What’s going on here?
Clothing made by UK’s largest online fashion brands contain staggering amounts of virgin plastics despite their marketing campaigns flaunting environmentally-friendly clothing, according to new analysis. On average, 49% of the items listed on these popular websites were found to contain materials made from synthetic fibres.
What does this mean?
This research, carried out by The Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA), adds to the growing evidence that our hunger for cheap, disposable clothing is totally unsustainable. The study analysed over 10,000 items from ASOS, Missguided, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing and discovered some alarming figures.
Take Missguided’s recent RE_STYLED range, boasting fresh “sustainable staples” using recycled fibres. Yet, the RSA’s research revealed that just 5% of Missguided’s clothes contain recycled materials, and of those containing plastics only 4% actually used recycled materials. Missguided may really be living up to their name! The figure was similarly disappointingly low across the other brands, which averaged at 3% for these measures.
The RSA also highlight that fast fashion shoppers may not be aware of just how much plastic goes into their clothing. A previous study of theirs found that whilst 76% of people would like to see fewer plastics in their clothing, just 49% of fast fashion regulars admit to buying clothes containing synthetic materials.
Why should I care?
Fast fashion has been booming since the 80’s and the current pandemic has only exaggerated this – Boohoo Group sales increased by 41% over the last financial year, and others saw similar rates. But when the price tag is too low, it’s someone or something else (our planet) that’s paying.
The life stages of fast fashion items awash with plastic have detrimental impacts on our planet: high energy consumption during production, plastic leaching during use and then they pile up in landfill sites after one or two wears. Whilst people are becoming more connected with what sits on their plate, it appears that we’ve become less connected with what we’re putting on our backs – it’s easy to overlook the fact that synthetic fibres come from fossil fuels. Imagine the difference we could make if we took to embracing slow fashion like we did to boycotting plastic straws in 2018!
(The life stages of fast fashion garments made from plastic)
Aside from the environmental issues, the big fast fashion brands have a terrible reputation for poor pay and conditions for garment workers. Whilst the billionaire CEOs focus their marketing campaigns on empowering women, only 2% of fashion workers around the world are paid a liveable salary, the majority of which being women.
I must add that it’s not just plastics to hold accountable given cotton and other materials have their problems too, but we need to shift away from the motions of fast fashion to a more sustainable model.
Celebrate the clothes you already own, buy less and secondhand and wear each piece for longer. Try Depop and Vinted for pre-loved goodies. Check out our top tips for charity shop shopping.
Good on You App (ranks highstreet brands for various impact factors!)
Educate yourselves passivly with these social media accounts:
Listen to this episode of the Happy Pear Podcast with Venetia La Manna on sustainable fashion. I couldn’t recommend this episode more highly, diving into the deeper-rooted issues of fast fashion and how a big change of these habits may come from improving our relationships with ourselves.
Hold the offending brands accountable – add the pressure by emailing their CEOs and call them out on social media using hashtags such as #PayHer and #PayYourWorkers. These campaigns are a brilliant way of filling up their comments sections and making sure they’re being called out.