We can’t help but scroll the digital shelves for our next Zara dress or H&M top. This week’s new skirt is next week’s sartorial chip paper. But, to be fair to the fashion victims amongst us, it’s tough to love our clothes for longer than a week when we are faced with a compelling array of newness being thrown at us from every direction. From those alluring Insta-squares to finely tuned emails and cleverly orchestrated online personalisation tactics. With this digital shop all at the simple scroll of a thumb, the urge to buy grows stronger and our incessant need for instant gratification makes clothes shopping take on a quasi-addictive quality. In the midst of succumbing to this ever-tempting sartorial space, we should spare a thought for the fashion industry’s latest victim: the environment.
Fast fashion as many of us have so clearly fallen victim too, is a tale of over-production and supply, powered by the relentless system of manufacturing that over the past three decades has revolutionised both the way we dress and the way clothing is produced. Globally, levels of production and consumption are forecast to increase in a bid to deliver a constant churn of catwalk inspired collections at high street prices. To achieve this and satisfy the constant craving by the increasingly demanding customer, retailers are finding themselves swamped in piles of unwanted garments.
With this here-today-gone-tomorrow mindset environmental corners are bound to be cut, with textile waste fast becoming the fashion industry’s next big scandal. The truth is, dead inventory is a hefty encumbrance on fashion giants like H&M who are reportedly dealing with huge amounts of unsold clothes, $4.3 billion to be exact. Prompting questions of whether the company is able to adapt to these changing consumer demands that are reshaping the global apparel market. What was once a money making dream machine as they profited off their ability to generate rapid translations of runway fashions into low priced imitations is now a logistical nightmare as the challenge around offering trendy apparel before it goes out of style mounts.
Where do all the unwanted clothes actually go? The ugly truth about what happens to them may surprise you; an estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year in the UK alone. According to the Youth Fashion Summit, fashion is the second largest polluting industry in the world. Currently, over 5% of the UK’s total annual carbon and footprints result from clothing consumption, so when you’re idly adding bargains to your virtual basket think about whether you will actually wear that sequined off-the-shoulder jumpsuit.
If clothes stayed in active use for nine months longer (extending their average life to around three years), this would reduce their carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%.
Extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use would lead to a 5-10% reduction.
In the average UK household, nearly a third of clothes (worth over £1,000 per household, £30 billion in total) haven’t been worn in the last year.
As the pressure intensifies on retailers to reform the throwaway clothing culture they’ve created, recycling has become a rallying cry in the apparel industry, with a drive to make everything at the end of its life into something new. Despite this, there is an obvious contradiction between selling fashion and instructing consumers to buy less. Initiatives such as The Love Your Clothes will encourage us all to make the most of the clothes we already have and help to change consumer behaviour towards clothing.
The best thing we can do is to reignite the love affair with our wardrobes by reacquainting ourselves with last week’s new buys and reinventing them with our newly acquired green fingers. But the textile waste story goes deeper. It comes down to a shift in cultural and industrial attitudes and a commitment to developing new, more efficient ways of processing old or unwanted clothes and, ultimately asking ourselves the question: what’s my ‘waste’ size?
For other thoughts on fashion inspired topics see our blog Fashioned From Nature.