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Fast Fashion issues

The COP24 (Convention on Climate Change) will be held in Katowice, Poland from 2-14 December.  The hope is that it will unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement by finalising the Paris Agreement Work Programme. This will put into place the practical implementation guidelines needed to make real this historic agreement that aims to limit global warming to well under 2°C this century. This Work Programme should then provide a way to track progress to ensure that climate action is transparent. This in turn will build trust, and send a signal that governments are serious about addressing climate change. COP24 also needs to establish a clear way forward on climate finance to ensure greater support for climate action in developing countries. So where does ‘fast fashion’ fit in?

Fast Fashion

The issue of clothes production and consumer purchase patterns is back in the news again!  But this time more urgent and pertinent, given the release of the latest update UN Report on Climate Change in recent days.  ‘Fast fashion’ is the term used to describe our high rate of fashion consumption fueled by the availability of new and cheap clothing.

Its only when one sees the stark reality of consumption figures that one can relate to the impact on the environment of this continued life style choice.  Producing clothes requires climate-changing emissions.  Global textile production produces 1.2bn tonnes of carbon emissions a year – more than international flights and maritime shipping!

Last month, MPs on the United Kingdom Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) concluded that the ‘fast fashion industry’ was a major source of the greenhouse gases that are overheating the planet. They believe that the throwaway nature of fashion is also fueling fast turnarounds among suppliers. The result can lead to poor working conditions.  Carol Kane, joint CEO of online fashion house Boohoo, was asked how the company could sell dresses for as little as £5 when the minimum wage was £7.83?  She answered that this only applied to a small number of dresses intentionally sold at a loss, to drive more traffic to the site.  She also added: “I believe this all comes back to consumer demand. I’ve been in the industry for 32 years, and in that time I’ve seen prices decline.”

At the other end of the spectrum, earlier this year, Burberry was strongly criticised for burning £30m ($40m) of stock.  They admitted destroying the unsold clothes, accessories and perfume instead of selling them off cheaply, in order to protect the brand’s exclusivity and value.  Leanne Wood, Burberry’s chief of corporate affairs stated that as a company they were  “committed” to stopping the activity, but added: “It is an industry practice.   We’re the only luxury business that’s reported it in their accounts… but it is something that happens in the industry.”

How can we break this cycle?

One of the most effective ways of changing the way our clothes are made, is to make sure your favourite brand knows that you want your clothes to be fairly made. Send an email, write a letter, take part in Fashion Revolution’s social media campaign – if we all demand fairer pay and safe working conditions for cotton workers and growers, companies will sit up, take notice and change the way they do business.

Arun Ambatipudi who has worked in the cotton industry for many years explains:

“Cotton prices globally are very, very low. For the last 50 years the price of cotton has always been low, and more importantly the price of production is going up year on year, which means most of the time the cotton farmer is making a loss.  Cotton and textiles is a very lengthy and complex supply chain – so cotton farmers are removed from the consumers. They are at the bottom end of the chain, which means they do not have the power to negotiate with the consumers or with the traders.”

Cotton Farmers are not making enough to have a decent standard of living

You, me, and all of us ,have a lot more power than we think if we remember that retailers need to sell clothes and they need us to buy them.

Fairtrade suggested actions

Fairtrade supports cotton farmers and workers in the clothing supply chain through their Seed Cotton Standard.  This Fairtrade Textile Standard was set up to bring about positive change and protection for workers in textile supply chains. It works with manufacturers and workers to bring about better wages and working conditions, and engages clothing brands to commit to fair terms of trade.

You can also join the Fashion Revolution Media Campaign , shout out about trade justice and demand change by always asking: #whomademyclothes?

Find out more about the challenges facing cotton farmers and what Fairtrade is doing to help using the following link:  Fairtrade Media Centre Blog – the true cost of fashion

And see also a previous article on our website Challenge to Change – Junk Kouture Finalists 2017



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