Our fashion habit is out of control

23 September, 2019

By Kate Chambers, Consultant at Resource Futures

The negative impact of fast fashion is an issue that is close to my heart. I worry about it a lot… In fact, I even wrote a poem about it! We have a warped relationship with textiles. In the UK, we consume more new clothing than any other European country, send 11 million garments to landfill every week and many of us feel embarrassed to be seen in the same outfit multiple times!

How did we get into this mess? Not only are clothes getting cheaper, it seems many of us no longer have an emotional connection to our clothing. In a world where we always want new and novel, it is no wonder that £1 bikinis are selling out, whilst sustainable clothing businesses and rental models struggle to compete.

A sustainable fashion fix?

Visiting Nathan’s Wastesavers, I was faced with just one of the results of our fast fashion addiction. At a huge warehouse in Denny, Stirlingshire, I saw first-hand just how detached we are from the value of textiles. The place was buzzing; tonnes of clothing and shoes moved along conveyors with people picking, sorting and baling material. The bulk of the textiles at Nathan’s Wastesavers has been given away for free by individuals who want to make space for next season’s styles – collected from clothing banks or unsold stock from charity shops. Materials perceived as “valueless” by most, are responsible for employing over 250 people and turning a profit!

Exporting our problems

With approximately 80% of textiles destined for reuse, around 12.7% of the materials processed by Nathan’s is shredded into cleaning rags, sold and used in manufacturing and service industries across Scotland. Of the 600 tonnes of material entering Nathan’s warehouse every week, around 400 tonnes are destined for East and West Africa. Nathan’s has supplied their African customers for over 40 years, with a smaller customer base in Eastern Europe.

We learned how businesses around the world send their employees to the warehouse to pick key products and styles. It’s big business, with markets around the world seeking quality used textiles. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore that the UK is one of the top three textile exporters in the world.

Even with the overseas demand, we must acknowledge that we have an unsustainable reliance on other countries to manage our ever growing waste. It’s estimated that approximately 70% of donated clothing makes its way to African countries.

A new look at fashion

It was remarkable to see another side to our fast fashion addiction: there is no denying that Nathan’s Wastesavers is a much better destination for our unwanted clothes than landfill. But it seems that we have lost our values when it comes to our clothes. To me, fashion should be a display of personal stories and style, rather than constantly changing, prescribed looks dictated by big brands.

During #SecondHandSeptember and beyond, let’s really see what is in our wardrobes. Let’s remember that we always have something to wear. The best and most sustainable option is the clothing we already own!

Sources: The Scotsman, Oxfam, The Guardian