Can Government Fix Fast Fashion?

The fast fashion business is a huge polluter, but a lot of people just don’t realise it. It’s therefore not too surprising that clothes-buyers aren’t doing enough to reduce the impact of their shopping habits. And at the same time it’s clear that many fashion producers and retailers have been too slow to tackle the issues and become more focused on sustainability.

Now, a group of UK MPs is demanding more be done by the Government to create a greener fashion future and support the sustainable transformation of the fashion industry.  Developing sustainable fabrics, boosting fabric recycling and bringing manufacturing jobs back to the UK are some of the key recommendations put forward to the Government today in a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, supported by environmental charity Hubbub. The report sets out how the sector could follow a more sustainable route and the role that government and consumers might play.

65% of UK public agree that the Government should urgently do more to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment

COVID-19 has had a big effect on the fashion industry. Supply chains have broken, sales have dropped, unsold stock has piled up, retail outlets have closed and companies have gone out of business.  Consumer habits have shifted and so have attitudes – the public wants to see change.

Before the virus struck, the environmental and social impact of the industry was increasingly under public scrutiny. Fast fashion resulted in £140 million worth of clothing being sent to landfill every year in the UK. Whilst charity shop donation rates are high, 300,000 tonnes of clothing still ends up in household bins every year with around 20% of this going to landfill and 80% incinerated (EAC, ‘Fixing Fashion’). The industry’s carbon dioxide emissions were expected to rise to nearly 2.8 billion tonnes by 2030. A previous House of Commons Environment Audit Select Committee report ‘Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability’, found that textile production accounted for 20-35% of microplastics in the oceans as well as toxicity in the land and particles in the air.

So the problem is huge and some 65% of UK residents agree that the Government should urgently do more to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment, according to new research by Hubbub. The APPG report calls for the Government to take action in a number of ways:

  • Investing in research and development to create more sustainable fabrics that have a lower environmental and social impact – backed by 66% of the public

  • Boosting investment in UK fabric recycling facilities to create a more circular economy –backed by 73% of the public.

  • Supporting new start-up businesses operating more green business models – backed by 74% of the public.

  • Investing in skills to bring more clothes manufacturing jobs back to the UK – backed by 72% of the public.

  • Supporting industry to create clearer information and labelling about the sustainability of clothes helping to educate consumers about their everyday choices and force companies to change their approach – backed by 64% of the public.

49% of people would be willing to spend a little more on clothes if they were guaranteed to be less impactful on the environment

Catherine West MP, chair of the APPG, said: “Coronavirus has exposed deep inequalities and unsustainability in the garment industry. Creating a sustainable and ethical future for the fashion industry is an important but complex challenge for government, industry and the public and what is clear is that there is an appetite for this on all sides. We must seize this moment and put these recommendations into action by pushing the government to be a global leader, helping to build a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry, both within the UK and globally”.

One third of 16-24 year olds say they feel constant pressure to buy new clothes

The Hubbub survey also found that consumers want to see change from within the industry. 65% agreed they’d be happy for fashion to 'slow down", for example having less production of mass-produced cheap clothing in favour of good quality clothing that will last.  One third of 16-24 year olds say they feel constant pressure to buy new clothes. Three quarters (75%) of respondents agree that clothing companies have a responsibility to look after the people who make their products.

However, more than half of those polled said they would be willing to spend a little more on clothes if they were guaranteed to be made ethically in the UK supporting British workers and 49% would be willing to spend a little more on clothes if they were guaranteed to be less impactful on the environment.

Trewin Restorick, Founder and CEO of Hubbub, said: “Now is the time for government intervention to fix fast fashion and force companies to change their approach. We hope both the Government and the fashion industry will act with urgency on the recommendations of the APPG, which are backed by the UK public. As we’ve set out in our Greenprint, a more just and sustainable approach to how we dress, live, eat and travel is needed as we ‘build back better’, which builds greater long-term resilience. It’s important for all of us to play our part by making individual small changes and choosing where we spend our money.”

Hubbub have pulled together some tips for how people can slow their fashion consumption at www.hubbub.org.uk/sustainable-fashion.