The intellectual property in sustainable fashion: standards are up to the mark
Johanna Gibson
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At the most recent ChangeNOW Summit,1 held in Paris on 26 May 2023, more than 30 mayors of European cities signed The Declaration for the Support of Slow Fashion (The Slow Fashion Declaration),2 calling upon Member States of the European Union, the G7/G20, and the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the United Nations ‘to denounce fast fashion and the economic harm it is causing their cities and the planet’.3 The Declaration describes a multifactorial approach to address fashion’s environmental impact, ranging from labour and social impact, environmental standards in materials and textiles, through to mandatory labelling and the regulation of fast fashion advertising. Incentives will be directed not only at compliance but also at achieving a radical transformation of fashion business models through taxation incentives, financial support, and public procurement. A few days later, on 1 June 2023, the European Parliament voted to adopt the proposal for a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence,4 which will introduce specific reporting obligations and accountability. It also voted to adopt the EU Strategy on Sustainable and Circular Textiles,5 which aims to develop ecodesign standards in design, manufacturing, and disposal. Just over two weeks later, on 15 June 2023, the Environment Committee voted in favour of their report for the EU proposal for the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation,6 which will now move to plenary and trilogues.7 And just a few months ago, on 22 March 2023, the proposal for the Green Claims Directive, was published.8

There appears to be a lot happening, and for good reason. That the fashion industry is an industry with an enormous environmental impact is no longer just a proposition, it is an alarming fact. The fashion industry is now recognized as one of the most polluting industries in the world,9 being responsible for as much as 8–10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions,10 a number predicted to rise by around 50 per cent by 203011 if the industry does not invoke radical changes. Fashion is also responsible for 20 per cent of the world’s water use,12 with reportedly 10 000 litres of water required to produce one kilogram of cotton.13 Fashion is credited with a huge wastage problem from both overproduction and the discarding of product, with around 87 per cent of textiles destined for landfill or incineration,14 or around 10 000 items ending up in landfill every five minutes,15 or a truckload a second.16 Items are getting fewer wears, are being discarded more quickly, and replaced even more quickly by fast fashion brands producing 500–1000 new styles each week,17 or even faster fast fashion, reportedly producing between 2000 and 10 000 new styles a day.18 Fashion’s footprint also continues for the life of the product, with greater recognition of the ongoing impact of after sales care and maintenance of products. A significant contribution to the growing circulation of microfibres and microplastics in ecosystems, water sources, and even the air we breathe, comes from the washing of clothing.19

The fundamental question, which goes to the heart of fashion’s legacy of overproduction, is how to make less and sell ‘more’. In other words, how might the continued growth of the fashion industry be reconciled with a reduction in volume? When the fashion industry, an industry of such economic importance,20 is so obviously driven by trends, replacement, and consumer rivalries, this question seems an impossible riddle. But intellectual property may have a particular role to play in solving that riddle. Intellectual property has been so successful at translating ideas into objects, and the brand and fashion consumer relationship into units, that it seems inconceivable that the value of intellectual property in fashion might be found not in volume but in genuinely intangible alternatives such as duration, community, and even entertainment. In manifesting that value, intellectual property has a crucial role to play, somewhat flipping the table. Fashion is an industry driven by the value of image, the display of taste, the salience of identity, and the stylings of aesthetic communities. Therefore, intellectual property is not merely ideally positioned for addressing a shift in fashion values; indeed, it should be purposefully mobilized in the charge. What can the intellectual property system do to help solve the fashion system’s sustainability crisis? But first, what is sustainability?


At its simplest, sustainability is an accountability beyond the individual relation towards a wider responsibility to and within the environment in the broadest sense. A fuller understanding of sustainability arguably benefits from an ecosystem approach, a term that has become endemic in discussions of a range of industries, including fashion, both within and without the context of sustainability. I will return to the discussion of the ecosystem concept in a moment, but when the term was first introduced in 1935 by Arthur Tansley,21 it introduced the relevance of ‘the habitat factors in the widest sense’.22 Tansley explains that while ‘organisms may claim our primary interest, when we are trying to think fundamentally we cannot separate them from their special environment, with which they form one physical system’.23 But to understand sustainability in the policy context, the general approach is not through sustainability, as such, but through the concept of sustainable development.

