What’s the problem?
The fashion industry has become notorious as one of the world’s biggest polluters. According to a report by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee last year, the volumes of water, electricity, chemicals and plastic waste involved in textile production mean the sector contributes more to climate change than the aviation and shipping industries combined.
In particular, fast fashion is a major issue. The throwaway mentality it encourages means more and more clothes are being carelessly discarded each year. In the UK, we consume clothing at a faster rate (26.7kg a year) than in any other European country. Government statistics also suggest around 300,000 tonnes of clothing end up in household bins every year.
What is this doing to the world?
This behaviour seriously impacts the planet and also some of its people. In 2015, textile manufacturing belched the equivalent of 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of California have found polyester microfibres from synthetic fabrics are released into our rivers, lakes and oceans every time they are washed, slowly poisoning fish and wildlife that ingest them.
Unscrupulous fashion businesses have also relied on cheap labour in countries with few or no environmental protection laws. Enforced long hours, poor working conditions and exploitation are a result of fast-fashion firms demanding a quick turnaround on new products.
What’s the solution?
In terms of production, clothing with a longer lifetime, manufactured sustainably from organic fabrics or recycled materials, is vital to reducing fashion’s carbon footprint. For consumers, there are various ways to be more sustainable, from buying eco-friendly ‘slow fashion’ brands to shopping in second-hand stores and purchasing from businesses that upcycle old or damaged textiles.
Happily, the days when ethical attire resembled a hopsack with sleeves are gone. ‘Green’ and ‘cool’ are no longer mutually exclusive, and some fashion businesses are now outspokenly pro-sustainability. Here are some of the brands making a concerted effort to be more eco-conscious…