lisa has a degree in Arts and Media Communications and a Master’s in Business Administration, along with an extraordinary resume. Forbes has included her amongst the 50 most influential women in tech, and Vogue Business recently selected her as Top Sustainability Thought Leader. She is charismatic, direct, and powerful. You can tell she is not a career-pursuing politician and that she is tirelessly fighting for radical change.

Andrea Batilla : Let’s begin with your job title, Director Policy and EU Affairs Orchestrator at the EIT Climate KIC. It seems pretty complex.

Lisa Lang : Indeed. It’s a beautiful example of how Brussels excels at creating intricate job titles and institution abbreviations. To clarify, EIT stands for the European Institute of Technology and Innovation. It was established 15 years ago and funded directly by the European Commission to create a European equivalent of MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the prestigious research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It concerns all facets of innovation brought by high-level academics turned into startups that then become unicorns. It is a major project because the European Commission backs it.

Also, what KIC stands for is Knowledge Innovation Communities. We are the activation and implementation agency for the European Commission. So, the Commission and the bureaucrats make all the paperwork and develop the legal frameworks for new policies and regulations. But then somebody must implement these. Somebody must spend the money. We are an agency funded by the European Commission. There are nine in total. We are actually the firstborn that was set up 15 years ago. We have a team of over 250 people all across Europe. We work internationally and I run the policy department. So I’m the director of the policy department. That’s why I’m sitting in Brussels. I have a team of policymakers around me. Also, of course, deliberately, I might come across as not your typical policy person. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature because I was brought in deliberately to do things differently. I have a technology, art, and entrepreneurship background, and I have lived and worked across the world.

A.B. : And how long have you been in Brussels?

L.L. : My venture in Brussels started almost ten years ago. The thing is, I’m not a classically trained policy person. Usually, you go to university and learn all of this in a formal setting. Of course, I have university degrees, but I learned everything on the job. For example, the main issue, especially with climate change and why we can’t shift it as quickly as we’d like, is part of a systemic failure. Our systems have been built not to work with each other. The issue with climate change is that we need to work together. This requires people who must sometimes be a little pushy to bring people together. That’s my job. But you know, it’s the same in fashion education. In traditional, conservative universities, in any industry, you learn how the system is supposed to work. But when you learn on the job, you learn the system as it actually operates.

A.B. : Yes, I know very well what you mean. But tell me, what is your relationship with politicians and politics? Is it difficult?

L.L. : It depends. I think it’s more about what you make of it. Politicians are necessary for the system but aren’t the entire system. And when I refer to the system, I mean the frameworks, the regulations, the processes of building them, getting elected, and making decisions. It’s all very rigid, and it involves a lot of paperwork. However, on the other hand, it creates space for human and personal interaction. You must learn to dance your way through it. Once you understand how policy and politics are made, you realise that everything is like a proxy war. The reasons specific departments don’t collaborate or a politician is upset are often because of something else that has happened. It’s a very human dynamic. Sometimes, I wish we could turn the whole Brussels scene into a telenovela because it’s so full of drama, both funny and scary at the same time. Brussels is a little bit like Game of Thrones but with far less exciting costumes. Still, it is as exciting once you actually see what’s going on inside.

A.B. : You mean there are also love stories?

L.L. : Yeah. I tell you, it’s all drama, love, money, power, ridiculousness. It’s everything you could wish for. By the way, there’s actually a comedy company called the Schumann Show. They are all former PR professionals and policymakers from Brussels who got so frustrated that they started a comedy show. They’re hilarious. If you want to understand politics, start with their sketches. Even though it’s funny, everything they say is true. The way they explain something as complicated and boring as politics and policy is fantastic. The more you get to know the Brussels Bubble, with all its titles and abbreviations, the more you realise it’s like the fashion bubble. It’s incredibly inaccessible to outsiders. You must be part of the gang. You must dress and behave in a certain way. This is a club where it is very difficult to bring in new angles, reflections, or innovations, and because of that, the system becomes very incestuous. And when you have that, it means the system has become sick. There’s a lack of flow and perspective. This creates a lot of blind spots, which can be fatal because there’s an elephant, an eagle, a snake, and a dragon in the room, which you don’t see because they are hiding in these blind spots. And if you don’t see it, you will be dead before even knowing it.

