The first Sustainable Fashion Week is here! Across the UK activities are going on that bring a focus on the fashion supply chain and the social, economic and environmental impact it has. It’s hoped that the week will be filled with activities that are inspiring, empowering and begin to upskill the community; to equip people of all ages to have a more sustainable relationship with fashion and generate action for change.
Why do we need the change?
The fashion industry contributes around 10% of global carbon emissions, and makes up 20% of global waste water – polluting waterways with dyes and chemicals. It supports mono-agriculture and the wide scale use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers that see the ruination of soil structures and natural ecosystems. Add to this the often dangerous working conditions, excessively long hours of work for under the living wage and little by way of unionisation to protect the garment workers. Then there’s the cultural appropriation of ancient, often sacred textile designs incorporated into high street garments with no acknowledgment or compensation for communities. Once in the hands of the consumer, we have people washing nothing but a single item in a washing machine, wasting energy and water. The washing of synthetic fibres produces the most microplastics escaping into water ways and oceans. When an item becomes unwanted (many of which are never even worn!), then there is the impact of textile waste. Up to 70% of clothing donated in Western countries ends up in a global clothing trade with tonnes of garments ending up in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some are sold while other are packed off to dumps out of the sight of western sensibilities. Destroying other people’s land, ruining their own local, traditional textile industries.
The fashion industry can be a disaster from beginning to end, but fortunately there are things happening to improve it.
Advocates of Sustainable Fashion
With all of this doom and gloom, it’s often a relief to find that there are lots of people and organisations already working really hard to improve the situation. The Global Goals Centre has ‘Threads’ as one of its central themes and is bringing together organisations and resources to support people of all ages wanting to find out more and make a difference to the fashion supply chain. Working with them, I surveyed over 700, 7-18 year olds earlier this year and found that, fast fashion is a concept little known about. (see the report about the Hear Our Voice survey). We are working at developing a range of educational resources for children that will be available later this year and into 2022.
But, it’s not just children that don’t know much about fast fashion (Jones, 2021). A majority of adults too are unfamiliar with the issues too. So, where can you go for more information? My work with Cymbrogi Learn and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has seen the development of some great resources focusing on a shift to a more circular, sustainable model of fashion for educators (information about these courses here). In addition to that there’s the work of the international charity Fashion Revolution that brings together designers, producers, makers, workers and consumers to demand a fairer fashion industry
- Fashion Revolution supports dignified work for all; that doesn’t enslave, endanger or exploit, abuse or discriminate anyone.
- Ensures fair and equal pay for all its workers, from farm to shop floor.
- Conserves and restores the environment from which our clothing comes from and travels through – safeguards our diverse ecosystem.
- Works towards reducing the unnecessarily destruction and discarding of clothing; promoting.
- Encouraging the fashion industry to be transparent and accountable
Myself and Prof. Ian Cook worked with Fashion Revolution to develop the online course Who Made My Clothes? This free, three week course starts by asking participants to be curious about their clothing. Clothes are our second skin, they represent who we are, how we’re feeling. We have special clothes for celebrations and ceremonies – from birth to the grave. Then we ask people to find out more about an item of their own clothing and become a clothes detective, before bringing it back to thinking how we can do something to improve the situation, whether this be at the individual, local, national or international scale. Already we have had over 17,000 participants complete the course and we’d love to have you join us!
Top Tips to reduce your fashion impact
- Love the clothes you already own – wear them, repair them, make them last.
- Only buy clothes you love and will wear again and again.
- Instead of buying a piece for a one off celebration or special event consider hiring or borrowing clothes.
- If you want to know about the story of how your clothes were made ask! By raising your voice through social media and asking Who Made My Clothes? and What’s In My Clothes? brings brands to account. They will take notice.
- Always fill your washing machine and wash at 30 degrees.
- Try buying preloved and vintage items and give clothes a new home: E-bay, Depop, Oxfam and many more charities and independent stores are available on the high street and online.
- Learn to do simple mending – sewing on a button, darning and patching is a lot easier than you think!
- Organise a clothes swap at work or amongst friends.
- Set up a group viewing of the 2015 documentary The True Cost to raise awareness of the issues
- Join our community of learners on the Who Made My Clothes? course
Blog written by Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer, Department of Arts and Creative Education.