LONDON — Sustainability campaigners have applauded a new report by the U.K.’s Environmental Audit Committee that highlights the culture of throwaway fashion and the unfavorable working conditions in the country’s apparel factories.
“The report is unequivocal in its message: ‘The fashion industry’s current business model is clearly unsustainable,'” said Prof. Dilys Williams, director at the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion. “Its call for action is one that involves us all, as designers, makers, sellers, buyers, wearers, investors, educators, communicators and legislators.”
Williams added that education, and ongoing collaboration, between tutors, students, researchers and NGOs, can be a big driver of change.
Frances Corner, head of London College of Fashion, focused on the report’s suggestion that schools teach younger students how to repair clothes. She said some of the most vital steps in addressing fashion’s sustainability issue is putting an end to “throwaway” fashion.
“I hope this report marks a turning point — as has been identified by Mary Creagh [the member of Parliament who spearheaded the investigation] that a voluntary approach to sustainability has not worked. It’s now time for the U.K. fashion industry to lead by example,” said Corner.
The report is the result of an investigation that took place throughout 2018 based on information gathered from fast-fashion retailers such as Boohoo, Missguided and Asos, as well as from local designers and sustainability champions Phoebe English and Christopher Raeburn. Bigger luxury players such as Burberry and Stella McCartney also took part.
The parliamentary hearings addressed everything from factory working conditions to fabric sourcing, British consumers’ shopping habits and the industry’s waste issue — each year 140 million pounds’ worth of clothing ends up in landfills in the U.K., which has some of the highest consumption rates in Europe.
The committee’s proposal to resolve these pertinent issues lies in “clear economic incentives” to be proposed by the government.
In particular, they want the government to enforce a penny tax on clothing, which could raise up to 35 million pounds that would go toward improving recycling, and developing a system where companies designing products with lower environmental impact are rewarded and those that don’t are penalized.
Another proposal wants to see the tax on virgin plastics — to be implemented as of 2022 — stretched to include synthetic textiles.
“The government can certainly change the law. It’s changed the law to force companies to take back their batteries in their cars, and we think that should be extended now to textiles. A million tons of textiles a year are being thrown away and we need to bend the curve of consumption. We are urging consumers to buy less, to repair and reuse more before they recycle as well,” said Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.
According to Creagh, a legal and economic framework would ensure that companies do their due diligence checks better and provide more visibility across the supply chain in order to avoid current practices of turning a blind eye to environmental and social abuses, such as the industry’s “open secret” that Leicester factory workers are not even paid the minimum wage.
Some of the U.K.’s biggest fast-fashion online players, including Boohoo, Missguided and Asos, have been criticized for being among the least engaged with sustainability issues — as have some luxury giants, Louis Vuitton in particular, for their fast-paced production schedule and strategy of offering new product drops every two weeks.
The British government has two months to respond to the report.