On 1st December a packed house gathered at the House of Commons for an event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion (APPG ESF), which Hubbub provides secretariat support for alongside the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.

The subject was a new one to the APPG ESF – the textile waste caused by corporate uniforms. Kate Riley, a uniform specialist from Oakdene Hollins, was the first panellist and neatly summarised the issue.

Two in seven people in the UK wear corporate uniforms, nearly 33 million corporate garments are provided for their use and around 90% goes to landfill or incineration each year. The main barriers are around branding, materials, garment design and lack of knowledge of how to dispose of garments in a responsible way.

Alex McIntosh from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Managing Director of Christopher Raeburn stressed that sustainability must be built into the design of uniforms to ensure that they last. He explained how Christopher Raeburn's pioneering approach involves upcycling unwanted military uniforms, but that the quality of the material used in the first place will always dictate how suitable it is for reuse.

Designer Wayne Hemingway then cited examples of his work with McDonald’s, Transport for London and Virgin East and West Coast. Hemingway Design conducted a co-design with TfL’s 20,000 staff to involve them in the process and ensure that they value their uniforms and as a result care for them better. He spoke of the unique challenge of designing uniforms the need to ‘design the fashion out of them’ but at the same time keeping them fashionable.

The event also marked the launch of a unique collaboration between Ocado, Hubbub, Northumberland Prison and designers Everything in Colour to repurpose old Ocado uniforms. Trewin Restorick of Hubbub recalled how a phone call from Ocado led to this unusual collaboration which neatly creates the environmental, social and financial benefits we at Hubbub strive for.

Suzanne Westlake, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Ocado explained how they were presented with a range of potential products, eventually opting for the apron and tote bags made from old trousers which meant that no additional materials were required to produce them. These products will be made available to their customers and the income generated will support charities through the Ocado Foundation.

Tony Simpson is Prison Director at Northumberland Prison, run by Sodexo, where a large textile facility that is part of their rehabilitation programme has been manufacturing the repurposed products. He talked passionately about repurposing as a way of finding new value and changing something for the better, which he believes applies to the prisoners involved as much as the clothing.

Corporate uniforms are a hidden source of textile waste which many companies haven’t yet considered – there are some notable exceptions but they are few and far between. It’s a huge opportunity given that more than 15,000 tonnes of corporate clothing go to landfill in the UK each year.

Uniforms are unique in that they don’t have to conform to the same trends as high street fashion. This is an area where the industry is able to slow down in a way high street fashion brands are unwilling to do. Plus if employees like their uniforms and feel comfortable wearing them, they become better and more natural ambassadors of the brand. 

Hubbub believes the Ocado repurposing model could offer opportunities for other companies to find a closed-loop solution for their uniforms – we invite you to contact us if you’re looking for creative solutions. At the same time we’re aware it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Only through collaboration, better use of materials, smarter design, co-design and repurposing can companies ensure that uniforms are designed to last and to be valued by those wearing them.