The common meaning of sustainable development is largely the one provided in the 1987 Report of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), which defined sustainable development as development which ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, and as such ‘[t]he concept of sustainable development does imply limits … [b]ut technology and social organization can be both managed and improved to make way for a new era of economic growth’.24 The definition is thus both intergenerational as well as focused upon use, management, and maintenance of resources, requiring ‘systematic attention to the renewal of natural resources’ and ‘a holistic approach focused on ecosystems at national, regional, and global levels’.25 Sustainable development is understood to have three pillars – economic, social, and environmental – and this can be recognized throughout various policy instruments.26

In relation to the concept of sustainability itself, the implication is that sustainability is a goal or endpoint with national boundaries, and that it is sustainable development that is the overarching global concern. The Report states: ‘No single blueprint of sustainability will be found, as economic and social systems of ecological conditions differ widely among countries … Yet irrespective of these differences, sustainable development should be seen as a global objective’.27 In the context of discussions concerning energy, the Report identifies the following as key elements of sustainability, all of which are concerned with energy flow and use: growth of energy supplies sufficient to meet development needs and growth; energy efficiency and conservation together with minimization of waste; public health and safety in relation to energy sources; and the protection of the biosphere and prevention of pollution.28 And, although the Report does not provide a definition of sustainability as such, instead providing examples of what sustainability is not, nevertheless there is a key emphasis on resisting a purely economic calculation and quantification of sustainable development. The Report declares that sustainability must take into account variables beyond the purely economic: ‘Sustainability requires views of human needs and well-being that incorporate such non-economic variables as education and health enjoyed for their own sake, clean air and water, and the protection of natural beauty’.29 Importantly, what this shows is that appropriate action for sustainability means a more critical understanding of the wider consequences and impact of policymaking in view of the intersecting interests and commonalities, all of which may demand legislative reform30 as well as ‘major changes in international economic relations’.31


While the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development have become globalized, as it were, in the environmental context,32 continued questions as to whether sustainability is ‘only’ about the environment betray the very problem that is at its core; namely, the persistent misapprehension that some sort of separation of environmental, cultural, and economic spheres is possible, rather than an appreciation of the commonalities and necessary flows of accountability and connectedness that underpin both the climate crisis and effective strategies for restoration. Sustainability in its fullest sense is a relational concept, but it has been translated in the global north into commercial and economic frameworks in which it appears to be assimilated in the form of measurable products and objective goals,33 as distinct from being directed towards genuine paradigmatic shifts and behavioural change. The damaging assumption is that behaviour does not need to change if technological and other measures can provide for a recalculation of the balance.

But while the origin of the term ‘sustainable development’ is frequently attributed to the Brundtland Commission,34 the understanding and implementation of sustainable development policymaking was in evidence at least two decades earlier in the global south. Sustainable development and conservation of resources formed the basis of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (the Algiers Convention) in 1968,35 which includes accountability to what are clearly the three pillars of sustainability: ‘In the formulation of all development plans, full consideration shall be given to ecological, as well as to economic and social factors’.36 Further, the Convention demonstrates throughout an appreciation of and accountability to the interconnected (as distinct from territorial) nature of sustainable development.37 Subsequently, in 2002, the African Union was created, and in the codification of the framework in the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the promotion of ‘sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies’, was declared as a specific objective.38 Thus, it was not the developed north, but the global south that was the first to address sustainable development through environment and conservation in a multilateral policy context, and to provide a working understanding of sustainable development in all but name. While this approach to sustainable development would nevertheless go on to be adopted and denominated in the Brundtland Report and more widely, a drift from the primary emphasis on the environment and management of natural resources is recognized in its translation into a western, globalized context.39 There are of course pre-industrial practices in the west that have continued to be resilient in the face of industrialization, most notably the example of German forestry, which is often credited as one of the more systematic progenitors of modern sustainability practices.40 However, in the context of intergovernmental and official policymaking, the Algiers Convention is a critical moment that receives less emphasis in the history of the concept of sustainable development than might be expected.


But if, ‘[t]here is nothing, it seems, that cannot be described as “sustainable”: apparently everything can be either hyphenated or paired with it’,41 then the same can be said of the concept of ecosystem. But in a way this ‘buzzword’42 character not only makes absolute sense but also is a genuine application, if managed carefully. Sustainability is, to paraphrase the African Convention, a fundamental principle that must govern all use of resources,43 encompassing the environment and all its inhabitants, including people, as distinct from the abridged meaning of sustainable if understood only in its life as an adjective or a product character. And ecosystem is a concept entirely appropriate to the relational, operational, and consequential properties of sustainable processes and multispecies societies and economies. The adjectival use of sustainable in relation to products or industries or other ‘entities’ or ‘units’ is perhaps misleading or even damaging. There is no such thing as a sustainable product. Why do I say this?

