Exploitive, unethical, and unsustainable are some of the titles that can be described to label the fashion industry; thankfully, changes are happening, and they’re happening fast.
Over the past several years, purchasing sustainable items is becoming the new trend, which I’m sure is here to stay. As influential celebrities such as Emma Watson and Vivienne Westwood pioneer the movement, major luxury and high street brands join the upheaval in ditching the traditional methods of manufacturing items.
In the UK, we spend more on fashion than any other country in Europe and consume more than 2 tonnes every minute to fill our obsessive purchasing needs. Due to an everlasting choice of clothing items, we live in a throw-away society, which leads to 50 trucks of used clothing thrown into the landfill every day. These staggering statistics will only continue to expand if people don’t begin to stop treating the earth as an unlimited resource. By 2050, fashion will produce more than a 1/4 of annual carbon, which will enable the clothing industry to continue to eat away at our planet. With the industry being the second largest polluter in the world behind oil and gas, is that a silver medal we want?
I travelled to PECT which stands for Peterborough Environmental City Trust; this is an independent charity that helps to protect the environment and has been doing so since 1993.
As well as enhancing the environment, PECT has launched multiple projects to promote sustainability, environmental importance to schools, promote health and wellbeing, they also advocate responsible resource use and offer services and activities to support businesses and community projects.
I spoke to Laura Fanthorpe, who is the Marketing Communications Manager who has been working there for 5 years. She believes environmental importance is the way of the future, which should be everyone’s way of life, showing that people’s changes have a significant impact on our world.
When discussing her views on the fashion and textile industry, she said that ‘the consumption of clothing is something we are having to be more aware of as we are consuming items on such a large scale.’
‘People simply don’t see the value in keeping clothes anymore and treasuring them.’
What is sustainable fashion?
The website Green Strategy provides viewers with an excellent definition as they dive into the concerns from both the environmental and socio-economic aspects.
In more simplified terms, sustainable fashion are items that have a minimal impact on the environment. They are made and used by considering the environmental and socio-economic aspects. This aims to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, such as the design, manufacturing, and transport, to the marketing and sale of items. This leads to the use, reuse, repair, remake, and recycling cycle. For fashion to be eco-friendly, efficient natural resources should be selected, like water energy and plants, as well as selecting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the booming cycle of luxury-inspired clothing being manufactured at an ultra-fast speed for a very affordable price.
In the 1980s new clothes were released twice a year, spring/summer and autumn/winter. Now, with the launch of online shopping and high street brands, affordable items are released weekly. Items such as the £4 Boohoo dress and the Missguided £1 bikini seem to be the new hype, but at what cost? Unlike many UK brands, Boohoo won’t say which factories produce their clothes, so the human value behind the price tag remains hidden.
Despite this, Laura is positive about the future. ‘There is a lack of individualism when we buy cheap clothing.’
Although the £1 bikini was targeted towards a younger audience, young people are becoming more interested in environmentalism and sustainability than older people. When talking to Laura, we also discussed climate change and how the issue is being accepted more by the public. Today, we are shown this issue on the news more often.
Thankfully, people are learning and are becoming more aware.
Laura believes, ‘we have got to make a change, as in 11 years now it will be too late.’
Often, a low-price tag means low pay for garment workers…
The working conditions for workers should be aligned with good ethics, best practices, and international codes of conduct. In most of the manufacturing countries such as China, Bangladesh, and India, workers are paid the minimum wage, which represents between half to a fifth of the living wage.
Garment workers can be forced to work up to 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, wherein peak season, workers may have to work up until 2-3 am to meet strict deadlines. As their wages are so low, they can’t refuse overtime. Often overtime means not being paid at all, where if they refuse, they will be fired, threatened, or physically attacked.
Labour behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions for workers in the global garment industry. You can help by donating, signing petitions, and fundraising. They have even created a petition, aiming to get Boohoo to end their silence by signing the transparency pledge.
All information is provided on their website: https://labourbehindthelabel.org/become-a-regular-giver/
When speaking with Laura, we discussed the impact of fast fashion on the workers.
