Recently, the online fashion retailer, Boohoo, announced that 40% of its ranges would be sustainable by next year, but what does that statement actually mean once you examined the detail? How much of this information are they willing to make available to their customers? I think this often makes people feel suspicious and powerless to make informed decisions, leaving them wondering what difference they, as individuals, can make.
I believe that we can make a huge difference, simply by using our collective spending power to drive change and begin to reverse the damage that has been done to the planet.
Governments around the world need to talk less and introduce policies that rapidly drive down greenhouse gas emissions, end exploitation and place real value in the natural world. The fashion industry should no longer be allowed to hide behind these vague slogans in an attempt to persuade their customers and wider society that they take these issues seriously by being ‘ethical, ‘green’ ‘carbon-natural' and yes, ‘sustainable’.
Has fashion finally found its conscience?
I recently received an email from H&M’s Global Change Award, wanting innovators to find ‘planet positive’ innovations to protect the ‘global commons’, by which they mean ‘all aspects of earth’s natural support systems: land, water, oceans, climate and biodiversity’.
Now, someone less cynical and suspicious than me might think, well, they recognise there is a problem and are trying to make a positive change. Some, like me, may find it all a bit rich, coming from one of the major players in the fashion industry, an industry that is widely regarded as second only to oil and gas as the most polluting. An industry full of ‘innovators’ that have knowingly spent decades destroying natural resources and exploiting vulnerable workforces around the world. A player in an industry where profits have ruled supreme, has now supposedly found its conscience?
But why did it take so long in the face of overwhelming evidence that something needs to change and dramatically? Some less cynical might remind me that they are putting their money where their mouth is through the non-profit H&M Foundation. This is true - all one million euros of it. A drop in the ocean for a company like H&M, especially when one considers the PR they get from this award.
However, to imply that companies, like H&M, Boohoo, Primark and many others, can really make a sustainable change without producing and, yes, selling less is simply, in my opinion, refusing to address the crux of the problem.
Many of the innovations that receive funding from this award seem to be aimed towards enabling these large clothing retailers to carry on as normal.
Their modus operandi being to produce endless amounts of clothing as cheaply as possible, without accurately pricing their products to reflect the true environmental and social cost. They then attempt to persuade us all to buy as much as possible by introducing new collections, on an almost continuous basis, with the hope that, due to innovation, it will lead to less environmental impact in the years to come, but most importantly, have zero impact on their bottom line.
This is a misleading, cynical and dangerous approach the industry is taking.
Another area where the fashion industry is a world leader is unethical manufacturing practices. The fashion industry is well known for its exploitation of vulnerable labour forces in the developing world. However, this is not just happening in some forgotten corner of the world, but in cities, like Leicester, right here in the UK.