Because sustainable does not and cannot describe a product, as such. Sustainable describes the processes and behaviours involved in producing that product. Thus, sustainable development should describe a transformation of processes and procedures towards not only producing but also using, reusing, and disposing of products. To describe a product as sustainable in any one moment makes a nonsense of the term. A product in and of itself does not remain sustainable from moment to moment. It is a commitment that lasts its lifetime. What matters is different processes of sustainability throughout the product’s life and throughout its circulation within the product ecosystem. A product may be sustainably produced, but that does not make it a sustainable product. That makes it a sustainably produced product. In the rest of its life it encounters other processes, relationships, and interactions for which sustainable processes and behaviours may apply. What about its care? What about its trade? What about its disposal? And most importantly, what about its use?

As use, sustainability is thus about relations; that is, it describes contact. However, sustainable use of resources is not a merely dyadic relation between the user and product; rather, it must account for the interference of relations of use throughout that product’s ecosystem, and throughout the community of not only users but also non-users as well. Building upon the commonalities and relational qualities of Tansley’s concept of ecosystem, while we may have a particular interest in the fashion product, ‘when we are trying to think fundamentally we cannot separate them from their special environment, with which they form one physical system’.44 Sustainability thus shows the way in which non-use is still a relation to resources, to products, and to other users, as well as the way in which use of one resource may interfere with the use of another. This interconnectedness forces a rethink of the ways in which knowledge and resources are commodified, quantified, and unified in the language of western property and of intellectual property; proprietary qualifications that are wholly inconsistent with the realities of overlapping properties, mobile territories, and ethological renderings of space. The use of land is connected to the sustainability of language,45 local materials may be vital to the sustainability of music,46 or unsustainable use of plant species may be a loss to dance.47

Sustainability is a concept that invokes the commonalities of human beings in their interactions with the environment, and with other inhabitants of that environment. Sustainability is not merely in the management of ecosystems; rather, the meaning of sustainability is inextricably bound up in the expressive force of an ecosystematic approach to use. As an enduring relation, rather than a warranted product, sustainability appears to present particular challenges to the fashion system and indeed to the logic of intellectual property. If there is no such thing as a sustainable product, what is fashion selling? And if there is no possibility or relevance of an artefactual approach to value, what is intellectual property commodifying? The answer is the most important thing of all in any ecosystem – standards.


Trade marks and certification marks have already been deployed in creating a sustainable fashion industry. Marks are not only vital for implementing, promoting, and disseminating standards, but also instrumental in the desirability of standards through the very aesthetic and cultural value of the mark itself. Indeed, the communication of sustainable production through labelling, including trade marks and certification marks, has been shown to promote sustainable consumption practices among consumers as well in what is known as the nudge or nudging.48 Where information on the sustainable choice is provided in verbal form, ‘consumers are more likely to choose this piece of clothing compared to the non-sustainable version of the clothing piece’.49 It would seem to follow that in the accumulation of communicative value in a trade mark, and perhaps even more effectively in a certification mark where processes may be more stringently endorsed, the mark as sign can convey efficiently and quickly the sustainable choice with accuracy and impact.

There are indeed individual brand initiatives that appear to be pursuing this logic. Stella McCartney has several registrations for the mark, Fur Free Fur, which is applied to faux fur apparel and accessories.50 As well as communicating a particular ethical objective and the use of the mark as an activist sign, the mark communicates desirability, exclusivity, and luxury attached to a textile that might previously have been considered less prestigious. The mark thus performs the essential function of a trade mark, while at the same time persuading the consumer towards a cruelty-free aesthetic as not merely an option, but the desirable option. Thus, in its use in the course of trade, the trade mark influences textile standards through the ordinary processes of advertising and competition.

The ultra-fast fashion label, SHEIN, is even more explicit in deploying trade marks in the service of developing standards. On 28 April 2022, SHEIN announced the launch of evoluSHEIN51 as ‘an affordable option for customers seeking to make a positive impact with their product choices’,52 which is accompanied by the evoluSHEIN by Design Standard, which includes a requirement for more than 30 per cent preferred materials (‘recycled polyester, forest-safe viscose, rescued deadstock’) and production with suppliers achieving ‘high social and environmental compliance verification through third-party audits’.53 The standard extends to production facilities, shipping, and packaging using ‘more’ sustainable content, although the exact targets are not immediately clear.54 It remains to be seen, but at least on the face of it, the evoluSHEIN example is a strategic move in the use of trade marks to move sustainability away from the domain of luxury and into fast fashion, while quietly introducing standards in this particular sector of the market which may ultimately become obligatory through the need to compete.

