Fashion Business Owner (Sarah Angold Studio) Senior University Lecturer in Sustainable Design and Entrepreneurship (London College of Fashion, Royal College of Art, University or North Carolina, USA, University of Cincinnati, USA) Sustainability Consultant.
1. What progress has been made in reducing the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry since the Fixing Fashion report came out?
Since the government did not take up the EAC’s Fixing Fashion recommendations and has avoided essential industry regulation/incentivisation, it is unsurprising that there has been an INCREASE in the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry since the Fixing Fashion report came out. Even within ‘sustainably conscious’ groups like Kering, overall growth continues to outweigh the impact of incremental sustainable progress. Meanwhile, no government measures have been taken to hold Boohoo Group to account for heavily profiting from practices that aided the spread of coronavirus. Its subsidiary Misguided was named specifically in the Fixing Fashion report.
2. How can any stimulus after the Coronavirus crisis be used to promote a more sustainable fashion industry?
As a business owner striving for sustainability in a highly competitive industry, it is often impossible to price products competitively compared to the offerings of those whose practices damage people and planet. If unethical competitors pay below minimum wage, exploit natural resources and avoid responsibility for their waste and emissions, then of course, their products will be cheaper than ours.
For this reason, we have been unable to produce certain price sensitive products, denying consumers the opportunity to exercise a sustainable choice. This barrier affects SMEs most acutely because they cannot achieve the economies of scale to make ethical production cheaper or compete with the ‘sustainable’ capsule collections of larger companies who can afford a loss leader to greenwash their audience. As sustainability becomes a driver of choice for consumers, this stand off is preventing new sustainable businesses entering the market, and slowing sustainable growth, causing stagnation. It is also driving disillusionment in, and slowing employment for, fashion graduates who are increasingly looking for purpose driven companies but find that those with sustainable intentions cannot afford to employ them.
For sustainable fashion to be broadly competitive, government must level the playing field. Government must make running an ethical business not just financially sustainable, but the profitable choice, including for SMEs. It can do this by:
- Making supply chain transparency mandatory to encourage simplification and avoid greenwashing
- Regulating supply chains to ensure that decent practices are adhered to internationally as far as possible.
- Proactively enforcing environmental and humanitarian laws and regulations
- Taxing polluting companies
- Incentivising those who’s practices are regenerative (tax breaks, free office space, extended support/market connections through UKTI)
- Subsidising upcycled/recycled materials
- Improving ease of recycling (current system is inconsistent, confusing and requires effort to seek out).
- Investing in more efficient closed loop schemes that connect reusable material with users.
- Investing in R&D around recycled and sustainable materials (incl. biomaterials/materials derived from waste/cellulose etc) to improve quality and performance. (At present many new sustainable materials cannot compete with petroleum based technical fabrics)
- Investing in start-ups and SMEs that drive sustainable innovation.
Overall, government funds should be used to stimulate ONLY those companies who meet predetermined sustainability criteria, and, importantly, are actively seeking further improvement. Those criteria should be decided by a cross disciplinary committee who are able to propose effective strategies to improve sustainability within the remit of a successfully recovering economy.