Also, since I’m one of those who came from the industry and switched sides, it took me years to understand all these abbreviations and interact with people. It was like, ‘What the hell is your job? Have you heard of outfits? And can we have a bit of fun? Where’s the colour? Where’s the joy?’ It took years, but eventually, I found my way. Long story short, what I’m doing now with my team is going to the industry and explaining policy to them in a very accessible way. It can actually be entertaining. I’m actually using sketches from the Schumann Show comedy in my policy training camps.

A.B. : This brings us to our conversation: the EU Green Deal. The basis for all this is that the European Union aims to become the world’s green champion, bringing a substantial competitive advantage to the European industry and community. So, how is this going to happen?

L.L. : In the only possible way we know: regulations. It’s like this: America innovates, Asia scales, and Europe regulates. Europe seems a bit behind because we aren’t built for innovation like the US. But the main reason for this is that we put the human factor, consumer protection and privacy at the forefront. And we don’t ignore privacy and personal freedom as they do in Asia. So we are literally in the middle. Of course, it happens more slowly, but regulation means a level playfield, and we must take every member into account—democracy simply takes time. However, once in place, these regulations and their implementation will become much faster—and the projected impact will be enormous. We must radically reduce our carbon emissions; we are already—hence, the pressure to deliver is immense.

A.B. : This plan proposed by the European Commission aims to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

L.L. : Yes. However, I have to say that according to scientific numbers, zero is not enough. We must aim towards negative. We have to be far more ahead and systemic.

A.B. : How can you achieve a carbon negative?

L.L. : The way we measure carbon footprint isn’t entirely comprehensive, as it doesn’t fully encompass what’s happening in the world. This is why we need to go beyond achieving a net zero carbon footprint and go negative. I believe net zero isn’t the complete answer, and the truth is much scarier.

It’s about time that we are really honest and transparent with the consequences, even if it freaks people out. So, in my opinion, we should be far more hard-hitting with targets and make damn sure the regulations don’t get watered down. The current roadmap by the EU is that by 2030, all European industries must reduce their carbon footprint by a minimum of 55%. Many regulations aim to achieve this, affecting all industries in all countries. It’s a bit technical, but, for instance, one of these tools will be the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), the Cooperate Sustainability Reporting Directive (DSRD) and the Digital Product Passport (DPP). It requires all industries to report on their carbon footprint. Traceable and transparent. Basically, this means your carbon footprint will become a cost factor. First, you need to know what it is. Second, you need to be able to report it. Third, whatever the result, you will be evaluated on it and must pay taxes based on it. This means for the industry, your current carbon footprint will cost money. This applies to all industries, but it will hit some industries harder than others, especially those that are unprepared for it. For example, in the automotive and consumer electronics industries, like with headphones, they can already track and trace single materials all the way down to the mine, and that’s what’s actually required.

A.B. : But when you talk about cotton yarns in China, it’s impossible to know where they come from.

L.L. : Exactly. So what would that mean? If you can’t report, you won’t be allowed to trade in Europe anymore.

A.B. : I don’t see how this could be realistically implemented. It means that companies like Zara and H&M would have to shut down. I mean, this kind of makes me laugh.

L.L. : You can laugh as much as you want, but the thing is, from Brussels’ perspective, the fashion industry has only been recognised officially as a European Ecosystem Industry since 2019, as a part of the Culture and Creative Industries. Before that, fashion was almost invisible to policymakers and regulators. This explains why the fashion industry was unregulated for a very long time. And the old textile lobbyists made damn sure of that. They are partly to blame for the disaster pending. A lot of people haven’t done their homework, and now it is payday.

From the EU’s perspective, the key performance indicators that we all must deliver, regardless of the activity, involve reducing our carbon footprint. There is a ranking of the most polluting industries, and they are in the spotlight. The clock has now started ticking, and it will become very uncomfortable for the industries that are on the wrong side. Even though the EU’s government bubble sometimes feels like a children’s birthday party going wrong, we are discussing very serious work here. We are talking about the future of Europe and its prosperity. Luckily, we have some very smart and dedicated people working on it. These regulations will support Europe’s single market—which means a level playing field and transparency. It will be a bumpy road, but it must be done in order to secure the future for the next generations.

A.B. : This isn’t easy to understand. I was talking to a friend the other day; she was at Zara’s HQ in La Coruña and mentioned that their annual turnover is around 42 billion. So, how do you convince them and the Spanish government to either shut off or turn this giant machine down to a level where it becomes sustainable?