And while there already exists the EU Ecolabel, which is a European Union certification mark for ecodesign products, including fashion, the Slow Fashion Declaration calls for the adoption of ‘a European Slow Fashion Label, which informs consumers about the origin and the environmental impact of the clothes they buy’.

In all of these initiatives and many more, the value is in the making.


In the application of terms such as ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ in fashion there is a trust issue with brands. In many respects, future adoption of any of the proposals for mandatory labelling may improve consumer experiences and confidence in sustainable choices. But in the use of trade marks and certification marks, a steady creep of standards (although acceleration of the process is needed) is possible. Rather than using the market to race to the bottom, implementing standards within the context of branding facilitates competition through the aesthetics of sustainability. The value of a well-managed certification mark is not only to the participants in the mark, but also to the consumer, who otherwise carries the burden of determining for themselves whether choices are sustainable. Imposing such labour on the consumer in the shopping enterprise means that sustainability will either go unnoticed or unsearched. To recall the importance of the nudge, the information needs to be there at the point of purchase, without interrupting the process, and that is where the importance of the information assembled through the function of the mark is of crucial value socially and commercially.

The relevant property, or value, therefore is that of the process rather than the product. Throughout fashion an emphasis on story is being presented as key to revolutionizing the fashion business model and reconciling growth with a reduction in volume. That story becomes familiar through its repetition in the marks themselves, which develop a summative and compelling, living account of the brand’s story. But in linking story and process, a conventional perspective on the fashion product or property must be transformed by an understanding of fashion not as property but as regulatory, so to speak, in relation to process and story. Indeed, this is the very nature of the ‘property’ underpinning geographical indications. Neither the trade mark in relation to the story, nor the geographical indication in relation to a product, is acting like property in relation to a product. Rather, in both instances, intellectual property is offering a kind of regulatory approach to the process and conditions of production – potential tools in not only the safeguarding but also ultimately the mainstreaming of sustainable production in fashion. Current developments in geographical indications for non-agricultural products are of great interest here.


Back in 2015, speaking at a conference, I discussed the interaction between sustainability, luxury, and geographical indications,55 all in the context of the discussions underway in the European Commission at the time around the potential application of geographical indications to non-agricultural products.56 In the presentation I suggested that achieving steps towards sustainability may also differentiate luxury on a scale quite apart from price, quality, and exclusivity. If sustainability were to become aspirational not only socially but also, in a sense, aesthetically, then the industry may be in a position to facilitate social impact while fulfilling commercial objectives.

At the same time, and in the same presentation, I noted the interaction between sustainability and tradition. In particular, the place of traditional knowledge in textile production, such as Harris Tweed, emphasizes sustainability as both a cultural tool and an integral character of traditional forms of cultural transmission.57 As in the earlier discussion of trade marks and certification marks, geographical indications also present the potential for creating and embedding standards in processes of production, Harris Tweed being a significant example of this. And in its incorporation into many fashion products and many varied brands, it introduces a particular standard in sustainable textiles that has the potential to mobilize sustainability in other contexts and across different markets.

The discussion of sustainability in the context of traditional knowledge is not revolutionary; and the potential advantages of luxury in promoting a sustainable approach are similarly known. But to consider traditional forms of cultural transmission in the context of contemporary fashion is somewhat less emphasized, particularly when it comes to reinforcing luxury in the particularity and social impact of place, rather than the exclusivity of product.58 Combining sustainability and tradition with contemporary fashion and its commercialization is perhaps less readily considered. Indeed, notwithstanding gestures to legacy and history in the context of brand authenticity, the fashion system is otherwise averse to (and indeed intellectual property law is logically opposed to) a perceived ossification through tradition in deference to an agreed desirability in innovation at pace.59 But in fact, there is nothing about tradition that resists innovation; rather, tradition is about transmission.60 And in this respect, traditional knowledge has much to offer the question of sustainability in fashion, not just in terms of product, but in terms of process. Indeed, in this link between sustainability, tradition, and place there is the potential for decolonizing not only sustainability policies but also the fashion system itself.61

