At Lucy & Yak, we get pretty excited when there's news about the fast fashion industry changing and getting better. We want to be a fabulous fashion brand that shows how you can be sustainable, ethical and fair in the way you work whilst making gorgeous clothing that makes you feel great!
So when we heard that there was a report recommending a 1p garment charge on every piece of new clothing sold we thought that sounded fantastic.
The government said no.
I gotta say, this was pretty disappointing news. The report and recommendations were quite bold; that was exciting to see. But the government said no. The report said, “Make the big companies do it”. The M.P.s said, “Let's just suggest they try...”.
It seemed like such a great opportunity! A 1p tax on clothes to invest in developing recycling facilities and technology. And it's the companies that sell huge volumes of clothes, often to be worn just once or twice, that would be charged the most. We really need to make fashion a circular economy and this would have been a great step forward. So what are the issues and how else could we make the changes we need to see?
A silver lining
There's definitely a silver lining to this story. If only for a moment, the report raised awareness of this issue and put it centre stage for the fast fashion industry to think about. That's an important step. This was the power captured by the 5p plastic bag charge. 5p isn't much. It's just enough to make you stop and think. To wonder what the real cost of this plastic bag is, beyond the moment and into tomorrow. And then to think, “you know what, I could just carry this”. To realise there's a better way and that what you once thought you needed, you didn't need at all. And that's the key to this problem, really. To realise that what you once thought you needed, you didn't need at all. The answer really is to change our spending habits. To repair, recycle and reuse. And I've got to say, that can be really exciting! This week my beloved Hadley got bleach spots on it. So, inspired by this video I added a few more and my Hadley is my favourite jumper once more! Now I'm wondering what else in my wardrobe I can update and improve!
“We were told however that the most sustainable garment is the one we already own and that repairing, rewearing, reusing, and renting are preferable to recycling or discarding clothes.
The Government must change the system to end the throwaway society. Often it is more expensive to repair an item than buy a new one. Many of us also lack the skills to perform more than basic clothing repairs.
The Government should make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create and reward companies that take positive action to reduce waste. A charge of one penny per garment on producers could raise £35 million to invest in better clothing collection and sorting in the UK.” Environmental Audit Committee, Feb 2019
There are some complex issues when it comes to recycling clothes though. The really big one is the problem of mixed fibres. It's reasonably straightforward to recycle a 100% cotton t-shirt. But mix the cotton with polyester and then it's a bit of a nightmare. Which is why investment in recycling technology and facilities is so important because surely there's a way to get this resource back and make more use of it? We just need to figure out how. Although it would also be a big improvement to cut right back on fabrics with plastic unless of course, the plastic is itself recycled. There's still the issue of microfibres with recycled plastic clothing; a guppybag can help with that.
A great thing about the report was that it demonstrates that clothing companies have a responsibility to think about their impact and take some action when it comes to what happens to their products once they've left the shop floor. We all have a responsibility to buy less and buy better, but fast fashion companies market their products so aggressively and mark down the cost of clothing so much that it's great to see that things are moving towards making them more accountable. Hopefully, customers will continue to vote with their feet and bring about the change that we want to see.
And that raises the point that it doesn't have to be down to government regulation. Whilst that's powerful and would help, there's an opportunity here for individuals, entrepreneurs and responsible brands to step in and make it work. Madewell is a great example; they take trade-ins of old jeans and turn them into housing insulation. The customer gets a voucher and the waste products find another use and more life. The opportunities are there, we just have to seize them!
This issue is at the heart of what Lucy & Yak are all about. We are aiming to be sustainable and ethical. We pay the living wage or more to all our employees and we believe in a system that benefits everyone.
We're hoping to show that you can be a fashion brand with great products whilst reducing your environmental impact and treating planet and people alike fairly.