Fashion is big business. In 2010, the industry was worth over £500 billion worldwide, and every year the average Brit spends £600 buying 40 items of clothing. But, like many industries, it’s only just starting to clean up its act on climate change.
There’s lots to do – in the UK alone, clothing and textiles is responsible for over 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year. And that’s just a fraction of the real figure, because the industry is made up of a complex web of global supply chains – even a humble tshirt sold in the UK might be stitched and printed on American cotton in a Chinese factory, based on a design from Paris.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Places like the Centre for Sustainable Fashion are working to build a smarter fashion industry, connecting research, education and business to support, inspire and create new approaches to fashion. They’ve suggested a few key areas for improvement – from designing with alternative materials (miniskirts made of milk, anyone?) to challenging the idea of clothes as disposable products (1.5 million tonnes of unwanted clothing a year, ultimately ends up in landfill).
This kind of big-picture thinking can feel a long way from your everyday dressing decisions, but it’s starting to filter through to the high street. Big names like H&M and M&S are working to make green the new black with ambitious projects to bring down emissions in their stores, factories, and everywhere in between.
This kind of big-picture thinking can feel a long way from your everyday dressing decisions, but it’s starting to filter through to the high street.
Charity shops like Oxfam and Cancer Research UK do a great job of diverting our clothes from landfill. Plus some, like Traid, even refashion and remake the clothes donated to them, through TRAIDremade.
And it’s not just individual companies doing good work. MADE-BY is a global initiative helping brands like Ted Baker with the tools and practical support they need to improve their products’ climate credentials. The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan is also worth a look – this UK government project gets businesses including Levis, Nike and 10:10ers Adidas signed up to translate good intentions into concrete actions.
It’s nice to see things changing, but apart from washing at 30 how can we keep the goodness going when these clothes find their way to our wardrobes? That’s where the trusty needle and thread comes in! Check out my interview with mending maestro Sophie Barclay for loads of tips and links to get you started.
And if you’ve got other stuff that needs fixing besides clothes, why not check out the other repairing tips over on our Remade page.
Interested in some further reading? For a quick read, have a look at Fashion Futures, which imagines four different forms the fashion industry could take in 2025.
Or, if you want a longer read, try Alison Gwilt and Timo Rissanen’s Shaping Sustainable Fashion:Changing the Way We Make and Use Clothes. It does a fantastic job of defining sustainability in a fashion context and provides a fascinating insight into the wider environmental debate.