In drawing together sustainability, tradition, and the fashion industry, there is the potential for traditional craft to be valued not as a mere commodity or resource to be mined and expropriated but as a quality and process to revere, a precious cultural and community resource to be recognized.62 This is especially relevant when considering the life of the product, and traditional skills in mending and repair, as well as in the wider debates around insourcing and outsourcing manufacturing. Indeed, now, some years later, geographical indications for non-agricultural products are back, with a focus on sustainability and tradition. A proposal for a regulation on geographical indication protection for craft and industrial products was published on 13 April 2022,63 explicitly acknowledging, among other things, the link between geographical indications, traditional craft, and objectives on sustainable textiles. The Explanatory Memorandum, in providing context to the proposal, notes that ‘[t]he proposal also shares specific objectives with the Commission’s forthcoming EU strategy on sustainable textiles, which aims to create a better business and regulatory environment for sustainable and circular textiles within the Union’, and, in particular, strengthens the investment and commercial environment for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) operating in the ‘textiles ecosystem’ that would otherwise ‘find it hard to develop intellectual property strategies to protect their research & development investments and raise growth capital. The establishment of [a Union-wide] GI protection for CI products should therefore help MSMEs in this context’.64 And on 2 May 2023, following trilogue discussions, agreement was reached by Council and Parliament and will now proceed to the final vote and formal adoption. It is expected to come into force in early 2024, thus extending geographical indications to craft and industrial products for the first time in Europe and providing further intellectual property tools in the potential standardization of sustainable practices.

But can standards also introduce desire? And can fashion grow through the desire for process, rather than the production of product?


The e-commerce site, eBay, became the first pre-loved fashion partner65 of ITV’s Love Island66 in 2022, replacing fashion etailer, I Saw It First.67 In its first year, the partnership resulted in a reported 24 per cent increase in new businesses joining the online marketplace, an astonishing 1600 per cent increase in searches for ‘pre-loved’,68 and ultimately the renewal of the fashion sponsorship.69 Then in May 2023, eBay became headline sponsor of the programme,70 which includes branding the channel idents,71 or short breaks, throughout the main programme and its related Unseen Bits and Aftersun. Putting circular fashion into the entertainment context appears to be achieving the impossible, gaining traction with a viewership traditionally aligned with fast fashion.72 It does this by acknowledging the circulation of fashion and entertainment within the one ecosystem which fashion consumers, and traditionally fast fashion consumers, are using and through which they are engaging. When it comes to resale, the consumer has already invested and the product continues to circulate, reforming the fashion consumer as both entertainer and entertained. What is intriguing about the Love Island and eBay partnership is that this presentation of fashion through entertainment also assists in engaging consumers in sustainability and circular fashion as a fun or even entertaining process. It is an example of a brand co-branding with a television programme, but in fact co-branding with fan communities which are already motivated towards collective action. To present sustainability as entertainment in this way facilitates the sort of cooperative response that is essential.

In this resale ecosystem, consumers are developing a desire not for a particular brand identity, as the product brands are many and varied, but rather, a sustainable aesthetic sense, a sustainable taste that is motivated by focusing not on the individual or on the product, but on the ecosystem. In this context, eBay is operating in ways similar to a certification mark, endorsing a particular process behind the collection of products (resale) rather than a brand identity through the products themselves. The principles are the same – the mark emerges as a kind of regulatory principle as distinct from conventions of products and merchandising. In all these examples, the marks are creating a desire and aesthetic for sustainability. In this context, marks are becoming more important largely through their capacity for communication with other marks, such as recycling partners and other examples of co-branding through processes and sustainable practices.

The approach to sustainability in fashion through an appreciation of the ecosystem is a kind of systemic accountability that is ordinarily associated with restoration ecology whereby nature is always already in an inextricable relationship with humans, who are always already responsible and culpable as they move through those spaces. Thus, an ecosystem is never just about the ‘natural’, and indeed to maintain that view is itself anthropocentric. It also adheres to a troubling separation of nature and culture that erects a persistent obstacle to achieving comprehensive approaches to sustainability. We can see in the fashion system itself the flow of energy from plants to textiles to consumers and then some. In managing these relations, made sensible through standards, manifest through systems of objects, intellectual property has a crucial role to play.

As Vivienne Westwood famously once said, ‘I’m the proof. You can’t throw away tradition’.