L.L. : You don’t. This is not about convincing. This is a must. EU has done this many times before—like consolidating all telecom operations to work together so every European citizen can benefit from EU roaming. Or look what we forced the tobacco industry to turn to; look what we are doing with the new digital privacy laws. This is about compliance or death. That’s the message. We don’t have time. Talk with everyone outside the fashion industry—they are all aware of the big change. The chemical industry, construction, mobility, and agriculture consolidated and set up their EU umbrella representation offices long ago. They are prepared. Where is the consolidated fashion industry? If you are not engaging, you are invisible.

A.B. : So, what do you think will be the impact on the industry?

L.L. : Based on the data gathered from all the regulations that have come from other industries, including fashion, my prediction is that within the next five to seven years, if those brands, both small and big, don’t take action, seventy per cent of the European fashion industry will be shut down because they won’t be able to comply. Seventy per cent. And the point is, they don’t believe us at the moment. Why should they? They’ve never had to take any sort of action before. Never. In the meantime, the EU has forced Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram to change their terms and conditions. And made ChatGTP illegal for a while in Italy until they updated their privacy terms.

A.B. : But it’s also really hard for me to believe you because, of course, we all want to live in a world where there’s no fast fashion anymore, but these people are so economically powerful. They are too big to fail.

L.L. : Yes, but their definition of economic power was measured based on an old system. What’s changing now is that the old system comes with a huge carbon footprint, and now your carbon footprint will become a cost factor. If you look at it from that perspective, all of a sudden, the fashion industry is one of the worst polluters out there. For instance, the fashion industry’s global carbon footprint is ten per cent. Aviation is two. Thirty to forty per cent of the entire fashion industry is made up of overproduction and overconsumption. From a politician’s perspective, they just look at the data and say: ‘Oh, you’re highly unsustainable. You have a high carbon footprint.’ If we just get rid of that, we suddenly have created an impact and done our job. They’re looking at you like this. Again, the EU has caused major industry shifts before. The telecommunication industry made a lot of money charging extra for roaming. Of course, they wouldn’t have consolidated out of free will. The epic words of ‘comply or die’ came from Neelie Kroes, a former EU commissioner, who kicked the telcos into shape. And since 2014, we have consolidated roaming. Thank you, EU!

A.B. : What do you think is going to happen to the customers? The fashion market has been poisoned commercially and culturally in the last ten years. People are now used to buying a lot of stuff at very cheap prices. So, on the one hand, you say this is not going to be possible anymore, but on the other hand, from the perspective of the customer, the average price will rise, and they will not be able to buy ten shirts for $9.99 anymore, because this is not sustainable. Who will address this issue from a cultural perspective and educate customers? People might understand the concept of switching from a petrol car to an electric one, but it might be much harder to explain why they can no longer buy eleven pairs of jeans for the same low price they used to. Changing this shopping habit, ingrained in their minds, will likely pose a significant challenge.

L.L. : Yes, of course. It’s absolutely important to address the cultural aspect of it, but the culture of overconsumption emerged because it was made possible by a fashion industry that was no longer interested in fashion per se but rather in pure capitalism. This overconsumption arises because the fashion industry has run out of ideas and has resorted to increasing the quantity and speed of consumption. Be honest, everyone in the fashion industry knows this—you said it yourself: the last ten years have been an absolute disaster. And now, we are looking at a broken system that will become illegal because it is highly damaging to the environment—and to human rights. Are you seriously telling me you can charge five euros for a t-shirt which has been made in a sustainable, non-harmful way? Of course not.

The Vice President of the European Commission, Timmermans, earlier this year at one of our big flagship events, the Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform event, specifically addressed textiles, which was a huge topic at the event. Usually, it’s cars, aviation, and batteries, but this year, all of a sudden, it was textiles. And he went on stage and said: ‘We will legislate you out.’ There is no way out. The fashion industry doesn’t understand that the big power brokers sit in Brussels, and they are not aware of, nor particularly interested in, fashion. When talking with politicians, very few are interested in engaging with the fashion industry. And you hear this over and over again. We had an engagement with several members of the European Parliament, one of whom was heavily involved in culture and creative industries. We discussed what the legislation would do for the fashion industry, specifically. And he realised: ‘Oh, that means we’re going to kill them.’ And I said: ‘Yes because those regulations are made without truly taking fashion into account. They only see numbers, carbon footprint, too much, shut them down.’ But they don’t engage like lobbyists usually do. Fashion is not part of it. The homework of the last 30 to 50 years hasn’t been done. And now, in a very short amount of time, in the next five to seven years, it will rain regulations, and it will come with such force that it doesn’t matter how much money you put into it, how big you are, you won’t be able to comply unless you stick to them.

