Last month, the Office for National Statistics reported that three quarters of the British public felt worried about the climate crisis ahead of the United Nations’ Cop26 conference which was held in Glasgow. One of the biggest polluters across the world is the fashion industry, which accounts for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions every year.
The need for a more sustainable fashion industry was highlighted at the climate conference by several high-profile figures, including British designer Stella McCartney. Despite the ongoing success of many fast fashion companies – Boohoo reported a revenue of more than £975 million in the six months to August this year, a 20 per cent increase on last year – public attitudes are shifting, a new study has found.
According to a survey of 2,094 adults, commissioned by the University of Hull, more than half of young people aged between 18 and 24 (58 per cent) want to “turn their backs on fast fashion” and change their shopping habits.
The study also found that 25 per cent of respondents in the younger age group are either already renting pieces for their wardrobes, or buying second hand presents for Christmas. However, only five per cent of those over the age of 55 said they would consider buying second-hand gifts.
This year has shone a light on clothing rental companies, with the likes of Holly Willoughby and Carrie Johnson using their services. The prime minister’s wife made headlines this year when she rented her wedding dress, while Boris Johnson later followed in her footsteps and wore a £34-per-day rented suit at Cop26.
Royal family members, such as the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge have also been photographed rewearing pieces from their wardrobes, while Angelina Jolie’s daughter famously wore her mother’s 2014 Elie Saab Couture gown to the Eternals premiere in October.
The university’s survey, carried out by YouGov, found that women were more likely to change their shopping habits than men. More than half (51 per cent) of women said they would consider wearing rented or second-hand clothes in the future, while on 21 per cent of men said the same.
Professor Dan Parsons, director of the University of Hull’s energy and environment institute, said the findings show that “whether driven by an environmental or ethical motive, young people are increasingly turning their backs on fast fashion”.
“We will have to live with the consequences of our throwaway culture for decades – if not centuries – to come, and discarded clothing created by the emergence of ‘fast fashion’ has played a significant role in what is a tsunami of microplastic wastes around the world,” Parsons said.
“It is encouraging to see that young people are now driving a move towards a new environmentally – conscious and aware society – renting and hiring clothing, and moving to saying a ‘no’ to fast fashion, is an important step in the right direction.”
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the fashion industry uses around 93 million cubic metres of water every year, while 20 per cent of all wastewaters annually comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
Additionally, many clothes sold by fast fashion companies are made from plastic microfibres. According to the UNEP, half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres are dumped in the ocean every year.
“The volume of plastics now in circulation globally means we have effectively entered a new geological period – geoscientists call this the Anthropocene – but the prevalence and distribution of waste plastics in the environment means I think we will eventually call this the plasticene – ‘the plastic age’,” Parsons said.
The university has also highlighted the impact of the fast fashion industry on modern-day slavery and other forms of worker exploitation.
Additionally, an undercover reporter who worked at the factory for two days was told they would be paid just £3.50 an hour. At the time, the UK living wage for people aged 25 and over was £8.72. It has now increased to £9.50.
In its response, Boohoo said the conditions at the factory, Jaswal Fashions, were “totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace”.
“Our investigations have shown that Jaswal Fashions is not a declared supplier, and is no longer trading as a garment manufacturer.
“It therefore appears that a different company is using Jaswal’s former premises and we are currently trying to establish the identity of this company. We are taking immediate action to thoroughly investigate how our garments were in their hands, and we will ensure that our suppliers immediately cease working with this company,” it added.
Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull said consumers of all ages can “take a stand in the fight against modern slavery and coercive labour practices” by changing shopping habits and buying more second-hand clothing.
“Even at an individual level, by making ethical purchasing decisions we can start to bring about meaningful change that will make a difference to people working in fashion supply chains around the world.”