Fashion is being slowed


There is a trend in the United Kingdom for stores to close on our town’s high streets. It is particularly noticeable that the majority of these are clothes retailers.

In the United Kingdom, consumers are purchasing twice as many clothes as they did a decade ago[1], which exceeds the purchasing rate of any other European country.
When the clothes are finished with, the British public discard over one million tonnes of unwanted textiles annually[2], with almost a third being incinerated or going to the landfill sites.

Such fashion enthusiasts pay small prices for their goods, which are seen in the often poor working conditions for the garment makers. The manufacturing of the clothes is also responsible[3]for 20 per cent of the world’s water wastage and 10 per cent of the globe’s carbon emissions. It has been estimated that less than one per cent of the material is recycled into new garments. Indeed, over 100 billion garments are being manufactured from new fibres every year[4]. It is appalling as so often a garment is only worn once before it is discarded. It has been calculated that 15,000 litres of water are used in making one pair of jeans, so it is horrific when you calculate that 40 per cent of the world’s clothing is used in the manufacture of cotton goods.

Less than 1 per cent of the material used in making clothes is being recycled, either through kerbside  collections or through charity shops.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported in 2018 that an estimated £2.2 billion of overstock and unsold clothing is landfilled or incinerated globally every year. This amount is the equivalent in weight to 5 billion T-shirts, which is enough to clothe the entire adult population of the world.  To illustrate the point, the clothing brand H & M admitted that it was stuck with $4.3 billion worth of unsold stock. Burberry, the luxury brand, was caught several months later destroying $2.4 billion worth of excess clothing and accessories (which they later agreed to stop the practice).  

The statistics have resulted in the call by the climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion for people not to by any new clothes for a year as part of a ‘fashion boycott.’ [5] More moderately, Oxfam has encouraged people to avoid buying new clothes in what they are calling Second Hand September.[6]

However, such drastic measures are not new. During World War 2, British housewives were unable to buy new material and certainly garments were unobtainable. It resulted in Make Do and Mend, where old garments were utilised to make new ones. An example might be that a sheet would be transformed into a nightshirt, that eventually became number of cleaning clothes.

The principle is even older than that, in past times, people were so poor that clothes were passed onto younger siblings (as they are often done today) and even on down the generations.

Our desire for fast fashion is challenged by Jesus: ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’ (Matthew 6: 28 – 30)

The conclusion is that we should be buying better quality and buying less, which would be ethically and environmentally friendly. Kate Elliott, the sustainability expert at Rathbone Greenbank Investments, has caught the spirit of the times when she commented that shoppers are falling out of love with “buying an item, wearing it and then ending up chucking it in a bin.”[7]

She continued: “There have been issues around fast fashion for decades, but people have become much more aware of the environmental and social costs.”

As an interesting illustration, there was a high profile Australian TV presenter, Karl Stefanovic, who carried out an experiment to see if anyone noticed that he wore the same blue suit on TV every day for a year and not one person commented.

There are some benchmarks that we can be aware of:[8]
·         Is it fair-trade?
·         Is it organic?
·         Where is it made?
·         How is it produced?
·         Is the material derived from plastics or plant-based materials (the latter being biodegradable)?
·         Is it well made?
·         Will it last?

In a similar vein, Wendell Berry has suggested that the remedy is that we are to be responsible consumers. By this term, he means:[9]

a.    A responsible consumer would be a critical consumer, refusing to purchase the less good.

b.    A responsible consumer would be a moderate consumer, knowing his/her needs and not purchasing what was not needed.

This viewpoint is demonstrated by the fact that more people are prepared to rent out clothes, rather than purchase fashion ware that they are only going to wear once and then leave discarded in the cupboard.

And those empty shops on the high street? They are now opening up as charity shops where people donate their unwanted clothes so others can get more use out of them.

See also:
Elizabeth Clune, The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good(Plume, London, 2019)
Mark Powley, Consumer Detox: Less Stuff, More Life (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2010)

Some useful sources:


[1] ‘What is Second Hand September?’, BBC Newsround, 2 September 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/49549179
[3] ‘UN Alliance aims to put fashion on path to sustainability,’  UN Economic Commission for Europe, 13 July 2018, https://www.unece.org/info/media/presscurrent-press-h/forestry-and-timber/2018/un-alliance-aims-to-put-fashion-on-path-to-sustainability/doc.html
[4] ‘Stacey Dooley investigates: Are your clothes wrecking the planet?’ BBC, 9 October 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/5a1a43b5-cbae-4a42-8271-48f53b63bd07
[7] Eleanor Lawrie, ‘The bizarre fabrics that fashion is betting on,’ BBC News, 10 September 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49550263
[8]Mandy Bayton, ‘What do I wear? My dilemma about identity and throwaway fashion,’ Christian Today, 12 April 1019, https://www.christiantoday.com/amp/what-do-i-wear-my-dilemna-about-identity-and-throwaway-fashion/132199.htm
[9]Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America (Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, California, 2015)

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