You are here: UNA London & Southeast Region: The convoluted desire for profit in the fashion industry

In the climate of environmental change from recent worldwide protests, to Greta Thunberg sailing to New York, environmental change is still stagnant. The market of the conscientious consumer is widening it is still not enough against the practices of the fast-fashion industry. It raises the question, should it become mandatory for all fashion companies to make it accessible to the consumer to recycle their clothes in return for money? Would it require new provisions of legislation? The thirst of the fast-fashion industry to make profit comes at a cost that is it is the second-largest polluter in the world, almost at tipping point with the oil industry. Not only this, it involves the exploitation of developing countries and their cheap and poorly regulated sweatshop labour. The industry uses more than 80 billion cubic meters of fresh water to produce garments, 80% of which ends up incinerated, increasing carbon emissions to the boiling point of 1.2bn tonnes. The end result? 92 million tons of waste. The human cost is just equally as terrifying demonstrated by the Rana Plaza disaster killing over 1,130 sweatshop workers. Unsurprisingly, there has been little traditional media coverage on these alarming statistics which could otherwise vastly improve the virtually stationary environmental movement. Nevertheless, the prominent power of social media as a source of engagement has brought a rarity of modest transparency on the environmental and human cost of the fast-fashion industry. Yet, this is at another cost. Being ‘eco-friendly’ and sustainable has become a niche trend and capable of being profitable, a source of general capitalism that can easily be exploited. There is a risk that the trend’s striking appeal will be lost including the demand for a sustainable fashion industry. Such a matter is akin to the debate of Veganism that had there not been a demand, there would not have been a market. Thus, there is a subliminal pressure and responsibility onto citizens to continue the demand and drive for improvement of the industry’s practices but also the scrutiny of governments to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act to restrict the industry’s unethical practices in developing countries and improve sweatshop workers labour rights. In an age of fear that the world is ending due to our environmental impact, we can no longer act nonchalantly to this issue. Fashion companies should be made legally responsible for ensuring that their clothes are either reused or recycled by possibly signing SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan). A rather hopeful example is H&M rewarding its customers £5 for handing in old clothes that will be reused or recycled and do not go to landfill. This is a brilliant eco-responsible practice that should be adopted by companies like Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Missguided to deconstruct the inherent upbringing of throwaway fashion. However, how can fashion companies be held accountable if governments, like the UK, reject legislation proposals? And this is where it becomes complicated, particularly in the aim of fulfilling the UN's SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 12. A taxed clothing system by charging 1p for each garment as the EAC advised would be a brilliant forefront to a UK campaign of environmental change alongside Sweden and France but no government scrutiny has apparently exercised. It is a great alternative rather than sending £140m worth of clothes to landfill and taxation may be the only route to create a domino effect of reform upon companies practices and the government’s stance to environmental issues. A simple formula to debunk our ingrained careless actions on our environment is that the more transparency and awareness there is on these significant issues, the more engagement there is towards the consumer who is capable to press for change. However, the endless and multifaceted, unanswered and open-ended questions demonstrate how uninformed we still are and await for either the government or the fashion industry to hold themselves accountable.

Olivia O'Sullivan