65% of UK residents surveyed agree the government needs to act urgently to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry

65% of UK residents surveyed agree the government needs to act urgently to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry

The UK government is being urged to help build a more sustainable fashion industry after the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the "fault-lines" in the industry.

Sustainability charity Hubbub has put forward a series of recommendations in a new report, including the development of sustainable fabrics, boosting textile recycling and bringing textile manufacturing back to the UK.

Produced on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, the report states that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the environmental and social impact of the industry was increasingly under public scrutiny.

Fast fashion resulted in GBP140m (US$181.7m) of clothing being sent to landfill every year in the UK, authors note, adding that although charity shop donation rates are high, 300,000 tonnes of clothing still ends up in household bins every year – with around 20% of this going to landfill and 80% incinerated. The industry's carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise to nearly 2.8bn tonnes by 2030.  

The new APPG report, 'Making the UK a global leader in sustainable fashion,' includes responses from a survey carried out with members of the public in which 65% of UK residents agree the government needs to act urgently to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

52% of those polled said they would be willing to spend a little more on clothes if they were guaranteed to be made ethically in the UK supporting British workers, and 49% would be willing to spend a little more on clothes if they were guaranteed to be less impactful on the environment. 

The report calls on the government to:

  • Invest in research and development to create more sustainable fabrics that have a lower environmental and social impact – backed by 66% of the public.
  • Boost investment in UK fabric recycling facilities to create a more circular economy – backed by 73% of the public and review existing VAT rules which currently make it more cost-effective to destroy clothing rather than donate.
  • Support new start-up businesses operating more green business models – backed by 74% of the public.
  • Invest in skills to bring more clothes manufacturing jobs back to the UK – backed by 72% of the public 
  • Support industry to create clearer information and labelling about the sustainability of clothes helping to educate consumers about their everyday choices and force companies to change their approach – backed by 64% of the public.

The report highlights how the industry can play its part in this transformation and that these steps would have public backing. 65% of people said they'd be happy for fashion to 'slow down,' i.e. less production of mass-produced cheap clothing in favour of good quality clothing that will last; and a third of 16-24 year olds feel constant pressure to buy new clothes. Three-quarters of respondents agree that clothing companies have a responsibility to look after the people who make their products. 

The research also calls on companies to reassess their business models and focus on one that is resilient and sustainable. Specifically, it says:

  • People and communities should be at the heart of their strategy building transparency, resilience and social justice throughout operations.
  • Enhance communications with consumers enabling them to make more informed choices.
  • Create more resilient business models able to cope with future shocks.
  • Greater collaboration with government, other companies and citizens to jointly create a more sustainable business model.
  • Reviewing business processes so that they generate profit operating within environmental limits. This should include delivering on climate targets, enhancing biodiversity, safeguarding natural resources and reducing waste.

"Coronavirus has exposed deep inequalities and unsustainability in the garment industry. Creating a sustainable and ethical future for the fashion industry is an important but complex challenge for government, industry and the public and what is clear is that there is an appetite for this on all sides," Catherine West MP, chair of the APPG, says. "We must seize this moment and put these recommendations into action by pushing the government to be a global leader, helping to build a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry, both within the UK and globally.

Trewin Restorick, founder and CEO of Hubbub, adds: "Now is the time for government intervention to fix fast fashion and force companies to change their approach. We hope both the government and the fashion industry will act with urgency on the recommendations of the APPG, which are backed by the UK public. As we've set out in our greenprint, a more just and sustainable approach to how we dress, live, eat and travel is needed as we 'build back better', which builds greater long-term resilience. It's important for all of us to play our part by making individual small changes and choosing where we spend our money."