Degrowth & fashion: future allies or eternal enemies?

Degrowth & fashion: future allies or eternal enemies?

Degrowth is a social movement, a political debate, and an academic field of research. “An equitable reduction in production and consumption that increases human well-being and improves ecological conditions at the local and global level, in the short and long term” as Schneidera and Kallis say. As a matter of fact, the economic growth model of long-term economic growth depends on the accumulation of capital, the growth of labour or population and the increase in productivity largely determined by technological progress. In the fashion industry, ongoing allegations of exploitation of clothing workers have prompted legislation to take greater account of social impact. The concept of Sustainability in itself takes into account not only environmental, but also economic and social impact.

So, it really possible a sustainable growth or should we start to accept that we need to slow down as a society and accept that the growth cannot be forever to be sustainable?


Hence the idea that a “degrowth” is necessary to really find a balance between human beings and the planet. On the other hand, the 2030 agenda embraces the challenge of finding a just transition. In this regard, many high fashion companies are acting to support this purpose, such as the Prada ocean conservation program “Kindergarten of the Lagoon” and the support from Fendi that with the. program “Hand in Hand” aims to support local craft workshops. As stated by Lorenzo Bertelli, head of corporate social responsibility:

“The dream is to move towards stakeholder capitalism and create a stronger balance between people and the environment”.

Despite the numerous campaigns made by various brands of haute couture, surely it should not be forgotten that green washing is a real problem that obstructs the just transition and indeed feeds a mechanism of inequality. So it will be time to make us understand who really is on the path of change always showing transparency and who is just pretending.

To do so, with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), European Union (EU) legislation that came into effect on January 5, 2023 which mandates European companies (including qualified EU branches of non-European companies) to disclose their social and environmental impacts and the effects of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) actions on their business. The purpose of the CSRD is to provide clarity to assist investors, analysts, consumers, and other stakeholders in better assessing the sustainability performance of EU companies, as well as related business impacts and risks. In fact, introduced as part of the European Commission’s Sustainable Finance Package, the CSRD significantly expands the scope, sustainability disclosure, and reporting requirements from the previous Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). The directive’s reporting is based on the concept of the so called “double materiality”, which means that organizations must disclose information on how their business activities impact the planet and people, and how sustainability goals, measures, and risks affect the company’s financial health. For instance, apart from requiring an organization to report its energy consumption and costs, CSRD mandates the communication of emission metrics detailing the impact of energy usage on the environment, reduction targets, and information on how achieving these goals will affect the organization’s finances and all these information disclosed must be made available to the public and reviewed by third parties tasked with verifying its accuracy and completeness.[1]


In addition to the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the efforts of high fashion companies towards sustainability, another crucial aspect of achieving sustainable growth lies in fostering a shift in societal values and consumption patterns. Education and awareness campaigns can play a vital role in promoting responsible consumption, ethical production practices, and environmental stewardship. By educating consumers about the true costs of fast fashion and the importance of supporting sustainable and ethical brands, a cultural shift can occur where sustainability becomes a key consideration in purchasing decisions. Furthermore, governments and regulatory bodies can incentivize sustainable practices through policies such as tax breaks for ecofriendly businesses, subsidies for renewable energy adoption, and stricter regulations on harmful practices. Collaborative initiatives between governments, businesses, and civil society can also drive innovation and promote sustainable solutions across industries.


Another crucial aspect to consider in the pursuit of sustainable growth is innovation and technology: in fact, advancements in technology can play a significant role in driving sustainability across various industries, including fashion. For example, the development of sustainable materials, such as labgrown fabrics, bio-based textiles, and recycled materials, can reduce the environmental impact of clothing production. Additionally, innovations in supply chain management, such as blockchain technology for transparency and traceability, can enhance ethical sourcing practices and reduce the risk of exploitation in the fashion supply chain. Moreover, investing in renewable energy sources and adopting eco-friendly manufacturing processes can further contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. Companies that prioritize sustainability in their operations and not only focusing on the economic growth, can mitigate environmental risks and alos position themselves as leaders in innovation and responsible business practices, which can attract environmentally conscious consumers and investors.


Regarding the concept of degrowth, Robert Kennedy’s speech from 1968 serves as a reminder of how the “growth” alone cannot be an wellness index, connecting it to the GPD growth of a Nation:

“We will never find a purpose for our nation or personal satisfaction in the mere pursuit of economic well-being, in endlessly amassing material goods.

We cannot measure the national spirit by the Dow-Jones index, nor the country’s successes by the Gross Domestic Product.

GDP includes air pollution and cigarette advertising, as well as ambulances to clear our highways from weekend carnage.

GDP accounts for special locks on our doors, and prisons for those who try to break them. It includes television programs that glorify violence to sell violent products to our children. It grows with the production of napalm, missiles, and nuclear warheads, and includes research to improve the dissemination of bubonic plague. It increases with the equipment police use to quell riots and rises even more as slums are rebuilt from their ashes.

GDP does not consider the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their leisure time. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of family values, the intelligence of our debates, or the honesty of our public officials. It does not account for justice in our courts or fairness in our relationships. GDP does not measure our wit, courage, wisdom, or knowledge, nor our compassion or devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life truly worth living. It can tell us everything about America, but not if we can be proud to be Americans.”


In light of Kennedy’s insights, achieving sustainable growth in industries like fashion necessitates a comprehensive and mindful approach. It involves not only economic prosperity but also ethical considerations, environmental stewardship, and social well-being. Embracing technological advancements for eco-friendly materials and transparent supply chains is crucial, alongside responsible business practices and adherence to regulatory frameworks promoting sustainability.

Moreover, educating consumers about sustainable choices and fostering collaboration among stakeholders are also key elements. For these reasons, Kennedy’s speech prompts us to reflect on the broader impacts of economic activities beyond GDP figures. It underscores the importance of transparency, accountability, and a genuine commitment to sustainability in steering industries towards a greener, more equitable, and sustainable future. By integrating these principles into business strategies and societal norms, we can strive for a balanced and resilient global economy that prioritizes the well-being of both people and the planet.


In conclusion, achieving sustainable growth in industries like fashion demands a multifaceted and holistic approach. This entails embracing technological innovation for eco-friendly materials and supply chain transparency, practicing responsible business ethics, adhering to regulatory frameworks like the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, educating consumers about sustainable choices, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders. While the concept of degrowth prompts reflection on the sustainability of perpetual economic expansion, a balanced and resilient future is attainable through sustainable practices, regulations, education, and collaborative efforts. Transparency, accountability, and a genuine commitment to sustainability are pivotal in steering industries toward a greener, more equitable, and sustainable global economy that benefits both people and the planet.