Ambassador Column | Is there such thing as ‘sustainable fashion’?

Ambassador Column | Is there such thing as ‘sustainable fashion’?

Every time we create a new product we are emitting carbon and using up natural resources. We have got to stop kidding ourselves that we are doing enough to change the fortunes of the planet!

As a fashion buyer my entire career, buying for some of the high streets’ biggest brands, I’ve bought more than my fair share of clothing. I love creating products that other people will cherish and wear again and again or clothe their children in. 

Developing a bestseller, or a whole range of bestsellers, is one of the most exciting challenges a buyer can face. And on more than one occasion Licensing has helped me to create iconic and much loved fashion ranges, that speak to the hearts of the customer – S Club Seven, JCB, Peter Rabbit, High School Musical, Natural History Museum, Military Wives Choirs, Minecraft, Dinosaur Roar, Barbie.

But here’s the thing. Statistics show that we are creating somewhere between 100 and 150 billion items of clothing every year. There are 8 billion people on the planet. That equates to somewhere between 12 and 19 new items of clothing, for every person on the planet, every year.

But it isn’t every person on the planet, is it? It is essentially the 1.3 billion who live in the developed world that account for the majority of this fashion consumption. That Shein haul that will be either tried on and returned, or worn once and thrown away. Those items that hit this weeks hottest trend, which will be dead in a few weeks time. And my personal favourite, of which we all fall foul from time to time, the item that is so cheap in the sale “it would be rude not to buy it”! All of these perpetuate an ever increasing trend for more clothing that we simply do not need.

“There are enough clothes on the planet right now to clothe the next 6 generations”
– The British Fashion Council

Over 50% of all fabric produced is made from polyester, essentially plastic, derived from fossil fuel. More than all the other fibres we use added together. Why? Because it is the cheapest fibre on the planet, which is why it literally fuels the fast fashion industry, perpetuating and indulging consumer desire for cheap, throwaway fashion.

Ah, “but all our polyester is recycled” I hear you cry! It is still plastic. It will still end up in landfill, and it will still not biodegrade. The microfibres which are released when polyester clothing is washed will still end up in the ocean.

Scientists believe that every fish in the ocean is now contaminated with these micro plastics, which means that they are now part of our food chain. We are literally eating our own waste plastic. What implications does that have for the human health of future generations?

Most recycled polyester is made from rPET, basically melted down plastic bottles. Such is the demand, that we are melting down vast quantities of food grade plastic, to make cheap clothes. The result – there is not enough food grade plastic to meet demand either, and this leads to yet more plastic production to plug the gap.

So what can we do?

1. Buy less/consume less – plan inventory better, don’t buy for markdown, build a supply chain that enables buying of smaller quantities, closer to home, with the opportunity to repeat if needed. Only buy volume in core, non-seasonal products which will last.

2. Reduce our use of polyester & other fibres derived from fossil fuel/plastic. Innovation in textile manufacturing is creating so many new options – find a more environmentally friendly alternative.

3. Work with your manufacturers switch to renewable energy throughout the supply chain, which has the potential to shrink scope 3 emissions by over 90%.

4. Create product that has a purpose – fashion business as a force for good, supporting local communities, charities and the workforce throughout the supply chain.

None of this will be easy, particularly in the midst of a cost of living crisis, but the fashion industry has a responsibility to do better!

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