Law and Sustainable Fashion, an Indissoluble Link?

New fabrics generated from organic materials, upcycled collections, vintage and second-hand markets: these are just some of the themes that outline a new type of consumption and production. In a society where fast fashion seems to have taken over, it is necessary to rethink the entire fashion system. In the light of alarming data, adopting a sustainable approach turns out to be a real need.

In the backstage of sustainability, especially in the fashion industry, many tools have allowed the green component to emerge and evolve. Among the lesser-known but no less important.

The law has played a fundamental role in defining and regulating the concept of “sustainable fashion.”

Law and Sustainable Fashion, a Long-Lasting Link

While the textile industry only adopted a genuinely green approach a few years ago, the link between law and sustainable fashion is not recent.

It is a historical association that presumably dates back to ancient Rome, although today’s meaning of sustainability, dressed in different nuances and requirements over time, has changed considerably.

© Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

The promulgation of the Lex Oppia dates back to 215 BC.
In a Rome veteran of many wars and severe economic crisis, the need to restore the funds allocated to the war heritage gave birth to legislation limiting the excesses and glitz. As an alternative to the problems that the textile industry generates today, from the very beginning, fashion was seen as a source of waste and ostentatious consumption. Therefore, the attempt to regulate laws is not a novelty nowadays.
The Lex Oppia was abolished in 195 B.C., but the same intent remained unchanged in the following centuries.

Portrait of “Eleonora da Toledo col figlio Giovanni”, by Agnolo Bronzino, 1545, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Firenze

We owe, in fact, to the classical age the birth of the so-called Suntuary laws, whose dedication is inherent in their name. “Suntuario” derives in particular from the Latin “sumptuarius,” from “sumptus,” i.e., expenditure. A consolidated practice in the Middle Ages that lasted until the 18th century, the Suntuary laws were applied to regulate the excesses of an aristocracy that was excessively attracted to luxury.


These laws provided for sanctions for those who did not respect the rules. The sanctions were mainly pecuniary. The use and the number of precious materials, the length of the trains, and the composition of the clothing as a whole were only some of the provisions. Limitations and prohibitions that, although subject to deceptions and expedients, all converged in the same intent: to reduce, if not avoid, consumption.

The link between limiting consumption in those days and sustainable fashion today is a common thread that has developed into a broader project that continues to this day to provide a range of benefits.

What is The Link Between Law and Sustainable Fashion Today?

If the regulatory measures mentioned above were somehow aimed at circumscribing the uncontrolled spending of the aristocracy for the benefit of the common coffers, these interventions would seem to have prolonged their effects over time. Shifting the attention to the average consumer today, this appears to be increasingly attentive, sensitive, and aware of the reflections that an uninformed purchase would involve, and therefore less prone to uncontrolled consumption. Although in need of further interventions that converge in the birth of an ad hoc protection, the link between fashion, sustainability and law remain a historical, solid, and persistent link.

Several reforms and measures have been implemented and are being adopted. One example is the new action plan voted by the European Parliament last February to encourage a bundle of virtuous behaviors in support of a circular economy. And the fashion sector, which is particularly interested in these actions, has gradually embraced and adopted a sustainable approach. From the large luxury companies that are signatories to the Fashion Pact presented in Biarritz in 2019 (more than 60 to date) to small start-ups and emerging brands, numerous players in the sector have drawn an actual founding value from sustainability.

Why is Law Essential to Sustainable Fashion?

Although seemingly polar opposite, the law is constantly at the service of the fashion and luxury sector. It allows to continually regulate the different cases generated by a sector in continuous growth and expansion. The law provides a wide range of protection: the brand itself and the final consumer. Last but not least, it protects the work and operations of all those involved in the production chain. Adapting legal institutions to specific situations generates an agglomeration of norms and consequent sectorial protection in the new and emerging branch of fashion law.

Even if sustainable fashion does not currently enjoy specific protection, the emerging need to contribute to the needs of our planet, to health conditions, and to the safety of those who work at the production level in the sector requires an extension of the legal institutions in force.

