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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

Calls to ‘massively reduce’ the number of new clothes purchased each year

The British Fashion Council (BFC) this week called for the government, the British fashion industry, and consumers to all work together to ‘massively reduce’ the number of new clothes people purchase every year.

The aim is to the tackle the industry’s vast environmental footprint and in particular its contribution to climate change, for which it accounts for 5% of global emissions, more than aviation.

The appeal is built on a new report from the BFC’s Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF), called the Circular Fashion Ecosystem Report, which was backed by the fashion industry and IPF Founding Partners DHL and Vanish, and followed a consultation with over 30 members of the £2 trillion a year sector.

It maps out how fashions complex ecosystem of stakeholders can move beyond the current trend-driven, linear model, which uses 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources and creates 92 million tonnes of waste each year.

Targeting a 50% reduction in consumer demand for new clothes, the report envisions a “new state” for Britain’s fashion industry which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Despite selling fewer clothes, hundreds of thousands of new jobs could be achieved by 2035 by adopting new “circular” business models including second-hand, rental and subscription, developing virtual outfits, and repairing old clothes that today end up in landfill and are later incinerated.

Caroline Rush CEO, British Fashion Council said “The UK has all the ingredients needed to create a blueprint for a circular fashion economy that will deliver significant environmental, commercial and societal benefits.

“The mammoth job at hand to put this into action can be supercharged through a Sustainable Fashion Programme that sees, industry, Government and stakeholders all come to the table to play their part beyond their focus of each individual business.

“We are already seeing this with our emerging designers, however with large commercial businesses, re-commerce businesses, academia, innovators, funders, logistics providers, waste management and recycling providers and the broader ecosystem coming together with Government.

“We have an opportunity to create this target state quicker and in doing so creating jobs and skills benefiting the UK as a whole.”

EPR for textiles

This cannot be delivered overnight, the report says, but British consumers are already showing that they are comfortable with changing the way they shop, whether to be more sustainable, or because of changing perceptions about the way we buy clothes.

A survey conducted as part of the report, focused on identified high-intensity shoppers (those who purchase 2+ new items per month) found that:

  • 37% of consumers who shop regularly are already using rental services

  • 58% are repairing clothing at home

  • 63% are buying pre-owned items

  • 54% of shoppers are not concerned by the environmental impact of their purchase

To enter this new “target state”, the report says everyone connected to the British fashion industry – from designers and retailers to academica and logistics providers as well as consumers and the government – must work together.

The British government in particular can accelerate the process by:

  • Implementing an industry-led EPR (extended producer responsibility) scheme to ramp up action on clothing production enable post-use accountability for textile waste.

  • Investing in new sorting technology

  • Offering grants to support start-ups adopting circular business models.

  • Providing financial support for businesses developing technologies that enable closed-loop and regenerative recycling

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