June 2023

  • 1

    ChangeNOW is a non-governmental organization established in 2017 with a focus on environmental solutions and implementation. The ChangeNOW Summit is an annual event aimed at facilitating environmental and sustainable programmes and solutions. See further <>. Elements of the fashion industry have participated and contributed to the Summits, including Kering: ‘Joining forces with ChangeNOW, the

    “summit of solutions for the planet”, from its inception, Kering reaffirms its support for the fifth consecutive year’ <>.

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  • 2

    The Declaration is open to signature by cities and regions and the full text is available at <>.

  • 3

    ChangeNOW. Press Release, ‘European City Mayors Sign Pioneering Declaration to Drive Sustainable Fashion’, 26 May 2023 <>.

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  • 4

    COM(2022) 71 final.

  • 5

    COM(2022) 141 final.

  • 6

    COM(2022) 142 final.

  • 7

    The new proposal is part of the European Commission’s package of European Green Deal proposals announced 30 March 2022, ‘to make sustainable products the norm in the EU’: European Commission. Green Deal: New proposals to make sustainable products the norm and boost Europe’s resource independence. Press Release (IP/22/2013) 30 March 2022. The package also includes: the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Working Plan 2022–2024, (2022/C 182/01); and the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, COM(2022) 141 final.

  • 8

    Proposal for a Directive on substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims (Green Claims Directive), COM(2023) 166 final.

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  • 9

    UN News reports that the fashion industry is ‘the second most polluting industry in the world’, with carbon emissions equivalent to ‘more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined’:

    UN News, ‘UN Launches Drive to Highlight Environmental Cost of Staying Fashionable’, 24 March 2019 <>.

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    See further, European Parliament, ‘The Impact of Textile Production and Waste on the Environment’, 5 June 2023 (updated) <>.

  • 10

    Niinimäki K et al. , '‘The Environmental Price of Fast Fashion’ ' (2020 ) 1 Nature Reviews Earth and Environment : 189 -200.

  • 11

    Quantis (2018) Measuring Fashion: Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries Study. Report. Reflects a predicted rise to 149 per cent from 2016 levels (ie 5–10 per cent).

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  • 12

    UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), ‘From Catwalk to Landfill: Tackling Waste in the Fashion Industry’, 10 November 2022 <>.

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  • 13

    H Adams, ‘How Much Water Do You Wear, Asks GAP’, Sustainability Magazine, 12 November 2021.

  • 14

    Moazzem S et al. , '‘Environmental Impact of Discarded Apparel Landfilling and Recycling’ ' (2021 ) Resources, Conservation and Recycling : 166 105338.

  • 15

    D Shadijanova, ‘Will Fast Fashion Ever End?’, The Face, 14 February 2022.

  • 16

    Ellen MacArthur Foundation & Circular Fibres Initiative, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future (2017).

  • 17

    For example, Zara produces 20 000 new styles each year:

    G Allon, ‘The Fashion Industry’s Dirtiest Secret’, Business Insider, 23 December 2022 <>.

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  • 18

    A Rajvanshi, ‘Shein is the World’s Most Popular Fashion Brand – at a Huge Cost to Us All’, Time Magazine, 17 January 2023 <>.

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  • 19

    Kvasnicka J et al. , '‘Textile Washing Conveys SVOCs from Indoors to Outdoors’ ' (2021 ) 55 Environmental Science and Technology : 12517 -27.

    ; Y Cai et al., ‘Systematic Study of Microplastic Fiber Release from 12 Different Polyester Textiles during Washing’ (2020) 54 Environmental Science and Technology 4847–55.

  • 20

    In the UK, the market size of the clothing retailing industry for 2022 was £40.8bn: IBISWorld, Clothing Retailing in the UK: Market Research Report, 21 November 2022. See further

    Office of National Statistics (ONS), ‘Economic Trends in the Retail Sector, Great Britain: 1989 to 2021’, 27 July 2021.

  • 21

    Tansley AG , '‘The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms’ ' (1935 ) 16 (3 ) Ecology : 284 -307.

    . The term itself is said to have been invented by Tansley’s friend, Arthur Roy Clapham, in response to a request from Tansley: AJ Willis, ‘Arthur Roy Clapham: 24 May 1904–18 December 1990’ (1994) 39 Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 72–90, 81.

  • 22

    Tansley (n 21) 299.

