As a new start up business using textiles to produce a unique new to the market product (not fashion) I’ve been learning about the current climate of the UK textile industry. It’s been an interesting journey into the world of fashion and textiles and the ethics behind it.
Recent news has been the Governments rejection of recommendations from a report by the Environmental Audit Committee to crackdown on cheap fashion made by poorly paid workers in some factories in the UK. The AEC report denounces online retailer BooHoo for using the cheap factories to produce dresses which it sold for £5! On the same day BooHoo announced the launch of a new sustainable range of recycled polyester clothing which is made in the UK.
It is estimated that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill. Throwaway fashion has become the new focus for environment campaigners. From the emissions that come from the making of clothes, to the landfill that is created when they are thrown away, to
the poorly paid work skilled force, or even worse, the sweat shops that employ children. It is an industry that needs to clean up its act.
There are champions out there, the recent Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashions Dirty Secrets, October 2018 (available on BBC iPlayer) went viral. Its impact has led to some consumers looking at the way they buy clothes, this then leads on to the struggling high street and threat of well know well established retailers closing stores and making staff redundant.
The recent Make it British Live 2019 exhibition, held a panel discussion on the ethics of Fast or Slow Fashion. They debated some very pertinent points on the way garments are produced, where they are produced and what drives the fashion houses. It’s not an easy process, it’s not an easy decision
but the bottom line is profit and profit drive decision making.
The road to ethical fashion is going to be a slow process of changing mindsets away from the latest must have fast fashion, to favorite well-loved ‘investment’ pieces, or slow fashion.
When talking to designers and producers I have been told of plans to open factories overseas in countries where they know labour is cheap. They call it ethical because they intend build a school in the village? Really? What about the emissions it will take to bring the garments back to the UK? What about the poor wages you are paying to the work force who work long hours, because you know you can because it’s the ‘norm’? What about the emissions in that country? What about the poor infrastructure, waste, water, etc? Is that ethical?
The textile manufacturing industry in the UK is struggling. From its heyday in the 1920s to now it is estimated that approximately 130,000 are employed in the industry, it’s facing huge challenges. The workforce is growing older the skills are being lost as they retire.
Here in the North East the industry has had its challenges with the loss of large textile manufacturers who have been outpriced by overseas producers. But there are a few that are surviving and a network of support that is growing. The local universities and colleges are developing designers and producers each year and there is huge talent in the region.
To be able to grow the industry needs support from consumers. So next time you are looking to buy fast fashion, take it slow and try to look closer to home.