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Fashion is a global industry worth £32 billion of the UK’s annual economy, employing more than 800,000 people. It is also sadly the second highest industry for pollution globally. Such a thriving industry has the power to create a positive difference, re-inventing the image of the fashion empire which is currently built on some damaging practices. If you are a business in the fashion industry that wants to make a conscious change, this blog post is for you!

What is Fast Fashion?

The popularity of the term "fast fashion" has grown since consumers have become more environmentally conscious. The fast fashion model arose as a result of the rapid emergence of new designs and trends, as well as an increased desire for convenience and availability of inexpensive overseas labour, enabling brands to manufacture vast quantities of clothing at a low cost. No matter how convenient it may be for the consumer, the knock-on effects of fast fashion are astonishing.

The fashion industry is vast and change can be complicated, however change starts with your ethics as a brand and what it means to be sustainable to you. Ethical manufacturing, careful fabric selection and waste reduction are three ways in which you could make your brand more sustainable.

Manufacturing, Fabric and Waste

Fast fashion accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions globally, with companies producing around 150 billion clothing items a year. Since 2014, consumers have bought 60% more garments but have only kept the clothes for half as long. The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes a second is dumped into landfill. The fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. A standard T-shirt takes 700 gallons of water to manufacture and one handful of chemical pesticides. Add a pair of jeans and that would take 2,700 gallons of water and 5 handfuls of chemical pesticide to produce one outfit.

In relation to fabric selection, fashion businesses can significantly improve their environmental impact by carefully choosing fabrics. Washing synthetic clothing releases 500,000 tonnes of microfibers, which are tiny pieces of non-biodegradable material, every year. These microfibers end up in our oceans and are the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

In addition to environmental impacts, there are also some serious social and ethical factors to consider. Factory workers along the supply chain of these companies are in some cases exploited dreadfully to maximise profits. They often work long hours, are poorly paid and suffer dangerous working conditions. Production on the rapid scale of fast fashion consequentially overtakes human welfare. A 2018 US department of labour report discovered evidence of forced child labour, in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Philippines, Vietnam, Turkey, to name a few.

10 Ways Your Fashion Business Can Become More Sustainable

  1. Join the sustainable clothing initiatives through WRAP

    Join ground-breaking initiatives like SCAP2020 and Textiles 2030 which are “expert-led, harnessing the knowledge and expertise of UK leaders in sustainability to accelerate the whole fashion and textiles industry’s move towards circularity and systemic change in the UK”.

  2. Minimise the use of chemicals in the manufacturing process

    Switch-up the production of your products using alternative materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp or bamboo.

  3. Support campaigns and petitions!

    Support on social media or donate to causes like the Clean Clothes Campaign. This is a global network with the goal to improve working conditions and empower the workers in garment and sportswear industries globally.

  4. Oversee your supply chain

    Make sure that the factory workers are being treated correctly, working in good conditions, and being paid fairly.

  5. Get involved in the Environmental Justice Foundation

    “Sign a petition, donate to a campaign, fundraise or learn more about the impact of your day-to-day choices. However you choose to support EJF, you'll be helping to secure lasting positive change for people and the planet.”

  6. Be efficient

    Use energy efficient machinery and processes and source your energy from renewables. Alternatively, find a sustainable manufacturer to do it for you!

  7. Use local opportunities

    Manufacture locally to reduce emissions associated with distribution.

  8. Encourage customers to give their clothing a second life

    Pass clothing to friends, give them to charity shops or sell online.

  9. Adapt old habits

    Reduce the excess plastic used in packaging, using compostable or recycled materials.

  10. Change your service options

    Structure your business to offer a return/repair/reuse service for your products.

Imogen Baldie
Business Development Officer
International Relations and Law Student