The trend to Fast Fashion, particularly among young people, is having a significant negative impact on the planet. While most of the garments produced are sourced internationally, particularly from low-income countries, and may appear, therefore, to be addressing SDG goals 1 (No poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 8 (Economic growth), and 10 (Reduced inequality), often this is not the case due to exploitation of the workforce and the utilisation of child labour. Additionally the long haul transportation of the garments from the place of manufacture to the place of consumption uses energy and contributes further to global warming, while in an attempt to reduce the time taken from place of production to place of consumption there is a shift from sea to air transport. Such a shift could increase, considerably, the negative impact on the environment, with it being estimated that a shift of only 3% would be responsible for 100% more carbon emissions.
This trend to faster production and lead times has led some manufactures to re-shore and to start manufacturing in the place of consumption. In the UK, for example, where more clothing is bought per head of population than in any other country in Europe, a city such as Leicester has some 10,000 textile workers employed in 700 factories. Many of them are migrant, temporary workers earning considerably less than the national minimum wage for those aged 25 and over. This means not only faster production, distribution, and consumption, but lower costs. As no retail premises are involved and sales are online, often through social media platforms, costs are further reduced as is the purchase price. While the quality of the clothes is often poor, the price is also low making garments easily disposable and some 10% of consumers say they throw away clothes after a few wears as they are cheap to buy. Some 5% even throw away unused, new clothing because of the hassle of returning it.
As a result, in the UK alone, an estimated £12.5 billion of clothes are disposed of each year amounting to 300,000 tonnes of textiles, mainly non-bio-degradable, and all ending up in landfill sites. On average each person in the UK throws away 8 items of clothing a year with a total average purchase price of £500. Globally, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced annually, the equivalent of a truck full of clothes every second. Currently, only about 1% is recycled the majority going as landfill or being burned.
Additionally, according to research undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), the fashion industry itself is responsible for the use of 1.3 trillion litres of water each year and 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions, as approximately two-thirds of modern fabrics are made of synthetic fibres manufactured using fossil fuels. Not only that, but the fabrics do not decompose and, increasingly, are polluting watercourses, lakes, and the oceans, harming fish, plant life, and even human health and wellbeing.
Probably the most effective ways to control this development are a change back to sustainable fashion made out of ethical, eco-friendly fabrics or the introduction of Government legislation, which the British Government, for example, has been reluctant to do. However, in April 2018 a Polish-British entrepreneur, Jack Ostrowski, launched an app (regain-app.com ) intended to change consumer attitudes by offering them rewards for recycling their unwanted clothes and donating the proceeds to charity, particularly the British Red Cross. The app, which is free to download, permits
users to drop off one box of clothes per week, with a minimum of ten items per box, free of charge, at 20,000 drop-off points throughout the UK. In return, the users receive discount coupons that can be used at partner retailers such as Miss Selfridge, My Protein, New Balance, and Superdry, but also at such fast fashion firms as Boohoo and Missguided.
The scheme, which targets 16-30 year-olds, is intended not to stop people from shopping and buying clothes but to educate them to recycle. As Ostrowski acknowledges “We are realists, not idealists”.
While the app does not stop the trend to Fast Fashion, and has been criticised as being counterproductive, he argues that “Stopping clothes from going to landfill is the first step towards a circular economy”. Certainly, as he contends, the time has come for action rather than discussion, but will this action lead to a more holistic solution to the sustainability problems created by Fast Fashion, or will it only encourage the trend and exacerbate the problem?
Is the app a step in the right direction or will it delay finding a more comprehensive holistic solution?
Might a more Harmonious Entrepreneurial approach have produced that solution and, if so, how?
Join the discussion.
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