The true cost of fashion

By John Murray.

There’s a brand-new dance but I don’t know its name, that people from bad homes do again and again.”

David Bowie sang those words to the opening of his 1980 hit, ‘Fashion’, but does that ‘brand new dance’ now have the potential to kill us?

World Bank figures state that the population of the planet in 2017 was 7.53 billion. If you take it everyone of earth’s inhabitants needs clothes, other than perhaps those from hotter less inhibited climes, then what happens to all the clothes and fabrics to which we no longer have any use?

Many of us are now more than aware of our carbon footprints and what needs to be done with recycling food or drink packaging, but do we as a consumer of trousers, shirts, dresses, coats have a strategy in place when it comes to disregarded garments?

Lynn Wilson has been a practicing knitted textile designer and tutor for twenty five years. She is a sustainability consultant and industry expert with many enlightening answers to the above concerns.

“92 million tonnes of clothes waste go to landfill globally each year, 300,000 tonnes in the UK and 30,000 tonnes in Scotland.  If you throw your pants in the bin in Glasgow, they’ll end up in a waste site in Polmadie and then they’re off to landfill. 

“We can’t re-energise these items once they are buried in the ground.”

Lynn believes the fashion industry has not done enough to embrace moves towards sustainability but the industry expert, who was ‘part of the pioneering Circular Economy team at Zero Waste Scotland – and the sector manager for textiles from 2013-16, warns against panicking and offers solid solutions to fashion’s biggest problem.

The lecturer and PhD student has been a key industry advisor on how to everyone involved in the clothes trade can move forward with environmentally friendly fashion. Her strategy, The Circular Economy Wardrobe influences manufacturers, traders and consumers alike. 

Lynn’s website offers the following excellent explanation on what a circular economy means: 

“Circular Economy Wardrobe aims to support the transition to the circular economy where we have less stuff in our homes but more experiences with our products. We can still enjoy the creative expression of our clothes, furniture and homes without the rest of the world paying the price. 

“The move to a circular economy is about doing design better and differently. It is about economy and growth and how we do that whilst reducing the impact on rapidly depleting global resources. It’s complex and at the same time simple – there is no alternative, we only have one planet for life.”

When asked how to exemplify exactly how a circular economy might work for each individual clothing consumer, the message comes back about how we can change our clothes buying habits.

“There is a brilliant company in the Netherlands who leases jeans. So instead of buying them outright you lease them for a monthly fee. Then when they are worn out you can swap them for a new pair.

“The company swaps them. It may be an expensive scheme as I think the initial cost is about £120 for a pair of jeans but it’s a start.

“A leasing system is a good change from a linear system to a circular one. We need the critical mass to adopt this way of thinking.”

Lynn goes onto explain how we can reduce the environmental impact of making clothes by using hemp, linen and bamboo instead of petrol based chemicals similar to that used in plastic bottles. 

“In many instances petrol-chemicals is exactly what we are wearing. There is a company in Ayrshire that produces packaging from the waste from langoustines and shellfish. If we can do that for packaging then can we do that for clothes. 

“It’s about how we can reduce the environmental impact at the production stage.”

Lynn’s insights into the world of fashion alleviate a lot of fear surrounding our global clothing waste time bomb and to quote Bowie again, while we may not be ready for ‘Let’s Dance’ we now have a certain ‘Sound and Vision’. 

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