Today marks the one year anniversary of TRAID’s 23% campaign and Londoners have passed on one million garments. An incredible achievement. Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP writes on the urgent need to reform the fashion industry, and what we can do to make a difference.
Our appetite for fast fashion comes with a huge social and environmental price tag. We send a million tonnes of clothes to landfill, incineration or abroad as waste every year. Online retailers sell dresses for a fiver, less than the hourly minimum wage, meaning poverty pay and unacceptable working conditions are too often the norm.
Left unchecked this industry will consume as much as a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 and yet our Government has done little to tackle it. Fashion is costing us the earth.
In our Environmental Audit Committee report published in February this year, we called on the Government to end the era of throwaway fashion. Fashion producers should be responsible for their waste through a one penny per garment charge which could raise £35 million a year to invest in clothing recycling.
The voluntary approach has failed. We recommended that the largest retailers be mandated to sign up to an action plan to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint. Setting these targets, alongside publishing a mandatory statement on modern slavery in their annual report, should be seen as a ‘licence to practice’.
Astoundingly, the Government rejected all 18 recommendations from our report. They proved they are not listening and appear increasingly out of step with the public mood. Charities, NGOs, the public and now many retailers can see that clothing must become fair and sustainable, and recognise the industry must change.
But what can be done about it?
Consumers have the ability to vote with their pocket. Buying less, supporting sustainable businesses, wearing longer and mending more are all actions that individuals can take. Passing on your unused garments to charities like TRAID, supporting their 23% campaign, can give a second life to your unwanted clothes which has significant water and carbon benefits.
But there are limits to what consumers can do. Ultimately, fashion retailers must take responsibility for their products. Advertising to promote a wardrobe change every month, selling clothes at a loss, burning unsold stock, and turning a blind eye to labour injustices in textile factories are all practices that must end.
A thriving fashion industry that inspires creativity, treats workers with respect, makes the most of material re-use and puts stories, feelings and meaning back into clothes is possible. Clothes don’t need to cost the earth and when consumers, industry and the Government get behind that we can transform fashion into a power for good.
Until then, it is up to each of us to do what we can, to help fix fashion. Take the 23% campaign action and help reduce our water, waste and carbon footprint.