Climate Crisis and the Environment

The Fast Fashion Footprint

Public consciousness about sustainability is rising and thank goodness! We are becoming increasingly socially aware of the damage we are doing to the environment and we have already enacted change such as the 5p plastic bag charge or the Waste Nott campaign on the UoN campus.

We are taking small but significant footsteps towards recognising the importance of sustainability and implementing measures to counter environmental damage. However, say the word ‘sustainability’ and one does not automatically think fashion. Yet the fashion industry, particularly ‘fast fashion’ chains such as Primark, who produce low-priced goods on a large scale, have recently come under fire.

“‘Fast fashion’ chains have recently come under fire.”

Primark are known for their bargains, yet you may wonder how they make money from such inexpensive stock. Primark’s head of ethical trade Paul Lister explained that selling garments for such low prices still turns a profit. This is because between £100-150m is saved yearly through the brand’s business model which includes limited advertising.

MP Mary Creagh has criticised Primark for its wasteful and cheap products, arguing that they are not built for durability. To this, Mr Lister insists that Primark’s garments are made with longevity in mind. He has further detailed proposals for waste stock to be used by charities across the world.

It strikes me that I would not buy a garment from Primark on the premise that it would be as durable as, say, Topshop where you pay for a higher quality. However, I cannot claim to be blameless as I too am attracted to Primark by the appeal of low prices.   

The question arises: is this fast fashion model sustainable?

Even though Primark claims to have minimal wastage, the company surely contributes towards the percieved acceptibility of a purchasing culture which consumes clothes cheaply and regularly. Especially from a student perspective, there is an encouragement to buy new outfits each time you go out or buy cheap fancy dress items for socials.

“A purchasing culture which consumes clothes cheaply and regularly.”

This greater availability of cheap clothing, also facilitated through online sites such as Missguided or Boohoo, has arguably contributed to excessive purchasing habits. This is not to say that we spend more, but it suggests that we are buying more individual pieces and are becoming desensitised to how wasteful this practise is.

The Environment Audit Committee (EAC) found that the UK has the highest consumption of new clothing per head across Europe. 235m garments were landfilled in 2017. Moreover, Professor Dilys Williams, from London College of Fashion, has claimed that we purchase a huge 400% more garments than under two decades ago.

This Primark mind-set is enabling this behaviour and brands should be more accountable for their own waste, and their promotion of wasteful habits to their customers.

Yet all hope is not lost. H&M is a great example of fashion sustainability as they run an in-store collection scheme where customers can donate old clothes that would otherwise fall into landfill. The company believes sustainability is achievable in fashion and even give customers a voucher as a reward for their donation. Do not worry, the clothes do not have to be from H&M and they accept them in any condition. There is no excuse not to donate.

H&M states that it is “senseless that so much clothes and discarded textiles end up in landfills. Recycling is one of many ways fulfil our goals towards a sustainable future. In 2017 we collected more than 17,771 tonnes of textiles — the equivalent of 89 million T-shirts.”

“There is no excuse not to donate.”

As a university student there will always be budget constraints when buying clothes, but it is important to give greater thought next time you buy cheaply as to whether you really want the garment. Nottingham is full of charity shops to donate to and is also home to a H&M store, so you can even donate your damaged items there.

We cannot change the industry overnight, but we can be more environmentally aware by adjusting our purchasing habits.

Millie Buttery

Featured Image courtesy of Mikey via Flickr. Image license found here.

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