This shocking fact sent a chill down my spine as I sat in the Grassmarket Centre at a recent screening of The True Cost, a documentary film which explores the often concealed negative impact that the fast fashion industry has on economies, peoples’ lives, and the environment.
As a woman in my 20's, I have witnessed first-hand the rise of fast, disposable fashion, with the likes of Primark, TX Maxx, H&M, New Look, and Zara, growing from modest brands to become the high street behemoths they are today. After all, it’s easy to ignore the effects that our fast fashion addiction is having when you can walk into a shop with just £20 and come out with a whole new outfit!
But when even mainstream global fashion icons such as Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren start condemning the industry’s damaging practices and insisting that things have to change, you know that something’s not quite right.
The more innovative and engaging brands have used this to their advantage, H&M’s Conscious Collection being a prime example with its boasts of making “ethical” and “sustainable” pieces out of organic cotton, recycled polyester, and Tencel, which merely serve to capitalise on our concerns. It seems that this awareness is more than just a passing trend.
A recent report carried out by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) stated that based on 2015 prices, “an estimated £100 million worth… or around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year”(1) - and no doubt this includes sustainable pieces like those from H&M’s Conscious Collection, and others like it. Not only that but the garment workers who make the majority of the clothing we buy are some of the lowest paid workers in the world, and are often forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, such as those that led to the infamous 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in which 1,134 garments workers were killed.
So how can we change this? How can we, as individuals, ensure that we're not contributing to these awful consequences? Buying more ethically is a good start, but this can often be expensive, with the added complication that it’s sometimes hard to tell which clothing brands are as ethical as they seem. So if you really want to make a difference, reusing and repairing are much better ways not only to reduce the negative impact on the environment, but also to save money, and possibly learn a new skill in the process. And that’s where social enterprises and community projects such as Remade In Edinburgh, The SHRUB Coop, and IFIXIT really come into their own.
Remade in Edinburgh’s new project, The Edinburgh Remakery, not only sells refurbished and upcycled second hand furniture and IT equipment, it also teaches textile repair skills in its weekly free repair surgery and regular clothes-making workshops, offering people the opportunity to learn how to mend and alter their own clothing, and even create new, unique pieces completely from scratch. Ahead of Halloween, they are also offering a free costume repair and alteration service, teaching customers how to transform old costumes into something new, and lengthen the life of their clothes.
Remade in Edinburgh hopes to create a zero waste society, teach people valuable repair knowledge which will save them money and improve their skillsets, and help save the environment, all at once!
As the only Scottish finalist for the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, down from over 200 applications, Sophie Unwin, Director of Remade in Edinburgh, hopes to replicate the Remade business plan across the UK, educating people on the environmental, economical, and societal benefits of a culture based on repair - not on waste.
Sophie says “Too often waste is out of sight, out of mind, but it doesn’t need to be this way. Please take 30 seconds to vote for us – it’s free and could help us win £10,000 to help other communities join forces to change the way we produce and consume our clothes.” To vote for Remade, you can text SEYA Sophie to 67076 for free, and go online to www.the-sse.org.
The first step to reforming the hugely damaging clothing industry is to recognise the effect that each and every one of us has in our day-to-day decisions, but also the power that each of us possesses to change things for the better.
As Stella McCartney herself declares; “We understand that it is our responsibility to do what we can to become a more sustainable company. We are responsible for the resources that we use and the impact that we have. We take responsibility for operating a business and maintaining a supply chain that respects the planet as well as the people and animals on it.”(2)
So if Stella can do it, so can you!