In November 2019, Phoebe English was invited to be a panellist at the Environmental Audit Committee’s Parliamentary “largest ever select public hearing” at the Victoria & Albert Museum, to discuss and present our evidence on their inquiry in to Sustainability of the UK Fashion Industry .
Alongside industry peers and figureheads, such as Claire Bergkamp (Sustainability & Innovation Director at Stella McCartney) Clare Hiut (founder of Howies and Hiut Denim) Dilys Williams the Professor of Fashion Design for Sustaibility at London College of Fashion and Graeme Raeburn of Christopher Raeburn, evidence was submitted that would move the Fashion industry in a more sustainable direction.
The evidence collected from these EAC hearings was submitted to the Government in a report which they were be obliged to respond to and suggesting changes in legislation that would make the fashion industry less impactful on our environment and people.
Here’s what we proposed:
The Fashion Industry is one of the world’s largest polluters. As Sustainability within Fashion is a such a huge and important topic, it is often hard to know where to start. With the time we had, we discussed the below key points of how we think we can best implement change, and how the government could help.
1. The lack of provision in the UK for commercial textile waste recycling.
Currently, UK manufacturers send the offcuts from garment production straight to landfill, as there is no provision in the UK for it to be recycled or re-used. We spoke on how waste could be relooked at as a potential commodity rather than landfill. Natural textile fibres do not break down sufficiently in landfill, although they do eventually, and synthetic fabrics never break down, remaining in the exact same condition for hundreds of years. In New York, companies such as Fabsrap and Helpsy aid designers and commercial manufacturers recycle their scrap textile waste, by collecting fabrics and excess garments from studios and factories and repurposing them in to a myriad of activities and purposes.
We brought these points to the attention of the committee and suggested that governmental incentives could be made to encourage the reuse of ‘waste’ fabrics and the reclassification of it as a precioud resource.
2. Micofibre plastics and the breakdown of them in our oceans.
The second largest plastic content of our seas comes directly from our clothing. As soon as a synthetic garment is washed in our washing machines, tiny plastic microfibres are released (the first 8-10 washes release the most) and they washed through our drains directly in to our waterways and oceans. These microscopic plastic particles are then ingested by sealife and organisms which are in turn ingested by us, we are eating our own plastic clothes. What’s more, when that water is combines with silage and is used on our fields to fertilise the ground, it dries and when the wind blows, the plastic microfibres are lifted from the ground in to the air we breathe.
We can reduce the number of plastic microfibres being released into our seas by taking precautions such as washing clothes inside a Guppyfriend Bag or with a Cora Ball, both of which catch and collect the tiny plastic fibres. We suggested that designers should be required to label their clothes with sufficient washing guidelines to help inform consumers about the responsible care of synthetic garments.
3. Post ownership circular economy / sharing economy.
Today, the number of times a person uses their clothes is disproportionate to how many clothes we have. Having clothes that are sitting in our wardrobes, unused, it could be argued that we are storing all the carbon, energy and water that was used to make them. Phoebe English believe that there are possibilities for other commercial structures of selling clothes and getting them to the consumer other than a liner one. We believe that the same “shopping high” you receive when you buy a new garment could potentially be supplemented by or exchanged for a “rental high”. Hiring or loaning clothing companies could help towards balancing out and legitimising the amount of waste produced in garment production. This approach would also encourage the design and production of garments to be of higher quality, to allow the garment to last, and allow repair and care in the use of clothes. Repair, re-wear, reuse.
We work with Higher Studio, a luxury clothing hire company. We have discovered through hiring our clothes, that clients are taking more risks with design than what commercial buyers buy through wholesale. Purchasing something specialist and expensive is a big financial commitment, hiring those same pieces for a week or month cuts the cost significantly, and allows people to have more fun with pieces they might not be able to afford outright. We proposed this new way of trading / commercial structure could be an exciting new direction for the British market – which could not only be beneficial in terms of sustainability but could also be a lucrative business direction, providing accessibility of an almost unlimited wardrobe to a wider range of customers.