LONDON – Some fast fashion garments are so cheap and poorly produced even charity shops don’t want them, UK MPs have been told this week. A range of protagonists have been presenting evidence to a UK Parliamentary select committee, which is investigating the environmental impact of the UK fashion industry. The committee notes that 400,000 tonnes end up being binned in UK landfill sites annually.
MPs were told to pressure fashion brands to design clothes that pollute less and which are easier to recycle to reduce fast fashion’s environmental impact. It was also claimed demand for low cost garments is leading to poor working conditions and exploitation in global supply chains.
On expert offering insight to the Environmental Audit Committee, at which this was the first hearing of its inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, was Mark Sumner, a lecturer in fashion and sustainability at the University of Leeds.
He said: “Consumers in the UK are getting pleasure and enjoyment from fashion and that is coming at a cost to workers and the environment,” said Mark Sumner, a lecturer in fashion and sustainability at the University of Leeds.
Alan Wheeler, head of Britain’s Textile Recycling Association, a trade group, said incentives like taxes should be used to push companies to design clothing that is easier to recycle and disassemble.
“I would like to see producers, retailers, being made in some way to take more responsibility for the clothing that they are putting on the market,” he said.
Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at the University of Plymouth, said companies should try to cut the amount of plastic fibres that clothes shed during washing, arguing that clothes release half a million tons of plastic microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.
Stella Claxton, senior lecturer with the Clothing Sustainability Research Group, said some clothes are so cheap even charity shops may not want them.
Speaking to MPs she said: “If you look at where the growth of the retail market in the UK is coming from, it is very much the kind of low value end, particularly the success of the online retailers such as Asos and Boohoo who are competing on low prices and fast turnaround. I saw a dress on Boohoo retailed for full price at £5 at the weekend.
“So we have a market – these garments are mainly aimed at young women who are getting pleasure from what they wear and getting pleasure through their clothing. But the actual value of the item is very low in real terms and in quality terms and in emotional terms to them.”
The Committee has confirmed it will hold the first evidence hearing in its Sustainability of the Fashion Industry inquiry. The first panel will focus largely on the environmental impacts of the garment industry and the second session will focus primarily on social issues, such as workers’ rights and fair pay.
The Environmental Audit Committee will hold another evidence hearing at the Victoria and Albert Museum where it will question a range of high-profile guest speakers on fashion and sustainability, as part of its inquiry.
The session will take place at V&A Museum, Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, 10am – 12.00pm, Tuesday 13 November.
Confirmed witnesses for the hearing include:
· Claire Bergkamp, sustainability & innovation director, Stella McCartney Ltd
· David Hieatt, founder of Howies and Hiut Denim
· Graeme Raeburn, designer
· Phoebe English, designer
· Lucy Siegle, Guardian journalist
· Professor Dilys Williams, director and professor of fashion design for sustainability
· Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary, IndustriALL union
· Jenny Grice, from up-cyclers collective Waste Not, Want Not