Parliament launched a review into the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry: here’s why it won’t work

The UK fashion industry contributes more than £28 billion to national GDP but not without consequences. A new Parliamentary inquiry is examining the social and environmental impact of the huge fast fashion industry, focusing on the environmental footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. The review was launched in June and is taking comments and evidence from the public until September 2018. It is chaired by Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. Speaking on behalf of the committee, Mary said: “Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable.”

This raises a few questions for me:
• Does the industry want to remodel itself and if so, to what extent?
• How much remodelling are we talking about here? Isn’t fast fashion inherently unsustainable?
• Could/should a Parliamentary inquiry lead to more Government enforced regulation?

The inquiry will examine the carbon, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. It will look at how clothes can be recycled, and waste and pollution reduced. This is all because it’s obvious that circulating clothing through our wardrobes at the speed to which fast fashion retailers would like means a whole lot of resources, wastage and pollution.

So why not address the consumption model itself? Changes to address singular problems will not lead to significant benefits without addressing the economic system surrounding fast fashion and consumer culture. A focus on decreasing the environmental impact of fast fashion is only part of the issue, the bigger problem is consumer habits. Stores like H&M and New Look are doing good things to help make their impact less bad but ultimately, they still want to sell a lot of clothes. You’ve seen those in-store recycling bins in H&M, TKMaxx and M&S? This works to divert guilt – ours and theirs – but really sends a message that consumers can keep on consuming so long as they donate their unwanted clothes to charity (there are problems with this in itself as shipping our cast-offs to low income countries has been found to harm local employment and manufacturing industries).

Don’t get me wrong, the review is welcome and every change helps, but if we’re really talking about doing things differently an environmental impact audit isn’t the starting point. It’s the fast fashion model that needs to change and this is very, very difficult when the UK is run on a stifling model of capitalism. Success is based on economic impact – we need to earn a wage and we need to consume. Government doesn’t want to interfere with that if it upsets business. The fashion industry itself is a huge employer and source of creative and service (not manufacturing) export. Various strands need to come together to change the system. Some of these are:

• Education, education, education. I’ve written about this before and not just for fashion students but for all students there should be a focus on sustainability, CSR and alternative measures of growth incorporated into learning at all levels. Normalising a different way of working and living will filter into their own consumption habits as well as their work, and it’s already happening.
• Designers need to take more responsibility for resource use. Waste should be a massive taboo; closed loop production should be prioritised.
• Cultural change needs to come from the media, both mainstream and social media, to continue to shift the focus to experiences rather than material consumption and possession. While advertising works as it does this is unlikely to lead to a complete shift.

Sustainability is about viewing a problem holistically, something that needs to be taken into consideration with this Parliamentary review. Fast fashion is inherently unsustainable unless we think outside the box, like changing the look of our clothes digitally or designing pieces that are ‘throw-away’ in a different sense by being completely biodegradable. And why not?

Want to have your say? The Committee invites submissions by 5pm on Monday, 3 September 2018.

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Ecozone Ecoballs a Laundry Revolution!


If you follow my tweets you might have seen me proclaim how I went around the Lanes in Brighton a few weeks ago and all I bought were a couple of cards and these Ecoballs. I went to Portobello Road Market last weekend and bought nothing – what is happening to me? Years of studying shopping has really taken the fun right out of it. Anyway, it was Ecozone not me who called these balls a laundry revolution but they do have a point. Ecoballs replace regular laundry detergents as an eco-friendly way to do your clothes wash and save money at the same time.

Every time you wash your clothes with normal chemical detergents, the waste water enters the environment. Ecoballs are a natural alternative to detergents, they go straight into your wash drum and their ‘scientifically formulated ingredients work hard to wash dirt clean away’. They don’t contain soap, and are hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial. So far I have found them to be great. I always limited the amount of detergent I used anyway, so my clothes never smelt particularly fragranced post-wash but I know some people would miss the fragranced ‘fresh’ laundry smell you get from chemical detergents. In that instance you can still use fabric softener with the Ecoballs.

The Ecoballs aren’t cheap to buy but once you have them they can do 150 washes if you follow the recommended wash cycle, costing out to around 8p per wash. They also claim to help you save water, but standing in the shop I couldn’t work out why that might be the case. When I asked the shop assistant he explained that it is because as they contain no soap, you do not need to rinse clothes and hence only need a shorter wash. I’ve scanned my washing machine manual though, and can’t find a setting which doesn’t rinse. This means that not only am I not saving water, but my Ecoballs probably won’t last the promised 150 washes which as this promise is based on using their optimum 30 minute wash.

When the pellets inside the casing of the Ecoballs decrease in size significantly, and the balls themselves feel much lighter, I will need to but refill the pellets. I haven’t tried, but I imagine this might be quite tricky because the casing of the balls, by their very nature to withstand the washing drum, has to be tight. I haven’t used them to wash anything well soiled, but they did come with a stain remover just in case. All in all, I’m pretty smug about my Ecoballs.

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