A Beautiful Future: How the textile sector is accelerating a global transformation towards sustainability

Tuesday 18 April 2023

The climate realities we face collectively are a result of design. ‘Fast fashion’ traded trends for long-lasting waste and pollution to precious water, soil and airways. The good news is that the tide is changing: more and more people are realising their power to design the transformation toward a sustainable future, especially in the textile sector. The MedWaves-supported Eco-innovators On Board campaign introduces some of these leaders who are blazing a way forward; navigating new routes in textiles for sustainability. These pathways, once established, are available to everyone, leaving no one behind. MedWaves converges synergies to ensure that we can design the future we want, projecting ourselves into a beautiful future.

How do we design the world we want? First, we have to imagine it!

It has become increasingly clear that ‘fast fashion’ based on ‘take-make-use-dispose’ linear supply chains is short-sighted. What if it was possible to adapt and transform so that clothing is produced in a way to enrich lives and ecosystems? What if after using or wearing the clothing, rather than dangerously depleting natural resources and stimulating injustices, it was possible to re-introduce materials to the supply chain to be either re-used, upcycled or re-purposed? What if clothing was only considered fashionable if it was part of a circular, sustainable cycle that nourished people and the planet?

MedWaves is part of a global movement to re-imagine how we do business in pursuit of sustainable consumption and production (SCP). This is how it is possible to move from an idea to a reality, adapting traditional economic models into low-carbon, restorative circular business solutions. This is how we Grow from What We Know. The Barcelona Convention recognises business as a key driver for the Green and Blue Economy in the Mediterranean region, providing The Set of Regional Measures to support the development of green and circular business and strengthen the demand for more sustainable products in the Mediterranean. Drawing on international experience and expertise, MedWaves applies key principles to develop specific sustainable and circular business guides for the fashion sector. We believe that with the right tools, it is possible to design a future that we all want: a world where industry is zero-waste, non-polluting, low-carbon, resource-efficient and contributes to fair equitable socioeconomics.


Each day, proof that the tide is changing becomes more evident. This year saw the first-ever Green Carpet Fashion Awards (GCFA) held during the Oscar celebrations. Demonstrating both a collective will and a collective pursuit to prioritise sustainability in the world of fashion. The event gathered Indigenous women, environmental activists and celebrities. Vanessa Nakate boldly said the time for transformation has arrived: “It is not fashionable if it creates exclusion, poverty, exploitative labour, displacement, pollution or it increases carbon emissions.”

We recognise that a strong engine driving transformation are eco-entrepreneurs! Grounded in a long history of textile production in the Mediterranean region, MedWaves establishes a hub to join tradition with innovation, promoting a sustainable future for all. MedWaves is pleased to celebrate the changemakers who are taking important steps to demonstrate how businesses can adapt, become circular and contribute in a positive manner. Meet our Eco-Innovators On Board: Mapping new routes in textile and clothing sustainability. We can change how we produce and consume clothing, in fact, we already are!

Innovation already exists, we just need to invest in it

MedWaves believes that We Are the Wave and each stakeholder has a valuable role to play in our collective transformation. Our programming brings together eco-innovative textile and clothing entrepreneurs and enterprises; sector aggregators; local authorities; academic and research institutions; local, national and regional public sector organisations; and relevant intellectual property agencies.

STAND Up! is one of the initiatives under the MedWaves umbrella that actively makes use of the tools provided by the centre for circular sustainable economic development. Along with SwitchMed, and the WeMed award, several programmes focus on textiles to engage directly with small and medium-sized enterprises to raise our regional potential for a sustainable future. As STAND Up! project manager Anna Ibañez puts it: “The textile and fashion sector can be the leverage for change towards a global transition to sustainability. Its presence in people’s daily lives and its proximity to the consumer makes it a sector whose impacts are constantly under scrutiny and which, therefore, must first make the shift towards circularity and thus pave the way for other sectors.”

The fashion industry is one of the most important sectors in the southern Mediterranean. MedWaves partners with the Prato Textile Museum Foundation (Italy), the Textile Industry Association (Spain), Berytech Foundation (Lebanon), SEKEM Development Foundation (Egypt), Textile Technical Centre (Tunisia), Tunis International Center for Environmental Technologies (Tunisia) to support an important project called STAND Up! The project aims to foster circular economy and sustainable job creation in the textile sector and is financed by the European Union under the ENI CBC Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme. Selected participants receive training, financial grants, technology transfer and support for Intellectual Property Rights protection, among other activities. Empowering the small and medium-sized enterprises in the region by building capacity to be more competitive raises the potential and power of the entire supply chain.

Director of the Prato Textile Museum and Project Manager Filippo Guarini explains: “Frequent, well-organized connections between young, innovative ideas and the mature, established production system is essential to ensure the link between the textile legacy of the region with the future”.

