A current lack of policy and leadership

The fashion industry is on course to take up 25% of the world’s carbon budget. Despite this huge impact, the government is failing to tackle the negative impact of fashion. New research commissioned by Hubbub reveals that since 2007, only 19 policies have been published to tackle the environmental damage and human rights abuses of the fashion industry. Only one policy contained any detail of cost or timeframes.

The research, undertaken by Seahorse Environmental and Dolly Theis, highlighted that not one sustainability policy has been released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who technically have lead responsibility for the fashion industry. Instead, all have been made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs resulting in a narrow focus which doesn’t consider the wide range of opportunities and challenges the industry faces to become more sustainable. The research indicated that:

  • Most of the policies were proposed in a way that was unlikely to lead to implementation as only one contained any details of cost or budget. 

  • Only 32% of policies proposed actively sought to address the issue of fashion, rather than just increasing awareness. 

  • The policies were largely introduced in broad strategies aimed at tackling waste more generally, rather than directly tackling fashion. 

  • Policies directly tackling fashion focussed on voluntary measures rather than stronger incentives, regulations and legislation.


Growing awareness around the issue is shifting consumer behaviour

This lack of leadership is even more surprising considering the growing awareness of the fashion industry’s impact on global climate emissions and the level of waste generated within the UK.

  • In the UK, £30bn of clothing is living unworn in the back of wardrobes.    

  • 300,000 tonnes of clothing enter UK landfill sites every year.    

  • Approximately £140m of clothing goes to landfill every year, costing £30m more.    

This increased scrutiny is shifting consumer behaviour. The demand for pre-loved clothing is forecast to grow by between 15-20% per annum over the next five years. Apps such as Esooko, Depop and Ebay are booming, whilst Asda’s George have also recently begun selling second-hand clothing in 50 stores. There is also a growing market in rental platforms such as Hurr and ByRotation and major retailers including H&M have begun to trial such services too.   

Despite these changes, polling from Hubbub reveals that there is still considerable consumer confusion as to what constitutes ‘sustainable fashion’ with the focus mainly on plastic packaging rather than other wider issues such as textile choice, production and lack of recycling.  There are also broader societal shifts which are driving consumer behaviour, including more online purchasing, different payment methods such as Klarna and the pressure social media places on self-image.  

A strong need for government leadership

All of this highlights the need for government leadership, something recognised by MPs who supported two parliamentary Select Committee reports exploring how to ‘Fix Fast Fashion’. The government rejected all the last Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations including producer responsibility and due diligence checks. 

More positively, the government did introduce the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, although the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has recently refused to commit to clear timeframes and actions on strengthening the Act. Defra has also announced plans for a new Waste Prevention Programme that will aim to address the negative environmental impacts of the textiles and fashion, including an Extended Producer Responsibility, but this will not be consulted on until 2022.  

Whilst encouraging, these new policies will not address the systemic issues faced by the fashion industry and will continue to create a piecemeal approach that lacks an overall strategy. Commenting on the findings, researcher Dolly Theis said: 

"The findings in this research on UK government fast fashion policy are shocking, particularly when compared to analysis I conducted recently on government obesity policy. Whilst for obesity, the government has proposed 689 policies in England to date, for fast fashion it has only proposed a measly 19 policies. This stark difference in government policy and attention demonstrates that, despite both fast fashion and obesity being massive and important challenges we face today, the governments' response is not always proportional or sufficient." 

Get involved

Building on the research Hubbub and Seahorse Environmental will be hosting a roundtable for policymakers to consider the findings and assess what can be done to create a more coherent and impactful set of policies. If you would like more details, please contact [email protected].

Our brand new podcast 'Down To Earth' passes the mic to different volunteers, communities and activists making a positive difference for people and planet. Tune into episode 6 where we explore how community and sharing skills could help us build a fairer fashion industry.  

Last year we worked with the APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion to research and report on how government, industry and individuals can all play a part to help reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Read more about the APPG report here.