Fast fashion is on the increase, with UK consumption of clothing being the highest in Europe and a whopping 235 million items sent to landfill just last year. When large retailers are offering various items of clothing for the same price as the average coffee, it’s no wonder that t-shirts are being disposed of as casually as a Starbucks cup.
The Sustainability Inquiry
On Tuesday, 27 November the Environmental Audit Committee launched a Sustainability Inquiry aiming to analyse current industry processes which have given life to a culture of disposable fashion and to create a new model centred around sustainability, thus reducing its carbon footprint as well as the use of valuable (and finite) resources like water.
Chair Mary Creagh MP said: “Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact”.
As part of the inquiry into fast fashion, Creagh has been directly questioning some of the largest retailers in the UK about the sustainability (or lack thereof) of their business models. Representatives from Primark, ASOS, Arcadia Group, and Burberry all attended the latest hearing where Creagh addressed the fast fashion issue of selling items for just £5.
“People are not going to treat it with any respect at the end of its life. It is just going to go in the bin,” Creagh said.
Burberry were singled out at this hearing due to reports earlier in the year that they were burning unsold stock – worth £90m over the past 5 years – to protect their brand. Although this is something that they have committed to stop, their representative Leanne Wood highlighted that “it is an industry practice”, suggesting that this is continuing elsewhere despite sustainability concerns in the Parliament.
The retailers also found MPs scrutinising their relationships with suppliers and the treatment of UK workers. The inquiry has found evidence that Missguided and Boohoo were both failing to pay their employees the minimum wage.
The Response from Retailers
Primark responded to the concerns raised in the inquiry, emphasising the value of their clothing and how their business model allows them to sell clothes cheaper than other high-street competitors.
“We are proud of the quality and the durability of our garments,” said Paul Lister, head of ethical trade and environmental sustainability at Primark “They’re not built to throw away.”
Topshop also defended that their products are “tested rigorously” to ensure that they last as long as possible.
Missguided and Boohoo also responded to the inquiry, both denying treating their employees and suppliers unfairly. Boohoo claimed that their £5 dresses are a limited offering in comparison to their extensive network of styles and act as loss leaders to increase website visitors while ASOS, the largest online retailer in the UK, said they were “pretty sure” that these issues do not exist in their Leicester suppliers.
To Be Continued…
Despite retailers’ defences, MPs are convinced that there is a fundamental problem with the sustainability of the current industry of fast fashion.
The inquiry has found that fast fashion is severely damaging the planet. Creagh told BBC News that if current clothes consumption continues, “they will account for more than a quarter of our total impact on climate change by 2050”.