  • 23

    ibid 299. Taking a systems perspective to sustainability is key to an integrated approach, as discussed in

    Ben-Eli MU , '‘Sustainability: Definition and Five Core Principles, a Systems Perspective’ ' (2018 ) 13 Sustainability Science : 1337 -43.

  • 24

    Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. A/42/427 (4 August 1987), page 24, para 27.

  • 25

    ibid, chapter 5, page 146, para 106.

  • 26

    For example, see the European Commission’s page concerned with Trade and Sustainable Development <>. See further the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. A/42/427 (4 August 1987), on ‘A Sustainable World Economy’, where it notes the three pillars in relation to global economic growth: chapter 2, page 96, para 72. See further

    Purvis B et al. , '‘Three Pillars of Sustainability: In Search of Conceptual Origins’ ' (2019 ) 14 Sustainability Science : 681 -95.

  • 27

    Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. A/42/427 (4 August 1987), chapter 1, page 51, para 51. See further chapter 2, which contextualizes sustainability with a comprehensive account of sustainable development.

  • 28

    ibid, chapter 7, page 170, para 4. See further chapter 2, page 68, para 61.

  • 29

    ibid, chapter 2, page 63, para 39. See further chapter 2, page 63, para 38, where the Report states explicitly that ‘[e]conomic development is unsustainable if it increases vulnerability to crises’.

  • 30

    ibid, chapter 2, page 72, para 76.

  • 31

    ibid, chapter 3, page 76, para 1.

  • 32

    Following issues identified in the 1987 Our Common Future Report of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), sustainable development became the basis for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 (the Earth Summit) in order to address environmental degradation. See further, Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 3–14 June 1992, A/CONF.151/26 (12 August 1992). It was at the 1992 Earth Summit that both the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were agreed.

  • 33

    See further

    Vásquez-Fernández AM & Ahenakew pii tai poo taa C , '‘Resurgence of Relationality: Reflections on Decolonizing and Indigenizing “Sustainable Development”’ ' (2020 ) 43 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability : 65 -70.

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    . Noting indigenous peoples’ criticisms of ‘the dominant model of sustainable development’ as ‘disrespectful and hypocritical’ the authors state: ‘Sustainable development as practiced now falls short in addressing environmental, territorial, social, political, and cultural deterioration in Indigenous realities’ (65, 66).

  • 34

    Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. A/42/427 (4 August 1987).

  • 35

    The Convention entered into force, 15 June 1969, it has been ratified by 33 countries. The Fundamental Principle is set out in Article 2:

    ‘The Contracting States shall undertake to adopt the measures necessary to ensure conservation, utilization and development of soil, water, flora and faunal resources in accordance with scientific principles and with due regard to the best interests of the people.’ The Revised Convention was adopted in 2013 and came into force on 23 July 2016 (it now has 17 ratifications).

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  • 36

    Article 14(2): Development Plans (emphasis added).

  • 37

    Article 14(3): ‘Where any development plan is likely to affect the natural resources of another State, the latter shall be consulted.’

  • 38

    Article 3(j).

  • 39

    It is suggested that the three pillars of environment, economic, and social are ranked hierarchically and ‘without making any distinction between actions and their results’:

    Virtanen PK et al. , 'Toward More Inclusive Definitions of Sustainability’ ' (2020 ) 43 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability : 77 -82, 77.

  • 40

    See further

    Hölzl R , 'Historicizing Sustainability: German Scientific Forestry in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century’ ' (2010 ) 19 (4 ) Science as Culture : 431 -60.

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  • 41

    Scoones I , '‘Sustainability’ ' (2007 ) 17 (4–5 ) Development in Practice : 589 -93, 589.

  • 42

    ibid 589.

  • 43

    Article 2.

  • 44

    Tansley (n 21) 299.

  • 45

    Ferguson J & Weaselboy M , '‘Indigenous Sustainable Relations: Considering Land in Language and Language in Land’ ' (2020 ) 43 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability : 1 -7.

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  • 46

    Harrison K , '‘Indigenous Music Sustainability during Climate Change’ ' (2020 ) 43 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability : 28 -34.

  • 47

    Honfo H et al. , '‘Traditional Knowledge and Use Value of Bamboo in Southeastern Benin: Implications for Sustainable Management’ ' (2015 ) 14 Ethnobotany Research and Applications : 139 -53, 140.

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  • 48

    Lehner M et al. , '‘Nudging: A Promising Tool for Sustainable Consumption Behaviour?’ ' (2016 ) 134 Journal of Cleaner Production : 166 -77.

