Fashion + Sustainability

Sustainable fashion policy: is it all just a publicity stunt?

Some may say that the environmental and ethical awareness of sustainable fashion has been circulating for a while now but it is just not good enough. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, every second the equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.

The current linear business model is out-dated. It is failing businesses, people and the environment. We have essentially created an attitude of: wear once, bin it – repeat. This has created copious amounts of unrestricted waste, mainly coming from fast fashion practices.

Fashion is not frivolous nor disposable; it is art, it is creativity and should not be considered short-term. The attitude towards fashion has to change. There is no question about it, it needs to become more sustainable.

So what are our worldwide policymakers doing about it – particularly the UK, Europe and the US?

UK: Fixing Fashion

For the purposes of the UK I wanted to relate this blog to more official content. Thus, the facts and figures accompanying this section have been taken from a 2019 House of Commons report – ‘Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability’.

The report opens with the statement: ‘the way we make, use and throwaway our clothes is unsustainable’. It is obvious MPs are aware of the issue but really how much do they actually care?

In 2017 the fashion industry was worth £32 billion to the UK economy. But besides capitalism for one minute, concerns have now been raised that the fast fashion business model is supporting over consumption and generating unrestricted waste.

Shortly after this report’s publication the government actually responded, which one could say is progress. Their report explains the imminent action needed and what plans are in line for the future. The responses are extensive and vast, but how much do we hold the government to this?

The policies vary in response. First off they want to support reusing and closed loop recycling. Secondly, the government have vowed to develop policy measures to ensure consumers are provided with better information on the sustainability of their purchases. Lastly, there is the proposed roll out of the extended producer responsibility scheme – covering all eco design product standards.

Europe: The ECAP

Fashion, in the EU economy, provides an important contribution with the industry directly employing around 5 million people.

The EU believe that the fashion industry can contribute positively to meeting the 2016 Paris agreements’ goals of climate neutrality by 2050. To promote this belief to the fashion industry a report was commissioned that provides an overview of opportunities and challenges related to implementing environmentally and economically sustainable business models.

One of the policy initiatives that has come from the EU is the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) that was generated to bring environmental and economic benefits to the clothing sector. The project was centred upon the clothing supply chain and has eight main action areas.

These cover sourcing to producing to consuming, all with the same intention of increasing awareness and importance of instigating fashion sustainability into the supply chain.

US: The USFIA

The US have an exclusive fashion industry association (USFIA) that are committed to sourcing and manufacturing at the highest standards.

The group states to share the same views as administration, congress, media and consumers by educating stakeholders about the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion practices.

USFIA serve as a link between the government and implementation of policy. The website lists a number of reports that detail the US’ efforts towards sustainability. Perhaps one of the most relevant being in 2015, when USFIA collaborated with the Better Cotton Initiative to promote responsible cotton sourcing.

From the state of the government website and exclusive sustainable fashion policy the US seem to be lagging behind. Seems ironic since they are the biggest economy out of all three.

I believe in order for more countries to follow suit, political and economic powerhouses like the US need to be more vocal in their fashion sustainability efforts.

Fast-fashion obsessed

The UK, Europe and USA – all developed countries – are fast-fashion obsessed. Ok the clothes are cheap, extremely accessible with forever changing trends, but can we really remain in this toxic cycle for much longer? No.

Yes, fast fashion, annually increases the number of fashion collections and offer lower prices, possibly making it more affordable. But what if the detrimental impacts of this business model were taught across early academia? We could move away from this damaging linear model by promoting sustainable fashion through more considerate consumption.

All the policy responses mentioned are steps in the right direction. But, the worldwide awareness of sustainable fashion needs to improve. Every government should be shouting it from the rooftops. It is not and should not be a marketing stunt.

Merely mentioning the importance of sustainable fashion is not enough. Governments need to truly back it through policy changes. If governments back it, businesses have to listen and -in turn – consumers attitudes have to change!

Individual and collaborative ability

Some of you reading this, rightly so, will be saying that for the largest change, it is purely down to the government to change legal requirements and for corporations to implement these.

Ultimately, yes; this is the case, but if every single individual had this long-term outlook nothing, in any industrial sector, would ever change.

The attitudes towards fashion has to change, perhaps even more backward-looking – we used to care for our clothes, love our clothes, not wear them once and throw them away.

We cannot underestimate our individual and collaborative ability to enforce sustainable fashion. Whether it be through: reducing consumption, recycling/upcycling old garments or increasing consumer awareness – we cannot give up!

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