Let me be clear here: it is not fashion that is getting attacked. It is the industry that has turned fashion into this highly polluting, untransparent, and human-rights-violating business.

The only way out for the fashion industry is to finally wake up and face the harsh music. It needs to go transparent—which means it has to track and trace its entire supply chain. This is not only for fast fashion; this applies to all kinds of fashion products—also high-luxury. In order to achieve that and survive, the fashion industry has to do the unthinkable for them: consolidate!

A.B. : I’m starting to believe you, so in terms of timing, how long do you think this will take? What kind of timeframe are we looking at? Within what period?

L.L. : The timeframe for these regulations is structured in different waves. The first wave has already started and will primarily target big companies in the next one to three years. Then, it will begin to trickle down to medium and small-sized businesses, which we can expect to happen in three to five years from now. The final big push will be within five to seven years. This is all part of the roadmap leading up to 2030, 2040, and 2050. Each year will become increasingly challenging because we are already behind schedule. Under this immense pressure, there isn’t much room for negotiation; it’s more about immediate action. Other industries are now realising that although the rise of populism and right-wing politics—which often includes climate change denial—might prolong these changes slightly, it won’t stop them entirely. Key regulatory initiatives include CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism), the digital product passport (DPP), and the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive).

So, in the next one to three years, the top 50,000 companies in Europe will be the first to be impacted by these regulations, and they’re already getting ready for it. The people and industries set to profit significantly from this are lawyers and consultancy firms. You’re in a prime position if you’re a lawyer versed in EU policy or part of a consultancy company. These consultancy firms, or as Marianna Mazucatto calls them, ‘the big cons’, are instrumental in shaping terms like ‘circular economy.’ However, the circular economy concept doesn’t necessarily address the root problems. There’s a lot of talk about reselling and recycling, but that’s actually a sign of failure within the sustainability framework. Recycling and reselling are only effective solutions when you have a minimal overproduction issue. For example, an overproduction rate of just 0.2% in the consumer electronics industry is considered disastrous.

A.B. : Remind me how much of fashion sits within overproduction.

L.L. : 30% to 40%. That’s the official number. So, again, looking at it from a politician’s perspective, mainly made up of older, white men in Europe—we have 705 members in the European Parliament, who are predominantly part of this category—they see something like consumer electronics with a 0.2% overproduction rate and think: ‘Okay, that’s manageable.’ But then they look at fashion, with an overproduction rate of 30 to 40%, and they go: ‘What the actual fuck?’

A.B. : Do you think anything might change from this point of view with the new elections?

L.L. : Yes and no. On the one hand, the Commission, which doesn’t get re-elected, has already decided and implemented the coming regulations. The Commission just continues its work. However, according to surveys and prediction models, the new Parliament will likely shift towards right-wing populism, especially in countries like Italy and Germany, as we’ve seen in Finland and Sweden—and recently in the Netherlands. This means that while they might be unable to stop the regulations outright, they can delay them, which only slightly prolongs the process. Unfortunately, this delay could make the EU less competitive than Asia and the US, as these changes are necessary for keeping pace globally. Because why are we even doing this? Besides the fact that we want to survive, it’s because sustainability means prosperity in the long term. Why is the EU doing that? It’s because we want to remain an economically prosperous superpower.

A.B. : And from this point of view, how do you think the decision, once implemented and everyone starts to follow it, will affect the political relationships that the EU has with the United States and Asian countries? Will there be any changes?

L.L. : Oh, changes occur all the time; it’s like an episode of House of Cards. All these systems are in economic competition with each other but also competing for skilled labour and innovation. Take the US, for example. They introduced the inflation pact, essentially a response to the COVID crisis, reflecting the American approach to solving problems with money. This pact is basically a green transition investment fund in disguise. The US market is currently overfinanced, with too much money to spend. Now, they’re trying to attract companies from the EU, especially those well-versed in sustainability and technology, which they recognise as a potential area for growth. It’s always a balancing act. In the EU, we have excellent training, but scaling up can be slow for entrepreneurs due to our mastery of regulations. The US, on the other hand, is saying: ‘Here’s a lot of money, just come over.’ They offer quicker, more direct financial incentives to attract businesses and talent. And at the same time, the US is looking at and copying our regulations. You can see this very clearly where the collection of textiles is now a mandatory regulation. You’re not allowed to throw away textiles, including fashion items; they must be collected separately. This is modelled on our EU waste regulation. So, when fashion brands come to me asking what they should focus on, my answer is human rights, waste regulation, and reporting duties. And they’re like: ‘What?’ And I’m like: ‘Yeah, see?’ Precisely because you have never heard about that before. How can you possibly catch up on these topics?”

