Impacts of Fast Fashion – UK Government is on the case

In June 2018 the UK Government announced that they were going to delve into Fast Fashion – focussing on its social and environmental impacts.

transparent supply chain in Africa impacts of fast fashion

This was welcome news to those of us who have been campaigning for more awareness of how negative fast fashion can be – for our planet, for garment workers and also for us as consumers.

MP Mary Creagh was appointed chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee looking into Fast Fashion.  She said

“Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. Producing clothes requires toxic chemicals and produces climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain and into the oceans. We don’t know where or how to recycle end of life clothing.

“Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable.”

I wrote an article back in June on the newly announced Government review at ‘Government Review into Fast Fashion’, focussing on the three areas that I felt needed to be covered. These are farmer and garment worker abuses, improved traceability and transparency of supply chains, and changing customer culture.

Impacts of Fast Fashion – Gathering Evidence

impacts of fast fashion

The Select Committee requested evidence to be submitted through the website by September 3rd.  On behalf of Where Does It Come From? team member Alexandra Reece collated key facts and figures on the environmental and social impacts of the fast fashion industry. This was submitted and published on the UK parliament website – see Where Does It Come From’s written evidence.

To date 57 pieces of written evidence have been published – you can read these on the UK parliament Environmental Audit Committee website – written evidence.

Impacts of Fast Fashion – Experts View

At the end of October the Select Committee heard evidence from a number of key experts in recycling, supply chain management and academia.  These were representatives from Universities, The Textile Recycling Association, Fashion Revolution and Anti-slavery International.   You can read the notes or watch a video of the meeting.

It makes for interesting reading – key points covered are the recycling industry – including our clothing exports to Africa and Eastern Europe, micro-plastics in our clothes (a single wash can release 700,000 microfibres into waste water!) and impacts on garment workers including slavery and legislation, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Following that meeting, on November 2nd, letters were sent to five major Fast Fashion retailers Amazon, Asos, Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Misguided, asking them to submit evidence. They were asked to respond on 8 separate questions, including their supplier payment plans, their product lifecyle, how they track their supply chain and ensure that workers are paid according to UK employment law, whether they incinerate unused stock and how they work to reduce the release of micro-fibres into water.  They are asked to respond by 15th November.

Today, 13th November, the Select Committee is meeting with key high-profile individuals and organisations who are focussed on ethical fashion including Livia Firth, Lucy Siegle and representatives from TRAID, Stella McCartney Ltd and Howies and Hiut Denim.

What will this mean for Fashion?

The fact that this review is happening at all is a great thing for those of us who love beautiful clothes.  The issue is more with the businesses that have moved away from quality fabrics and an ethical way of working in order to make profits at the expense of other people and our environment.

impacts of fast fashion

According to the evidence given at the select committee we buy five times as much clothing as we did in the 1980s.  The average UK household owns £4,000 worth of clothes and 30% of these have never been worn (WRAP). The fast fashion culture is not about beautiful clothing, but about cheap, throwaway clothing culture.

I believe that it is inevitable that prices will rise, not only because brands will have to explore their supply chains in more detail and, hopefully, eliminate injustices they find there.  They will also have to look at higher quality fabrics that will recycle better and not leach micro-plastics into our water system.  Hopefully there will be a move towards organic fabrics too, to cut down on harmful chemicals which are leaching into our soil and damaging our ecosystem.

Prices rising will not be popular but it will force a culture change away from unvalued, throwaway items towards more respect for clothing and ultimately less clothing being produced and ending up in landfill.

If brands do not voluntarily work towards improving these areas then legislation is likely to follow.  Some brands are already making inroads – see the recent Transparency Index from Fashion Revolution which demonstrates the steps forward that many brands are already taking.

Fast Fashion Impacts – What Can You Do?

If you love beautiful clothes and are equally passionate about not being the cause of negative effects to the people making them or our planet, then there are a number of steps you can take.

To get started download our Ethical Fashion Crib Sheet which will give you tips to set you on your way towards a more ethical wardrobe.

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