Last month was a tough one for ethical and sustainable fashion. We saw the UK Government reject all 18 recommendations of the Fixing Fashion Report, which was promptly followed by a slew of ill-timed greenwashing campaigns from fast fashion brands.
(It’s partly why I look so done in all these photos… thankfully my marbled blue and yellow dress gifted by Edward Mongzar brightens things up!)
It’s taken me this long to compose my reaction because I’ve put most of my energy into publicising my shock and frustration at the clear avoidance to do anything about fashion industry’s negative impact on people and planet, as well as shouting down those new greenwashing campaigns in the press. It feels good to be heard, but at the same time, frustrating that it’s due to the fact that no progress is being made.
So, is it all over for fixing fashion?
Fixing Fashion Report: The 18 Recommendations
In case you missed it, let me catch you up. In February, the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published a 73-page report summarising their inquiry into the UK’s fashion industry and its environmental and social price tag.
(If you’re a bit of an ethical fashion nerd like me, you can even watch the evidence sessions where many fashion brand representatives were asked dicey questions…)
The conclusion of the report put forward 18 recommendations, which I’ve summarised here:
- CARBON EMISSIONS: The fashion industry should create a blueprint for achieving net zero emissions.
- FAIR TREATMENT: Auditors (and any other fashion industry worker) should be treated without the risk of threats or violence.
- LABOUR LAW ENFORCEMENT: Labour market law in UK garment factories should be enforced more proactively than present.
- SLAVERY: The Government should publish a public list of all retailers required to release a Modern Slavery Statement, and penalise those that don’t report.
- HUMAN RIGHTS: Businesses should state their approach to human rights in their Annual Reports, and large companies should perform checks to ensure no forced or child labour.
- UK TRACEABILITY: The Government should work with industry to trace raw material sourcing and tackle social and environmental abuses.
- WORLDWIDE TRACEABILITY: Governments should make retailers ensure traceability to prove decent livelihoods and sustainably sourced materials.
- MICROFIBRE POLLUTION: The Government should get fashion retailers, water companies and washing machine manufacturers together to solve the problem of microfibre pollution.
- HEALTH RISKS: The Government should ask the Health and Safety Executive to review the occupational health risks of working with synthetic fibres.
- SUSTAINABLE CLOTHING ACTION PLAN (SCAP): Retailers should pay for the funding of SCAP, which is currently underfunded by Government.
- MANDATORY SCAP: SCAP targets should be made mandatory for all retailers with a turnover of more than £36 million.
- TAX: The Government should reform tax to reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not.
- BURNING STOCK: The Government should ban incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled.
- EDUCATION: Lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes should be included in schools.
- WASTE: Fashion retailers should take responsibility for the waste they create and companies that take positive action to reduce waste are rewarded.
- DESIGN: Existing strategy should incorporate eco-design principles, and there should be incentives for design for recycling, design for disassembly and design for durability, as well as investment fund for recycled fibres.
- SHARING ECONOMY: The Government should explore how it can support the sharing economy, using the tax system to incentivise reuse, repair and recycling and support responsible companies.
- RESPONSIBILITY: Retailers should take responsibility for the social and environmental cost of clothes and change their business practices.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that all 18 recommendations were rejected by the Government. You can read all their responses here.
It was a really disappointing result, and it was tough to read their refusal to take action, instead indicating fashion businesses can join voluntary schemes, be influenced by consumer behaviour, or follow more sustainable fashion businesses if they wish.
Why is Fast Fashion Bad?
From the report’s 18 recommendations, it’s clear to see that fast fashion is bad for people and the planet. Fast fashion is bad because:
- Fast fashion has no overarching plan on carbon neutrality
- Fast fashion does not treat people fairly, or legally, even in the UK
- Fast fashion is not transparent about its anti-slavery practices
- Fast fashion does not declare their approach to human rights
- Fast fashion does not trace where it gets its materials or labour from
- Fast fashion does not care about microfibre pollution
- Fast fashion does not pay for, or join, sustainable clothing schemes
- Fast fashion does not design clothes made to last
- Fast fashion does not encourage the reuse, repair, or recycling of clothes
- Fast fashion is not responsible for the social and environmental cost of clothes
There’s something to be said for how accessible fast fashion is: it’s on our high streets, delivered to our doors in 24 hours, and it’s so cheap. And for many consumers, it’s their only way to access clothes.
But I think this point in the Fixing Fashion Report clearly explains why we have to avoid it:
“[Consumers] are getting pleasure and enjoyment from fashion and that is coming at a cost to workers and the environment”Dr Mark Sumner, Paragraph 23, Fixing Fashion Report
With every click, every swipe of a card, every knock at the door, every night out, every selfie, we’re promoting an industry that is harming people and the planet. And we’re feeling good about it.
How You Can Do Your Bit to Stop Fast Fashion
Every time we buy fast fashion, we’re quite literally causing child labour, forced labour, slave labour. We’re tearing down our forests, draining our inland oceans, endangering animals, just for cheap clothes.
On that basis, we have to make fast fashion unfashionable. I mean really, really gross. Who would want to wear it? Ew.
If you want to join in, you can start fighting fast fashion by:
- Stop buying fast fashion
- Reduce how many new clothes you buy generally
- Buy second-hand clothes from charity shops, thrift shops, auction sites, or reseller apps
- Swap clothes with friends, family, or at clothes swaps
- Avoid products with pre-made rips and tears, or anything clearly poorly made or damaged
- Look for garments made from sustainable materials, recycled fabrics, or organic cotton
- Learn how to fix or mend your clothes, or pay for someone else to fix, mend, and alter them for you
- Wear your clothes more than the average of eight times
And when you’ve done that, take it one step further…
- Join the Fashion Revolution
- Ask fast fashion brands #WhoMadeMyClothes
- Share your ethical fashion picks on social media or start a blog, vlog, podcast, etc. (and join Ethical Influencers!)
- Send this postcard to your local MP or policy maker
- Hold your own clothes swap event
- Watch The True Cost, Riverblue, or Dispatches on Pickers & Packers
- Follow Fashion Revolution’s Online Course
I know that individual action isn’t the only driving force, but it certainly is a driving force. We can’t see this rejection as the end. This is only the first hurdle.
And you should know – fixing fashion represents more than just the fashion industry. It’s a vehicle for us to promote social justice and environmental protection. If, one day, these measures are put in place across the fashion industry, who knows, maybe all industries will be encouraged to clean up their act too.
The louder we shout, the more these brands and Ministers are going to listen. Let’s make a racket!
P.S. Don’t worry if you really can’t avoid fast fashion, or do everything on these lists. Eco perfectionism is not healthy, and know that this movement isn’t all on you. Anything you can do to support is valued.
Disclaimer: This post contains gifted items (denoted 'gifted').