Fashion industry walking the walk

Steve Creed, Director Business Programmes

At WRAP we are firm believers that little can be achieved in isolation.  Our vision of a world in which resources are used sustainably is only possible if we come together to make it happen.  That is why we work with governments, businesses and communities, and work to unite people in a common cause.

Our latest report into the environmental impact of the UK clothing industry demonstrates just how powerful that collaborative action can be.  The report, Valuing our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion, is an update of our pioneering 2012 clothing report that heralded the launch of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) voluntary agreement the following year.  

The achievements of the SCAP signatories, who now represent more than half the UK clothing market, shows what can be accomplished by working together towards shared goals.  Their collaboration means they are now outperforming their competitors in terms of embracing sustainability.

It was fantastic to see positive action from companies such as M&S, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s, who switched to using more sustainable cotton, as well as getting involved in initiatives which have helped householders care for their clothes.  Together, actions like these have saved the equivalent of one and a half hot air balloons of carbon and nearly three Olympic sized swimming pools of water for every tonne of clothing produced.

And it looks like the public is learning to bestow a bit more TLC when it comes to the clothes in their wardrobe too.  We found that significantly fewer items are being thrown away in the household bin.  People are making them last longer by washing at lower temperatures, and giving them a second chance after they have fallen out of love with them.

This is great news, and a development which we hope paves the way for a whole new trend for the industry.  But we can’t afford to take our shoes off the pedal. 

There are more people buying more clothes and this has taken its toll on the overall environmental footprint of UK clothing, which has actually risen by two million tonnes to 26 million tonnes of Co2e since 2012.  We identified certain items as the most problematic – including women’s jeans, dresses and jumpers and men’s t-shirts and jumpers – and we are calling on retailers to focus on trying to limit their environmental impact in the future.

We also want retailers to aim to use at least 70 per cent sustainable cotton by 2020 and to follow the lead set by M&S, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco who have already set themselves ambitious targets.  And we need to see more businesses capitalise on the opportunities of fibre-to-fibre recycling – taking material from fabric and garments to recycle back into garments.

We need to build on the trend for washing clothes at home at lower temperatures and push for 60 per cent of home washes at 30˚C by 2020.  And we need to be more creative about what to do with clothes at the end of their life – making re-use more mainstream and improving the quantity of clothing collected.

Clothing manufacture and sales in the UK is still the fourth largest pressure on our natural resources in the UK (after housing, transport and food).  It is clear we all need to do more to value our clothes.  So let’s keep working together and do just that.  Then not only can we lead the world in fashion design, but in sustainable fashion production too.