Sustainability is becoming a key issue in industries across the world, with businesses, governments and consumers having to adapt to more sustainable choices, in order to keep up with environmental targets to ensure a more sustainable future. The UK Fashion Industry is worth approximately £32bn to the UK economy, and is currently the second highest polluting industry, after oil, meaning that considerable changes need to occur in order to create change within the fashion world.
This will be no easy feat for an industry that accounts for an estimated 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission, and at the moment, an estimated 15% of consumers recycle used clothing, while the remaining 85% will likely send their clothing off to landfills, resulting in toxic-waste infiltrating streams and oceans. However, a number of MP’s, who are part of the Environmental Audit Committee, have proposed a new bill to create a scheme which calls for brands to take responsibility for what happens to their clothing after a consumer buys from them. The bill is proposing a charge of 1p per garment, which could potentially raise £35m to invest in a producer responsibility scheme, to help create a better system for clothing collection and recycling in the UK.
With the UK buying more clothes, per person, than any other country in Europe, if this bill is brought in by the UK government, it could be a smart move in the right direction, helping to guide the fashion industry to become more sustainable in the long run. The bill advises the government to use tax incentives, that will help designers and brands, if they choose more sustainably through the process of design and manufacture, along with penalties for those that choose to ignore the guidelines. However, there is the risk that larger corporations, who have the money, are able to pay off these penalties without thought or consideration to make changes for the better.
It would also be foolish to not consider Brexit’s impact, when thinking about how effective this bill will be, with any choice but staying in the EU likely to negatively impact the fashion industry. It is thought that leaving the EU will likely mean extra tariffs of around £1bn more per year, which will impact the bottom line for many brands and designers. The fashion industry thrives on international trade, so with added tariffs from the EU and the government, it is likely that we will see many brands taking a hit negatively, with the possibility of shutting down altogether, especially as the high street crisis continues.
While raising money from a 1p tariff will immeasurably help to put recycling initiatives in place, and positively benefit those who already are sustainable and eco-conscious, in order for this to work sustainably in the long run, change needs to start with the consumer first. It is all well and good for these sustainable policies to be put in place by the government and businesses, but if consumers don’t take the choice of opting to re-use, repair or recycle, then we will be back to square one.
Consumers need to be re-educated about the impact of fast-fashion, alongside the promotion of a less consumerist society, in order to bring about a change. This can be hard to do, especially at a time when the media can make a big deal about wearing the same outfit twice. This leads to women in particular, thinking that this is a big no-no, which gets them wanting a different outfit for each occasion. What consumers buy, influences what fashion brands market and sell, so if the consumer demands more options for sustainable choices, then brands have no choice but to follow through with their requests.