So, on the other side, when it comes to Asia, they’re moving more and more from a ‘cheap-item’ manufacturer to a ‘high-quality’ producer. We can clearly see this in the microchip production sector. The reason prices are going up is due to supply chain issues. However, many parts of Asia don’t have the same type of regulations or a system of democracy as we do in the EU or the US. This means that in the short term, they will be faster in their production and response to market demands. In order to create fairness in the market, the EU comes in and regulates and protects its borders. And the EU is simply too big to ignore.

What brings us all together is the issue of climate change. Because climate change doesn’t care about borders, politics, or emotions, it’s just there. So, from a philosophical perspective, we are in a bit of a predicament; of course, we have political issues like the situation in Ukraine, energy concerns, Russia, human rights violations, and lack of personal freedom, but at the same time, climate change is happening. And one of the biggest polluters in the world is also China. So the question is, should we ignore that, or should we engage?

A.B. : And what’s the situation with the industry in Italy?

L.L. : It’s very worrying because China has essentially bought into the backbone of the textile industry. It would be really interesting to have a team of investigative journalists delve into the stakeholder ownerships of Italian fashion and textile brands to see who owns what. I know a bit about it already, and that alone is scary enough. Their way of thinking is: if we can’t influence things from the outside, how about we infiltrate them from the inside?

Now, what’s happening is not just limited to the fashion industry. China has been acquiring many European manufacturing companies, including machine manufacturing firms. For instance, they bought the German company Kuka, known for its orange robotic arms. They’ve also purchased numerous textile machine manufacturers because manufacturing will be one of the significant leaps forward. In Europe, manufacturing needs to return to the continent, especially from the perspective of reducing carbon footprint. We can’t afford the carbon cost of shipping products back and forth anymore. This is true across all industries. Take the example of canned peaches: they’re harvested in one place, shipped elsewhere to be sorted, and then shipped again to be cut, filled, and so on. The old business model, where it was okay to ship large quantities of goods across the world, is no longer viable because carbon footprint is now both a commodity and a cost factor.

Italy holds some of the top three most valuable fashion brands in the fashion industry in Europe, and I was on stage at the Venice Sustainability Fashion Forum, precisely warning about this sea change. It felt like I was sitting on the Titanic—the ship is sinking but the orchestra is still playing. I am very worried. Seriously, I deeply care about fashion. Fashion represents heritage, identity, innovation, and creativity. That’s what it used to be about. However, all this has been forgotten in the last 30 years as innovation halted. The industry became isolated, no longer incorporating new, fresh perspectives. We’ve seen what happens when rigid industries become too complacent: they are overtaken by external forces and individuals. Look at the hospitality industry with Airbnb, transportation with Uber, and music with Spotify. They were in the same situation as old, complacent industries. Could you imagine if the traditional radio industry had come up with something like Spotify? No, but what those disruptive founders all had in common was a passion for the topic, a sense of annoyance towards the status quo, and they came equipped with new tools and a lot of money. This is, of course, also going to happen in the fashion industry.

As a lesson, just look at all the other sectors and how it’s happened. It’s very similar. Take the automotive industry, for example. Decades ago in Europe, all the automotive brands bought up battery research and hydrogen companies and shelved them because they threatened their old business model. And then someone named Elon Musk, coming from a completely different industry and with a lot of money, said: .’ Okay, we’re going to change everything. You have to follow our lead’. It proves there is nothing too big to fail. You have to work on survival every day.

A.B. : So you’re saying that if we set up this new business model, it will eventually be followed by the rest of the industries in the world.

L.L. : Yes. Other industries are also looking at the fashion industry as a new business opportunity. For example, look at the gaming industry venturing into fashion. By revenue, the biggest’ fashion house’ in the world is already Fortnite, with its digital skins. They’re completely digital and have their users’ credit cards stored. From a broader perspective, Europe’s shift towards on-ground manufacturing and regulation compliance is mainly feasible through digitalisation and the ability to track and trace.

