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Fast fashion is fucking the planet: here’s what you can do to help stop it

The government just rejected the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations to tackle waste, pollution, modern slavery, and over-consumption in the fashion industry – but all is not lost

It’s been a bad week in the fight between fast fashion and the planet. First, Missguided came in strong with the big ‘fuck you climate breakdown’ that is their £1 bikini, which, despite some serious online backlash, sold out almost instantly. Next up, the Environmental Audit Committee confirmed that the government has rejected every single one of the recommendations in its ‘Fixing Fashion’ report they released earlier this year.

Their ideas to tackle issues such as waste, pollution, modern slavery, and over-consumption within the fashion industry included a tax of 1p per garment to be paid by retailers, a ban on incinerating and landfilling unsold stock, environmental targets for companies with an annual turnover of £36million or more and an ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ scheme that would force retailers to take responsibility for the waste they produce.

All solid ideas that would make big, sweeping changes and transform the industry for the better. But, the government wants to keep their pals rich, so it looks like we’re going to have to sort this shit out ourselves. Here’s how.


The government might have rejected the recommendations, but it doesn’t mean the case is closed (and we all know they love to perform a dramatic U-turn on the big stuff every now and then). After a lot of protest and action, parliament finally approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency earlier this year, proving they can and do bend to pressure (even if it takes years). The fashion industry contributes around 10% of global greenhouse emissions and produces 20% of global waste water, meaning it’s closely tied to the issue of climate breakdown – which is proving harder and harder for politicians to ignore. Contact your local MP and tell them it’s important to you, tell them it will sway how you vote, and ask what their intentions are. Make this too hard for them to ignore too.


Since sustainability has become a buzzword, brands have scrambled to tell the world how green and ethical they are – which would be great if it was true. But once you do a little digging, their claims are normally pretty flimsy and nothing more than greenwashing. Instead of letting brands set the narrative with carefully chosen words, contact them publicly (aka @ them on Twitter) about their ethics, factories, fabrics, and garment workers. Even if they don’t answer, their silence might just say it all.


The idea that individuals can fix an entire multi-billion pound industry all by themselves is obviously insane, but there are a few things that most of us can do that will genuinely help. Keeping your clothes for longer is a big one. As in, literally make zero effort and leave the clothes you have hanging in your wardrobe instead of getting rid of them.

We spend less money on clothes as a percentage of our household income than we did 20 years ago yet buy 400 per cent more items of clothing and keep them for half as long. Extend the life of your clothes by just three months, and it will result in a five to ten per cent 10% reduction in their water, carbon, and waste footprints. Make that nine months and the figures increase to 20 to 30 per cent. And after you’ve waited for a few weeks, you’ll probably like them again anyway.


We know it sounds obvious, but seeing as shopping is practically a default part of living for most of us it can be a difficult habit to break (check out our guide to tackling this). With over 100 billion garments produced every single year, there’s already more than enough to go around, but the massive turnover of trends (plus feeling sad, feeling happy, celebrating, commiserating, being stressed, being heartbroken, being bored…) keeps us buying more and more.

If the fashion industry carries on producing at its current rate, it will account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 but if we slow down, we might just be able to avoid it. It’s worth noting, though, that as much as 30 per cent of clothing made is never actually sold, so supply and demand aren’t always proportional. As individuals, with this in mind, we can only do so much really do need some input from brands and government on this one.


By now, pretty much everyone is over the whole ‘but what if someone died in it?’ horror when it comes to secondhand clothes, so when you do need to buy something, and you’re able to do so, make second hand your first port of call. Scouring charity shops, vintage stores and markets, eBay, and apps like Depop, Vinted, and Vestiaire, before you given in and buy new: not only will it extend the lifespan of the garment and therefore reduce its footprint, it stops another garment entering circulation. And that’s before we even get started on the £££s you’ll probably save.


Sorry to break it to you (okay fine, this is likely news to no one) but fashion is a huge, dirty, complicated, massively unregulated, multi-billion pound industry. It’s fun and creative and expressive but it’s also 100 per cent serious enough to have a place in political discussion and if you care about its impact, you should vote for change. It’s a pretty new issue on the political mainstage and not that many MPs are speaking up on the subject, but people like Mary Creagh and Caroline Lucas (who are both on the EAC) are stand-out examples. Oh, and the ones who rejected the EAC’s recommendations? The Tories, duh!


There’s one key difference between brands who are genuinely sustainable and brands who aren’t: the brands who are love to answer questions and the ones who aren’t absolutely hate to. If you’ve gone to the trouble of carefully selecting a sustainable cotton farming co-operative or setting up a fairtrade factory, you’re going to want to talk about it. If you’ve cobbled together a half-arsed paragraph about trying to be ethical wherever possible, you’re probably not. So ask questions all the time. Here’s a few to get you started: Who makes your clothes? Where are they made? What are they made from? Where are your factories? What is your waste policy?


While we’re waiting for our government to get its act together, you can support and signal boost legislative change elsewhere. Not only will this prove to our government that moves like that are actually popular, it will show other people what’s possible on a wider scale. The Bangladesh Accord, set up after Rana Plaza to keep garment workers safe, garnered massive public support which helped it gain 220 brand sign-ups. And more recently, surging support for the Greens around Europe prompted France to ban the destruction of unsold consumer goods after the governing party made eco-credentials a major part of their manifesto for the European elections. Spread the message on social media! Tell your friends! Shout it from the rooftops if you feel like it! But make it known: change is needed now.


The sustainable and ethical fashion movement is growing fast, but it’s built on privileged foundations and thin white women wearing linen on Instagram have basically become the face of it. Despite the ultra-curated facade, there’s a plethora of obstacles that are often overlooked. Not everyone can afford to start buying organic cotton clothes at five times the price they’re used to paying, for instance, and it’s difficult to find affordable, ethically made clothes that go above a size 16. It’s easy to point the finger at people who shop at Primark, but for the movement to work it needs to be inclusive and understanding. Share the shocking facts and talk about the problems with the industry, but don’t shame individuals. We need to work together on this one!