Embracing a circular economy is a way to sufficiently design solutions that benefit the environment and make good business sense. This approach is based on three main principles:

  • Reducing waste and pollution: Shifting towards durable, reparable and recyclable products;
  • Maintaining products and materials in use: Reducing resource consumption within planetary boundaries and increasing material use rate, recovering resources and keeping them in use within circular and closed technical loops, etc.
  • Regenerating natural systems: Using renewable resources and energies, regenerative economic models which ensure the sustainability of ecosystem services and give back to the planet more than they take, etc.

Learning how to apply these principles is an important way to ensure that a true transformation is possible. MedWaves published the Circular Business Opportunities in the South Mediterranean: How Can Businesses Lead the Way to Sustainable Fashion? as a guide to explore five strategies and key analysis of value chains and the life cycles of products in the southern Mediterranean fashion industry. These strategies identify where value is currently being destroyed and how to retain or create value instead, to close loops and enable a circular system. Each strategy details a number of business models, offered as alternatives to the current fast-fashion model of take-use-waste, and whether a given business model is specifically suitable to the southern Mediterranean region is subject to certain drivers and barriers.

Five strategies are introduced:

  1. Prevent pollution and save resources: This strategy focuses on how to create a cleaner, resource-efficient, and zero-waste production.
  2. Recover resources after disposal: This is a shift from disposing or throwing used items “away” to reusing and recycling materials and products. One way to accomplish this is for companies to work together so that the outputs of one production process (waste, by-products, and emissions) become the inputs for another (secondary raw materials and recycled emissions).
  3. Extend resource use and reduce disposal during the use and maintenance phases: The success of this strategy begins at the design phase. Circular features that extend a product’s life and prolong or prevent its disposal include durability, longevity, and modularity as well as repairability, upgradability, and reusability.
  4. Increase resource utilisation rates: Instead of striving to sell the maximum number of products, companies extend product lifetime and facilitate its use by multiple users through the business model of rental/leasing and subscription. This establishes a way to maintain ownership of a product and customers pay for the right to access that product for a period of time.
  5. Shift to circular supplies and renewable resources: Using renewable energies and bio-based materials that can be locally and fully recycled closes loops at every life cycle stage.

For each strategy, the publication provides different business models as examples of alternatives to the ‘fast-fashion’ model of take-use-waste. With each case study, there is an analysis of challenges, barriers, drivers and opportunities to enable analysis and replication for both businesses and consumers. Alessandro Miraglia, Team Leader of the Networking and Communication Facility at MedWaves states “Blueprints are needed tools to map innovative business models and support their validity, nurturing impact-driven entrepreneurship and paving the way to change-makers.”

Trending: A Beautiful Future

A future of landfills brimming with barely worn garments is not beautiful. A future designed by eco-innovators where beauty is qualified by healthy people and natural resources is beautiful!

The textile sector must transform for our collective sustainable future. As the sector ranking fourth as the most responsible for negative environmental impacts (EEA, 2023), it is a way for the global community to adapt and make important changes. Sustainable circular fashion is better for the planet, for people and for our pockets. The sector has a huge potential to save energy, water, land and other resources, to reduce waste and pollution, and to help fight against climate change. How do these Eco-Innovators set an example for others? Why is it important to celebrate the success of these individuals to help spread the potential we have as a sector?

Prato Textile Museum’s Guarini underscores the value of celebrating Eco-Innovators, sending a clear message to the new generation of entrepreneurs: “It is possible to work for a change that is environmental, of value, of production in the textile and fashion sector, which to date is still too incapable of curbing the patterns of mass production.” The work being done in the Mediterranean region with Eco-Innovators on Board sets the bar for the rest of the planet, as well as other sectors. Guarini frames a possible future, explaining that supporting small and medium-sized businesses to be empowered means “giving strength to sustainable supply chains and production chains that can respond to the growing consumer interest in fashion with reduced environmental impact and the need for brands to adapt to this need by avoiding purely cosmetic operations.”

“The textile and fashion industry has dire environmental and social impacts on the planet. Critical hotspots are distributed along the whole value chain, endangering natural resources and habitats” Miraglia explains. “A radical shift to sustainable consumption and production patterns will be able to preserve material resources, protect ecosystems and deliver social value. The fashion revolution will reward sustainable business models and reshape the industry’s values: what is beautiful is sustainable”.

Stay engaged in the evolving revolution for a beautiful future:

  • 15-17 May: Peer-to-Peer exchange and regional training on Innovative Circular Economy Business Models in the Mediterranean, WES-MED project event in Barcelona
  • 29 May-1 June 2023: Euro-Med Weeks for Waste Reduction Awards Ceremony and the Dublin Circular Economy Hotspot 2023, in Dublin: Meet the winners of call for actions of the first edition of the Euro-Med Weeks for Waste Reduction, funded by the EU through the SwitchMed Programme.
  • 8 June: EU Green Week Event “Sustainable Fashion & Eco-innovators Academy”, STAND Up! Project event in Prato, Italy.
  • 3 July: Stand Up! First Capitalisation Event, in Barcelona.

Share this post!