Last week I was invited to take part in the Westminster Business Forum about the next steps for the UK fashion industry looking at sustainability, ethics and growth. I was very excited to be involved and to know that ministers are looking into how to fix fashion.
Fixing Fashion Inquiry
In 2018 the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee investigated the fashion industry and how sustainable and ethical it was (or wasn’t!) This involved various people within the industry giving evidence to a panel of cross party ministers on various aspects. Many thought leaders in the area submitted evidence to the inquiry including Prof. Kate Fletcher, Prof. Dilys Williams, Prof. Tim Cooper and Dr. Mark Sumner. They provided information on issues such as labour exploitation, consumption levels, stock burning, pre-consumer waste and much more. An in-depth report was produced was an in depth from this giving a worrying account of the state of the industry.
Various fast fashion brands were criticised but Boohoo and Missguided were named as the least sustainable. Some such as ASOS, M&S and Burberry were praised for the initiatives. The report provided 16 key suggestions for parliament to consider legislating on. The penny tax on fashion received a lot of press attention and some in the industry felt it was pointless including fashion activist Katherine Hamnett who said it would be “like putting a plaster on a septic wound”. Incredibly, all the recommendations were dismissed by the government. Not one of them were taken forward into law.
Revisiting the Inquiry
In 2020 the committee decided to follow up on the 2018 inquiry to see if any progress had been made in the intervening two years. The Boohoo scandal in Leicester also impressed the need for more investigation into labour market exploitation.
The Westminster Business Forum events featured many of the same industry experts who updated us on the current state of the industry. Prof. Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion presented the findings of the Fostering Sustainable Practices Research project. The Boy Wonder brand was one of the businesses used as a case study in this project alongside other amazing innovators such as Raeburn, Bethany Williams and Birdsong.
The environmental campaign foundation Hubbub presented slides that showed a real appetite for change within the public since the pandemic and that consumer habits are changing.
“Over 70% of people think the government should bring more clothing
manufacturing back to the UK and provide support to start-up businesses
with a green model”
“65% said government should urgently do more to reduce the environmental
impact of the fashion industry”
There were other presentations from Tamara Cincik from Fashion Roundtable, Catherine Salvidge from WRAP, Dr Sandeep Sandhu from KTN and Kate Hills from Make it British. Overall they all called for more funding and support for British businesses that are doing the right thing and simpler legislation and regulations that penalise the fast fashion brands and and not the smaller brands. There were various suggestions for this including possible tax breaks for those with proven sustainability credentials. I brought up the idea of a type of traffic lights labelling system to help consumers understand quickly and easily what is good and what isn’t. It was strongly felt that voluntary schemes are not enough and legislation is now necessary.
Hubbub had put together some of the recommendations for Government (see below)
Whether government will take on these recommendations this time round is anyone’s guess. The all party parliamentary group (APPG) for ethics and sustainability in fashion was put together 10 years ago. Very little has improved in the industry since it’s inception, so it doesn’t seem promising. However, with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) being hosted in Glasgow this November the government will be under pressure to show that they are taking action to meet the net zero by 2050.
The combined effects of covid and brexit on the sector are also triggering calls across the board for change. Retail has been decimated due to shop closures during lockdown. Well known bricks and mortar stores that have collapsed such as Topshop have been snapped up by online giants like ASOS and Debenhams by Boohoo. This will have a huge impact on the landscape of fashion retail for years to come. Can this shift be driven towards a way to fix fashion rather than just more disposable, cheap fast fashion?
What You Can Do
Public pressure and sentiment will be key to pushing things in the right direction. The survival of brands like ours that are offering consumers more sustainable and ethical options will help drive that change. That’s why it is so important to support small brands doing the right thing, whether that is simply by telling others about them or by purchasing their products. You can check out our range of sustainable kids fashion here.
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All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion (appgfashion.co.uk)
Making the UK a global leader in Sustainable Fashion | APPG report 2020 by HUBBUB – Issuu
Sustainable clothing action plan – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Fast fashion: The government says plans to force the industry to be more environmentally friendly aren’t needed – CBBC Newsround
Fast fashion – slow government (theecologist.org)
Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability – Report Summary – Environmental Audit Committee (parliament.uk)
Fast fashion giant Boohoo must improve workers’ rights says MPs’ committee | UK | News | Express.co.uk
Fast fashion: Boohoo and Missguided among worst offenders in sustainability inquiry | The Independent | The Independent
EAC revisit fashion sustainability and working conditions in UK garment industry – Committees – UK Parliament