New project to promote circular fashion launches in London with retailers set to trial range of waste-fighting initiatives
Several top fashion brands today pledged to develop and pilot new initiatives to cut waste in their industry, as progressive retailers seek to respond to fierce criticism over environmentally damaging practices within the industry.
Retailers including Ted Baker, Farfetch and FW will work with the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWRB) to explore ways to reduce the environmental impact of fashion retail, from clothes hire and selling second-hand goods to offering repair services.
Launched today, the Circular Fashion Fast Forward project will produce case studies that can be shared with the wider industry, in a bid to uproot the unsustainable practices condemned in a recent report from the UK's Environmental Audit Committee.
Participating retailers will choose their own ways to take part, working with circular economy business consultants QS. The scheme represents a good opportunity to test the real-world performance of circular business models, said Thomas Berry, director of sustainable business at Farfetch.
"Circular models like resale or rental are big commercial opportunities for Farfetch," he said. "They are a very natural extension of our long-standing vintage offer, and we have started to pilot a few new models. Since 2018 our Browns retail store has been in partnership with rental platform Armarium, and we have just launched Farfetch Secondlife - a handbag resale service for our customers. We are excited to be working with LWARB and QSA to build the business case to accelerate our work in this area."
Reports will be compiled on the various pilot projects, and shared once the scheme closes to give other retailers insight into circular options they could also deploy.
The UK is among Europe's worst fast fashion culprits, buying more new clothes per person than any other country in Europe while discarding a million tonnes of textiles a year, according to industry bodies.
But a string of recent studies have shown that integrating circular practices will be crucial if fashion firms are to stay on top of market trends. Resale is predicted to grow rapidly, with a 2019 thredUP report valuing the US second-hand clothes market at $24bn, a figure it anticipates to double within the next five years.
A similar conclusion is reached in the Business of Fashion's 2019 State of Fashion report, which predicts that "the resale market could be bigger than fast fashion within ten years". It singles out Patagonia as trailblazing a path towards a new approach: the outdoor clothing firm has pioneered an in-house repair and resale model, buying back their own products and selling them on at discount prices.
Patagonia is far from alone in seeking new approaches. Niche Swedish brand Nudie Jeans has embraced a philosophy based around the 3 ‘Rs' - Repair, Reuse, Recycle - and opened satellite Jeans Repair Shops where customers can take their dilapidated denim for a free fix-up. Even high street behemoth H&M is experimenting with fresh initiatives, introducing a free repair service in its revamped Hammersmith store.
Yet another approach is offered by start-up online retailer the ReFashion Guide, which launched this week. The brainchild of entrepreneur Nicola Gleave, it aims to offer retailers concerned by levels of unsold stock a solution, by collecting and reselling it at a discounted price, with a share of the profits donated to charity.
"Unsold stock is a real problem for retailers, but it's also an opportunity," says Gleave. "There's a lot of awareness about the environmental impact of fashion right now and the reaction we're getting from consumers is huge. They know there's an issue and they want to find ways they can help tackle it."
Initiatives such as these signpost a clear direction of travel for the fashion industry, which has been criticised for falling behind other sectors in the race to re-establish the world economy on a more sustainable footing. Overall, a 2017 Global Fashion Agenda report estimated that the global economy could benefit to the tune of €160bn if the fashion industry was to tackle the environmental fallout of its currently unsustainable practices.
Such practices were interrogated by the UK's Environmental Audit Committee, which published the results of a six-month investigation into the fashion industry in February. It found that textile production creates an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year - more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Voluntary efforts to ameliorate the industry's environmental impact aren't going nearly far enough, the report concluded, calling for robust government action to force firms to act.
The EAC report suggested putting a one penny charge on every garment sold in the UK to fund a £35m scheme to pay for better collection and recycling of textile waste. A similar initiative in France led to a trebling of the number of clothing collection points in the country to more than 40,000, the report found.
The government has promised to bring forward new rules to govern the collection and recycling of textiles by 2025, a date dismissed by the EAC as "too slow".
For the time being at least, it seems change will have to come through voluntary actions such as the Circular Fashion Fast Forward project.
"The fashion industry needs to rapidly adopt new business models that increase the use of clothing and stop the use of unsustainable materials," said Megan McGill, programme manager for the C&A Foundation, which is funding the project. "The Circular Fashion Fast Forward project and the participating brands will demonstrate what can already be done today and inspire more industry players to follow."
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