I attended the ‘How to be a Fashion Revolutionary’ session at the V&A Dundee a couple of weeks ago. I have been trying very hard for the past year or so to not buy too many clothes and when buying to only buy from sustainable/local/ independent makers who sell high-quality garments or accessories. A few of my favourites include; Lucy and Yak, Kerrie Aldo, Dreamland Clothing, Retro Rehab, Lotta from Stolkholm, Millie Scott, and Green Thomas.
I am also now learning to make my own clothes at pattern cutting classes with Min creating totally unique pieces. The next step is to find a steady supply of second-hand materials (big enough for garments) to avoid adding to the problem.
The event at the V&A by Fashion Revolution Scotland highlighted many of the issues with fast fashion.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is what you see in the high street shops – new trends being represented through clothes quickly produced for a quick fashion hit. This process is almost entirely linear using large amounts of resources such as oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers to grow crops and chemicals to dye and finish textiles. On top of this around 98 billion meters of water is used annually within the textile industry. Add all this to the transport between these stages, the factory power and workers needed to produce the textiles and then the garments and getting it to the shops. In 2015 the textile industry produced 1.2 nillion tones of CO2 – ‘more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined’! 3
It does not end there when washing your new clothes microfibres shed in your washing machine. ‘It has been estimated that around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres shed during the washing of plastic-based textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic end up in the ocean annually.’ 4
‘As a whole in the UK, the average lifetime for a garment of clothing is estimated as ~2.2 years.’ 1 However a lot of this clothing is not worn for long at all… What’s the oldest thing in your wardrobe you are still wearing?
‘The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.’ 1
You may think don’t worry I have got rid of all my unused clothes, I gave them to the charity shop. Charity shops need your donations however they are overwhelmed by low-quality clothes produced through the fast fashion process. When Charity Shops don’t want your clothes, what happens to them?
Landfill; Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, with 87% sent to landfilled or incinerated. 2
For those that are recycled, Unravel is a great short film produced to explain how some of our clothes avoid landfill through being turned back into yarn. It showcases the process and what the workers have to do at the different stages, it also highlights the rumours, imagination and thoughts of the workers about why so many clothes are sent there;
‘It feels like the clothes are practically unworn’
‘Everyone here says that the clothes have come over because there is a water shortage in the West’
‘Water is just as expensive as clothes for these people’
We are still buying too much and throwing too much away. It is not just the consumers who are to blame, companies still use harmful processes, unethical employment and working environments.
Fashion revolution was set up in response to the Rana Plaza Disaster in 2013. Rana Plaza housed 5 garment factories in Greater Dhaka district of Savar, on the 24th of April 2013 it took 90 seconds to collapse and overall killed 1,134 people. Every year Fashion Revolution runs a week around the 24th of April to highlight the issues of fashion and call us to action. Find out who made your clothes, tag the brand or designer, take a picture of the label and ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? Find out more here: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/get-involved/
You can also look at which companies are starting to respond to consumers asking who made my clothes, what enviromantal impacts are you having?
A great indication of this can be seen in the table of retailers responses in the House of Commons ‘Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability -Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19‘ Surprisingly lots of high street retailers are starting to think more about this however none of them are fully engadged.
3 International Energy Agency, Energy, Climate Change & Environment: 2016 insights (2016), p.113 (https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/ECCE2016.pdf)