The UK Government’s inquiry into sustainability in the fashion industry
The UK Government have launched an official inquiry into sustainability in the fashion industry. Held at the V&A museum, we attended this panel discussion between members of the official Environmental Audit Committee and fashion industry professionals.
It was the largest hearing for a UK parliamentary select committee to date. People are starting to wake up to the real, negative impact that fashion is having on our environment and the people working in the industry. Finally, the UK government has decided to follow suit. The purpose of this inquiry was to gather responses from the various panel members, known as “evidence”, which will help inform the official Environmental Audit Committee report being released next year.
Panel witnesses included Claire Bergkamp, Sustainability and Innovation Director at Stella McCartney, Designer Phoebe English, Professor Dilys Williams, Professor of Fashion Design for Sustainability at London College of Fashion and Lucy Siegle, freelance journalist and writer, among other industry professionals, from all areas.
There were a lot of interesting takeaways from this debate, and it will be very interesting to see how the audit committee proceed forward in light of the information shared during the session. Interestingly, all panel members generally held the same consensus on most aspects of the discussion.
- On average, an item of clothing in the UK has 3.3 years of use – the lowest of all EU countries.
- We now consume 60% more clothing items than we did in 2000. If this continues to increase, by 2050 we will need three times the amount of resources to keep up with consumption desires.
- 120 billion new garments are produced each year.
Key Takeaways and Supporting Interviews
The links to supporting interviews with leaders at the forefront of ethical fashion provided below are accessible to members as part of The Members’ Club. If you are not a member and would like to enjoy these interviews, you can register your interest to become a member here.
- On the topic of zero waste, a huge problem discussed by all the designers was the lack of avenues through which to recycle their fabric offcuts. While there are multiple different options they had all explored at various points, it was obvious that as of yet, no one had sourced a reliable and environmentally friendly way to go about this. If you are having trouble knowing what to do with your scraps, you can send them to Offset Warehouse and we will sell them on as fabric scrap bags.
Interested in learning about more about zero waste and strategies to achieve it? We recommend these videos:
Zero Waste Lecture (1 hour)
In Conversation with Rawan Maki (30 mins)
Environmental & Sustainable Design Strategies for Eco-Design Businesses (41 mins)
Kapdaa: You’ll Never Have Scraps Again! (26 mins)
- Hiutt Denim is a clothing company that re-opened a denim factory in the founders’ local hometown to produce all of their items. They highlighted a benefit of local manufacturing is that it hugely reduces their carbon footprint. One of the biggest setbacks, however, is finding reliable labour; they soon realised that before the original factory’s closure, 14 years prior, it had been a thriving factory with a local community of skilled seamstresses and pattern cutters, but the workforce has either moved on or retired. They also discussed the importance of changing the stigma around ‘factory’ jobs.
Stay tuned for our upcoming Masterclass on Local Manufacturing. Until then, check out these videos for inspiration on how to make manufacturing locally work for you:
Sipahi & Co: Unstoppable Drive & Working with the Last Remaining UK Producers (29 mins)
Birdsong: An Inspiring Socia Enterprise with Painting Dinner Lady Producers (32 mins)
Elvis & Kresse: Sustainability, Longevity & Working with Celebrity (26 mins)
Juta Shoes: Supporting Women Facing Barriers to Work (23 mins)
Thraedable: The Brand Keeping Refugees from Criminality, Drugs & Terrorist Organisations (40 mins)
- Every panel member discussed the importance of educating consumers to avoid over-consumption. If shoppers are taught that buying something at a higher price point will provide an item of better quality that will last longer and that we do not need to mass-consume clothes that we throw out after very few wears, the panel members believed this would go a long way in helping change the over-consumption trend that is so prevalent at the moment. Every single panel member agreed that educating consumers was the primary way to battle over-consumption.
For advice on educating consumers, we recommend:
Communicating Sustainability with Forbes Journalist Olivia Pinnock (18 mins)
Measuring your Impact: Simple Strategies for Growing Your Business (1 hour)
Fab Little Bag: Solving a Huge Environmental Problem & Knabbing Waitrose as Their First Stockist (47 mins)
- Stella McCartney aims to be fully transparent and would like to be able to trace all of their materials from fibre to farm. They believe that currently, this is impossible for every material out there, but have achieved it on a few of their materials so far.
To hear from an inspiring brand leading the way in fully transparent supply chains, listen to:
Know the Origin: Traceable from Seed to Garment
- Two possible solutions to over-consumerism included an increase in the clothing for hire market, and better education for people so that they are able to repair clothing items that they already own.
Hear from the clothing hire company advocating for a change in the way we consume:
Wear the Walk: Transforming Consumerism (10 mins)
Additional Legislative Suggestions:
- The panel members believed legislation was required to stop fast fashion retailers undercutting each other, and consequently continually driving down the prices. They believe there is no reason for fast fashion to continuously lower their price points.
- Graeme Raeburn, the brother of designer Christopher Raeburn, discussed that one of the main issues for them, and one of the biggest barriers as an eco-friendly brand are the business rates. He mentioned that one possible outcome could be to scale these appropriately depending on the size of your business.