Hubbub is to support a new APPG established by Anne Main MP that will look at the environmental impact of the fashion industry. An industry that currently contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined.

The catalyst for the new group is the Select Committee report released in January calling for the fashion industry to find a more sustainable path – all the recommendations of the committee have been rejected by the government. Despite this setback the report has shone the political spotlight on the practices of some of the fashion sector.   

The first meeting of the group was massively over-subscribed with a diverse audience of retailers, manufacturers, waste management companies and NGOs. Inevitably with so many different voices the debate was ragged but several themes emerged.

Traceability

It was clear that there is lack of traceability regarding what becomes of fabrics once they are thrown away. What happens to them? If they are exported does this damage developing markets and place pressures on less developed waste management systems? What percentage are recycled and what does this actually mean? An inability for the industry to coherently explain the end-of-life process for their garments causes confusion, making it difficult to develop robust strategies.

Plastics vs natural fibres

The concern about animal welfare has helped to drive a move away from products such as leather and concern about the environmental impact of cotton has also resulted in an increase in the use of synthetic fibres. Very often the alternatives are made of plastic creating another set of problems through the release of micro-plastics. The discussion highlighted that for every fabric there are environmental impacts. A more sophisticated discussion is required enabling people to make choices based upon their beliefs and values.

Circularity

The growth of fast fashion has brought the need to create a circular economy to the forefront. Companies are investing but are being hindered by the low sale price for new clothing, the mixture of fabrics used in most clothing and the lack of an effective collection network for used clothes. Brands and companies are well placed to act as a catalyst for a more circular fashion industry but a break-through feels distant and in-coherent at the moment.

Shopping habits

The industry has not been successful in engaging consumers in the debate on sustainable fashion. The way people are buying clothes has fundamentally changed. Programmes such as Love Island are creating a ‘must have’ market for online shoppers. Rather than going into a shop and trying on clothes, people are now ordering a range of outfits to try on at home – returning those that don’t hit the mark. This is creating environmental and cost impacts for the industry and free delivery and open returns encourages this trend rather than challenging it.

Social media is pressurising people to not wear the same outfits more than once, driving a model of ever faster fashion. Whilst this may be profitable for the industry in the short-term it cannot be sustained. The industry needs to address this head-on. 

The business model

The elephant in the room is the fundamental business model for the industry. Fashion retailers are facing unprecedented pressures. The response is to speed the treadmill with a ‘pile them high sell them cheap’ approach. This is fundamentally unsustainable. The industry needs to find a new business model that aligns financial profitability with sustainability. This debate seems a long way on the horizon but is one that will eventually have to be addressed if we are to create a sustainable fashion industry.

As a first step the APPG will be issuing a call for evidence covering these topics which Hubbub will help collect. This will be supported by public polling to get an understanding of how people perceive the issue. It is intended that the outcomes will be released in November. If you wish to get involved please email [email protected]