‘The world isn’t going to change unless we put our hand in the direction of where we want it to go. Luxury brands are starting to pave the way hopefully, all others will follow.’
‘It isn’t enough just looking for the quality in the products we buy; we must ensure that there is quality in the lives of the people who make them.’ // Orsola De Castro
What fabrics are detrimental to the environment?
Synthetic fibres are more harmful to the environment because they are enhanced with chemicals like petrochemicals and fossil fuels. Manufacturing requires lots of water and energy; they are also non-biodegradable.
The most used synthetic fibres are nylon rayon, polyester, spandex, wool, and acetate.
The cotton plant requires a tremendous amount of water and pesticides. Cotton also uses an incredible amount of energy to produce clothing, taking 3,000 gallons to make a single t-shirt. The plant is a pollutant that can harm the health of field workers and damage the surrounding ecosystems.
What changes are being made?
In 2018, fast fashion brands were criticised by the government’s environmental committee for not addressing waste in the supply chain. The parliamentary environmental audit committee, led by Mary Creagh, announced it would investigate the social and environmental impact of disposable ‘fast fashion.’ The aim is to remodel the industry and make it sustainable.
An increasing number of brands have taken strides to promote and sell items that are made using sustainable, organic, and recycled fabrics.
For example, H&M has launched a fashion-conscious line that sells garments made from at least 50% of sustainable materials. By 2030 it aims to use only recycled material or other sustainability sourced materials, and by 2040, it wants to be 100% climate positive.
Kerbside recycling is a well-known practice throughout the world. Laura believes that it can be used for recycling textiles. ‘It’s the way forward and the beginning of making a change for people.’
What can we do?
THINK TWICE BEFORE THROWING OUT YOUR CLOTHES
Rubbish bins can consist of synthetic, non-biodegradable fibre and will pile up in the landfill. So, try to repair them, donate, and put them in the textile recycling bin.
Laura spoke to me about the wastage of textiles and said that ‘Not everyone believes it’s their responsibility, this is about changing their mindset about the value of the things we throw away.’
BUY SECOND HAND, SWAP, & RENT CLOTHING
WASH YOUR CLOTHING LESS
As a society, we tend to wash our clothing even when we don’t need to; this has a significant environmental impact. The average household does almost 400 loads of laundry every year, consuming about 60,000 litres of water. It also takes a lot of energy to heat the washing water and run the drying cycle, so here are some tips for reducing this impact.
Hand-treat stains with vinegar and hot water or purchase laundry detergent. The detergent should be phosphorous-free or free entirely free of synthetic chemicals.
Synthetic fibres contain microplastics that are released into the air of your home. Tiny plastic fibres and chemical dyes make their way to sewage systems and introduce hazardous chemicals into the water.
PURCHASE LESS SAVE MORE
To buy an item of clothing that you think will mean something to you, that will last longer, and you can see yourself wearing it for a long time. Even though this may cost more, it is worth it in the long run.
Laura has taken part in a personal challenge, not to purchase any new items of clothing for a year. So far, she has been very successful, not buying any for 6 months.
‘I go to charity shops as there is a uniqueness in buying items there as you can cherish them. I have massively enjoyed it as the items can become someone else’s treasure. My son wears second-hand clothes.’
‘I am positive that 2020 is a real tipping point within the fashion industry.’
BUY SUSTAINABLY MADE, ETHICAL MATERIALS
Shop for clothing in sustainable, and/or, ethical shops. You can also search for labels that claim they are sustainably or ethically made. Various organic textile labels do offer user-friendly guidelines for consumers to examine their products based on a benchmarked system. Currently, there are eight organic textile labels to look out for, for example, the umbrella label ‘Made-By’ is used by fashion brands and retailers to show consumers that their clothes are made in a sustainable manner. ‘ By doing research you can learn exactly what to look out for. The labels may say that they are ethically sourced, made from 100% cotton, made from recycled fabric and are pesticide free.
‘Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying.’ //Lucy Siegle
We have to play our part to help.
‘As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.’ // Emma Watson
Please visit PECTS website at https://www.pect.org.uk