“Made in Italy,” an Opportunity for Sustainable Fashion?

“Made in Italy is an expression that evokes throughout the world the idea of an Italian product, it has acquired over time the synonym of a guarantee of quality, research and tradition proper to certain industrial sectors of our country, such as fashion or agri-food, just to name the most famous.”


In a world like fashion, especially sustainable fashion, the indication of origin plays a fundamental role: distinguishing products of national production, reflecting a unique savoir-faire rich in history, such as that of the Italian textile industry.

The legislation in force in Italy recognizes and protects the Made in Italy as: “the mark provided for by Law 350/2003, which links it to the selector criterion of the Community Customs Code of 1992; and the mark introduced by the D.L. 135/2009 (art. 16, paragraph 1) which deals with the so-called full Made in Italy, or “100% Made in Italy”, a denomination attributed and recognized where “the design, planning, processing, and packaging are made exclusively in the Italian territory.” With the law 55/2010 – also known as Reguzzoni-Versace Law – were introduced several provisions on the production and marketing of textile products, leather goods, and footwear, taking particular care in the recognition and protection of Italian products. The law in question regulates the areas of so-called compulsory labeling, i.e., chains in which the indication of the place of origin is compulsory and reference to each working and production phase, ensuring the traceability of the items themselves. The explicit indication “Made in Italy” is authorized for products subject to processing phases primarily carried out in the Italian territory.

Further support for the protection of “Made in Italy” is given by the Growth Decree (Decree-Law No. 34 of April 30, 2019), protecting historical brands and Italian production. Finally, it can be inferred that the criteria to be met for a product to be considered as produced in Italy when it is manufactured entirely on Italian territory.

Vice versa, if more than one country has contributed to the manufacturing of a garment, then the latter must be considered as originating in the country where the last substantial transformation has taken place. Therefore, a final phase of the manufacturing process where the product has taken its final shape responds to particularities and characteristics that make it finished and complete, ready for marketing.

There are so-called list rules in the case under consideration here (the production of fabrics). These particular provisions mark and regulate the types of processing to which the garments must necessarily be subjected. The main objective is to control the supply chain, specifically referring to the origin. As far as yarns are concerned, the packaging and the subsequent finishing phases must necessarily be carried out in a specific territory so that the indication of origin corresponds to the latter.

Sustainable Fashion, a Continuous Evolution?

One will realize that the pace at which we have been producing up to now has become unsustainable,” so stated Marina Spadafora, coordinator of Fashion Revolution Italia, referring to the impact the fashion industry is having in recent years. It is a philosophy that is increasingly overwhelming fashion creators. From Giorgio Armani to the Kering group, from Salvatore Ferragamo to the English designer Stella McCartney, a member of the François Pinault group promoting sustainability values in the world of luxury for years.

And again, in the years to come, the famous French group LVMH will promote LIFE (LVMH initiatives for the environment). This project aims to protect and preserve the environment and its products.

As mentioned earlier, the well-known Florentine brand Salvatore Ferragamo is one of the first Italian brands to adopt sustainable ethics. From using sustainable materials to innovative and modern development strategies, the goal is to decrease CO2 emissions and profound environmental impact.

Finally, worthy of mention here is Greenpeace’s Detox protocol. Valentino was among the first to adhere to it through a campaign to minimize the use of chemicals in the fashion industry. There have been many animal rights initiatives and battles, struggles that have pushed brands such as Prada, Gucci, and Chanel to slow down and stop the production of fur with the help of different materials provided by technology.

“Today, the value of an innovation is measured not so much through the mere economic feedback or the degree of novelty that this innovation brings to the market, but through the value and benefits brought on a social, environmental and certainly economic level.”


According to Francesca Romana Rinaldi, professor at Bocconi University, “sustainable companies are those that manage to integrate ethics and aesthetics in the supply chain and the single value activities,” and again, she summarizes extremely accurately what should be the future goals of a mammoth supply chain like the one we are referring to: “we need to invest in responsible innovation by introducing new artificial intelligence technologies to improve planning and structure of collections.”

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