  • 49

    Roozen I et al. , '‘Do Verbal and Visual Nudges Influence Consumers’ Choice for Sustainable Fashion? ' (2021 ) 12 (4 ) Journal of Global Fashion Marketing : 327 -42.

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  • 50

    Including: WIPO WO1260713; USPTO 5816415; UK 00913627311; EUIPO 013627311; CNIPA 17888495.

  • 51

    Registrations and filings throughout the world, including: EUIPO 018695805; EUIPO 018700753; EUIPO 018737108; UK 00003812379; CNIPA 64414692; CNIPA 64529681; CNIPA 66198663; and filed at the USPTO 97395688, 97402603, 97525189.

  • 52

    SHEIN Press Release, ‘SHEIN Launches evoluSHEIN, New Clothing Line Designed to Make Purposeful Products Accessible for All’, 28 April 2022.

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  • 53

    SHEIN Press Release, ‘Introducing evoluSHEIN by Design, Our Initiative to Promote Sustainably Focused Materials’, 19 June 2023.

  • 54


  • 55

    A revised version of this presentation was subsequently published as

    Gibson J , '‘Geographies of Taste, Fashion, Tradition, and Place’ ', in G Ghidini (ed), Kritika: Essays on Intellectual Property, Volume 2 , (Edward Elgar Publishing , 2017 ) 138 -58.

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  • 56

    European Union, Green Paper. Making the most out of Europe’s traditional know-how: a possible extension of geographical indication protection of the European Union to non-agricultural products, COM(2014) 469 final.

  • 57

    On tradition as process and transmission, see

    Gibson J , '‘The Lay of the Land: The Geography of Traditional Cultural Expression’ ', in CB Graber & M Burri-Nenova (eds), Intellectual Property and Traditional Cultural Expression in a Digital Environment , (Edward Elgar Publishing , 2008 ) 182 -201.

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    , 195–200.

  • 58

    To approach fashion sustainability not through units but through place also interacts with current appeals to governments to support local production and in-sourcing. For example, see the proposed Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change Act (FABRIC Act) (S. 4213) proposed in May 2022 and currently before the US Senate.

  • 59

    See further

    Gibson J , Community Resources: Intellectual Property, International Trade and the Protection of Traditional Knowledge , (Ashgate, 2005 ).

    . In this book I discuss at length the limitations of the intellectual property system in relation to traditional knowledge, and how its incapacity to account for other forms of knowledge has the effect of excluding such innovation to outside the dominant creative or innovative system (of intellectual property), rendering it ‘on the periphery of the dominant narrative of progress’ (77).

  • 60

    Gibson (n 57).

  • 61

    Khan R , '‘Relocating Sustainable Fashion: Intercultural Reciprocity in “More than Local” Fashion-making’ ' (2021 ) 35 (6 ) Continuum : 838 -52.

  • 62

    For example, see the discussion of Savile Row, tradition and geographical indications in Gibson (n 55).

  • 63

    COM(2022) 174 final. On 1 December 2022, the Council of the European Union adopted a mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament on the proposed regelation: Council of the EU. Press Release 1013/22, 1 December 2022.

  • 64

    COM(2022) 174 final (2).

  • 65

    I Fish, ‘Love Island Selects Ebay as First Pre-loved Fashion Partner’, Drapers, 19 May 2022.

  • 66

    Love Island (ITV, 2015–).

  • 67

    S Weston, ‘Ebay Re-signs as Headline Sponsor of Love Island’, Drapers, 16 May 2023.

  • 68

    A Houston, ‘Ebay Returns as Love Island Partner after Seeing 1600% “Pre-loved” Search Increase’, The Drum.

  • 69

    L Cochrane, ‘Love Island and eBay Renew Deal after “Pre-loved” Clothing Boost’, The Guardian, 5 January 2023.

  • 70

    Weston (n 67).

  • 71

    Idents are short branding or identification exercises during a broadcast, fulfilling various obligations to licensing authorities as well as a more straightforward branding exercise for the channel and headline programme, as in the Love Island example. An archive of idents for British television can be found at <> with some Love Island examples at <>. See further,

    C Rawlings, ‘EBay Replaces Just Eat as Headline Sponsor of Love Island’, Campaign, 17 May 2023.

  • 72

    J Porterie, ‘Love Island is a Ratings Hit but a Sustainable Fashion Disaster’, The Guardian, 18 July 2019.