Fast fashion retailers should be made to pay a 1p surcharge on every garment sold in order to help fund clothing collection and recycling schemes, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee have said.
The penny tax was suggested as part of a new extended producer responsibility scheme, in which retailers would have to consider and pay for the end-of-life process of their products. Taxation should be reformed to reward companies that offer clothing repairs and reduce the environmental footprint of their products, the committee added in its final report on the sustainability of the fashion industry, which was released today.
“Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth. Our insatiable appetite for clothes comes with a huge social and environmental price tag: carbon emissions, water use, chemical and plastic pollution are all destroying our environment,” commented committee chair Mary Creagh. “In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. ‘Fast fashion’ means we overconsume and underuse clothes. As a result, we get rid of more than a million tonnes of clothes, with £140m worth going to landfill every year.”
Recommendations also included mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million; lessons on designing, creating, mending and repairing clothes to be added to the school curriculum; and a penalty for companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act. The latter highlights that the crisis is not just about the fact that one per cent of material used to produce clothing is recycled, it concerns all links in the labour chain, as well as the production process.
Transparency is essential for change, but MPs have commented that inadequate commitments have been received from the likes of retail giants Boohoo, JD Sports, Sports Direct and Amazon UK. “The fashion industry is built on secrecy, elitism, closed doors and unavailability,” said Orsola de Castro, founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution, at last year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit. “We need to make it as easy for us to see the clothes as it is to buy the clothes.” Conversations between customers and companies need to start happening, as opposed to government studies that are published as flashy headlines and then filed away.
“We don’t want it to be all doom and gloom – this is about positivity, and we want to offer solutions,” Amy Powney, founder of sustainable luxury fashion brand Mother of Pearl, told Ellie Pithers, Vogue fashion features editor, during London Fashion Week. “Nature’s ability to rejuvenate is something to be celebrated. But it goes without saying that we need to be modern-thinking, and we need to make some serious changes to the fashion industry.”
Ask questions, then. Who made your clothes? Where were they made? Where does the dead stock go? And demand answers – especially to the most glaring one: why are we throwing fashion in the bin?