The fashion industry is worth $4.1 trillion worldwide, which is more significant than many industries in the spotlight for sustainability and innovation. A business-savvy person would look at the fashion industry and see an old industry struggling to change, whereas they should already be able to do so. It will create disruptions and significant shifts, but hasn’t that always been the case? Big players like Steve Jobs didn’t stop because something seemed impossible. It’s only about the financial potential. What stops companies like Spotify, Fortnite, or even Telekom from entering the fashion industry? Nothing. It’s the logical next step. So, an upheaval will take place, almost like a mass extinction that will involve many companies. The fashion industry itself is unstable and hasn’t invested much in innovation. Many companies are always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Look what’s happening in Germany now—the amount of bankruptcies in the fashion and retail sector has increased by 60% compared to last year. The music on the Titanic is over now, and the ship is sinking quickly.

A.B. : What is also happening now is a crisis in China. There’s a crisis everywhere, and everyone is very nervous about this. The problem is that we also, in some way, want to rethink capitalism itself, I am guessing, starting from the very bottom.

L.L. : Yes. Because there’s also the aspect of mental health and well-being, and we are dealing with a lot of climate anxiety. What can we do? What’s happening with fashion now, gradually, is an increasing awareness surrounding the fact that fashion is one of the greatest polluters in the world. This realisation is changing the perception of fashion as being necessarily cool. We can see that working in this backwards-thinking fashion industry is no longer as attractive, and people are starting to leave. Wearing a certain brand has become a statement. We’ve seen a similar shift happening with fur. Now, there’s a new narrative around ‘fossil fashion.’ If a brand lacks transparency and is a known polluter, using a lot of petroleum, often sourced from places like Russia, then wearing that brand can lead to being ostracised by peers. It’s about what the brand represents, and that representation is shifting. The debate around fossil fashion is now increasing engagement in vintage and reselling practices and making these concepts cool. Watch what will happen on the international stage, especially at COP, the world’s biggest Climate Summit. We at Climate KIC are facilitating the Creative Impact Day at the United Nations Global Innovation Pavilion (UGIH), with a big focus on fashion. There, we’ll focus on solutions, not only talking. That time is over.

I haven’t bought new things for a long time because I’m just renting and reselling through Vinted, Vestiaire Collective, and other vintage platforms. And the cool thing about them is that they have an excellent business model and are completely digital. To which brand in Italy can I say: ‘Show me your customers’ data. Which one of your items has broken several times? Which one gets shipped here and there? Which one has the least or most sustainable footprint?’ In all the other industries, they are able to tell you. So, for me, this has happened over and over again in different industries and topics. The fashion industry has been asleep until now because they were so busy focusing on themselves. And if we are not telling them, who will? We must point them in the right direction because they will be overtaken before realising what’s happening if they don’t get it. This has repeatedly happened to other industries.

A.B. : What would be the first step for the fashion industry to prepare for this change?

L.L. : What gives me hope is that I know there is a solution. The question is only whether the current fashion industry will be able to adapt fast enough or will be entirely erased in the process.

Again, look into other industries that are already highly transparent and proactive. Apple enabled its own patent for the USB-C to be used as a standard for everyone. Unilever shared its new ice cream receipt, so we need less cooling to store ice cream. When Tesla became a major threat to the traditional automotive industry, the brands came together to share IP and budgets in order to excel and become competitive again.

Fashion, look beyond and learn from others! Most importantly—consolidate and collaborate! None of you, big or small, will be able to endeavour this on your own. At COP, we will call for a big, consolidated roundtable in Brussels in 2024. We all must come together and agree to share information and budgets. That’s the only way forward. Only by joining forces can we be stronger, as has been demonstrated in other industries. I know, especially in the fashion industry, that from a cultural perspective, collaboration and openness are not as normalised as in other sectors. And that could be one of their downfalls because the culture of collaboration and transparency is not part of the fashion industry. But let’s not despair. This will be really interesting, and it will be a huge opportunity for everyone willing to change. I’m very excited for all the young designers to come because it will offer them an opportunity for change.

So I am asking you—if the only other option is to die, would you at least consider something entirely out of your nature, just in order to survive?

When I ended the call with Lisa Lang, I was in shock because no expert or sustainability activist in the fashion industry had ever presented the story in such harsh, uncompromising, and realistic terms. Simply doing some upcycling or using some recycled polyester will no longer suffice. The system needs to be rethought in its entirety starting from today. If not, there may be no tomorrow left for it.

I’m tired of talking about me.


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Comply or Die, the future of fashion and the industry’s potential mass extinction