Disposable fashion saw 235 million garments sent to landfill in 2017 alone, but it has also democratised an industry long limited to the financially comfortable
I have spent much of my career as a journalist who often covers fashion trying to justify to others how I could possibly while away so many hours writing about fabrics, patterns and hem lengths. Usually, the enquirer is a man – and often one who spends much of his life watching balls fly into nets.
If I can ever muster more than an eye roll, if my inquisitor seems genuinely interested, I will talk about the huge cultural significance of dress throughout history, how it enables us to date, locate and analyse paintings, not to mention the whopping great injection the fashion industry gives to the economy (£32bn annually. That’s more than the automobile industry. Funnily enough Top Gearrarely sees the level of criticism angled at women who write about fashion).
Yet I am more than aware that the fashion industry has a lot to answer for. This week it has been answering for its environmental impact at a parliamentary committee investigating the damage of so-called “fast fashion”. That term refers to many of the garments sold on the high street: those designed to be bought cheaply and discarded, and replaced, quickly. Disposable fashion is another term.
Disposable fashion saw 235 million garments sent to landfill in 2017 alone. It sees 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emission a year and each domestic wash releases an estimated 700,000 fibres into the water system. Of course, in order to make items for as little as £2, companies must consider how much they cost to make. Primark claims it is able to do this through not advertising. Their hiring policy tells another story. In the countries in which the clothes are manufactured, both brands hire children as young as 14.
But can we completely dismiss fast fashion? It, after all, has democratised an industry long limited to the financially comfortable. The sartorially haughty might be able to afford to buy garments that guarantee longevity and whose provenance is a small Milanese atelier, but what of those who can’t? Should fashion be the preserve of the rich?
Here on the lifestyle desk we must ensure we promote fashion for everyone, while questioning the ethics of the brands that supply it. Finding that balance isn’t easy – but it’s vital.
Harriet Hall - UK lifestyle editor