Thursday, 4 March 2010

The High Street turns green

Fashionista recently read that according to DEFRA in the UK we buy around two million tonnes of clothing - £23 billion worth - every year. The footprint this leaves in the global supply chain and beyond includes high energy use from washing and tumble drying, water use, toxicity from pesticides plus one million tonnes of unwanted clothing – 50 percent of which goes to UK landfill !

To tackle this major problem of waste, in September 2007, the government launched the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP). Last week, in time for London Fashion Week, new signatories from the forefront of ethical/sustainable/organic fashion such as
MADE-BY and the Ethical Fashion Forum signed up. According to the Action Plan, MADE-BY is going to look into the important issue of developing a cotton benchmark evaluating the different sustainable cotton options. But other actions listed in SCAP are equally impressive - and this is not just lip-service. A number of actions listed in this one-year old plan are already noted as completed, such as Continental Clothing Company's launch and development of the EarthPositive® product line which is a Pilot Partner with Carbon Trust's labelling initiative. Perhaps not surprisingly, EarthPositive has won the Soil Association's Best Organic Textile Product Award 2009. And Marks & Spencer's 'Clothes Exchange' partnership with Oxfam Clothes Exchange has developed into the UK's biggest programme to encourage consumers to recycle their clothes. Fashionista is a great fan of Oxfam and always finds something exciting and original to take home. And under the partnership, when showing an M&S label, Oxfam will even give you a voucher worth £5 to use next time you spend £35 or more on clothing, home or beauty products in M&S!

M&S have now, this week, not only confirmed their continued commitment to their so-called Plan A, but also said that the Plan is to be extended and will include a target to source all of M&S' food, clothing and home items from sustainable or ethical sources - such as the Fairtrade scheme - by 2020!

Other large international players who have taken on action tasks include Adidas, Asda/George, Nike, Sainsbury's, - Levis Strauss have just signed up and it will be interesting to see what action they take. The DEFRA press report says that

  • Asda, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury are focusing on green factories, reducing the impacts of clothing packaging, increasing their ranges of FairTrade and Organic, increasing take back and recovery of unwanted clothing, supply chain traceability and increasing consumer messaging on low impact clothing washing practices.
  • This Spring Tesco will launch a new online capsule Sustainable Fashion range in collaboration with From Somewhere, the recycling fashion pioneers. The collaboration comes after Tesco was inspired by their ranges at Estethica during London Fashion Week Feb 09 where the first SCAP was launched.
  • Association of Charity Shops, Clothes Aid, Recyclatex, Salvation Army Trading Company Limited and Textile Recycling Association activities are focused on increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of clothing reuse and recycling.
  • The Oxfam 'Clothes Exchange' partnership with M&S continues to flourish with around four million garments recovered for reuse/recycling at an approximate value to Oxfam of £2.2m by the end of 2009. The Association of Charity Shops’ “Donate, don’t waste” campaign launched nationwide on 22 February, involving 100 charities and 5,000 shops.
  • Continental Clothing have reduced the carbon footprint of their organic (EarthPositive®) T-shirt range by 90%, and launched the first carbon reduction label on textile products to tackle corporate clothing waste – CRR’s is online and Aestiva Ltd is working with Leeds University, C-Tech, Madera, Royal Mail, Mathias & Sons, Gnosys, and Oxfam Waste on disassembly techniques to enable cost effective reuse of corporate clothing.
  • Adidas, Nike, MADE-BY and European Outdoor Group are developing innovations on sustainable design tools and techniques.
  • Fairtrade Foundation UK maintain their ongoing campaign to increase Fairtrade clothing in the UK.
  • 170 organisations have worked with Defra to complete key projects to show the way forward on reducing the Impacts of Clothes Cleaning, Maximising Reuse and Recycling of Clothing/Textiles, Sustainable Design and Eco-Efficiency in Dye houses serving Indian and UK supply chains.
  • One of Clothes Aid’s pilot schemes that forms part of the Roadmap Action Plan has now been formally launched as the ‘Great British Clothes Clearout’ together with partner charity NSPCC. The scheme is on target to raise £2 million by 2012 by diverting 1,000s of tonnes of textiles from landfill and converting them into cash for the NSPCC.

Fashionista is impressed!

The high street is often criticised as not being sufficiently on the forefront of sustainable fashion and of not doing enough. Fashionista thinks that at least for some of the high street favourites this appears somewhat unfair. Considering the complex issues surrounding FairTrade/ sustainable and organic fashion this Action Plan and the actions undertaken by high street undertakings in cooperation with the government, charity and business organisations promise to create a fundamental framework on which, hopefully, one day the development of a substantial market for FairTrade/sustainable and organic fashion will be made much easier.