Recent research has found that almost half of fashion garments on some of the leading fast fashion brands in the UK are made with brand new plastics. The report from RSA reviewed over 10,000 items sold by brands such as Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Asos, and reported:

  • On average, 49% were made of plastics including polyester, acrylic and nylon.
  • 60% of Boohoo’s clothing and 57% of PrettyLittleThing’s clothing were made completely from new plastics
  • The figure of clothing with new plastics sold by ASOS was relatively fewer — 36%
  • The reported highlighted that consumers seem to be unaware of the issues

New plastics in fast fashion: Why does it matter?

Apart from making shocking reading in terms of environmental impact, these figures are significant because they highlight how much more needs to be done to make fashion sustainable, as well as the need to make consumers aware of the issue.

New plastics use means new, often non-sustainable and non-recyclable resources are being used to create these garments- most commonly within a take, make and dispose model. Effectively, new fast fashion garments are becoming equivalent to single use plastics such as shopping bags; both in composition and attitude of consumers to their use.

Commitment from fast fashion brands to change

Boohoo has issued its UpFront strategy, which makes a strong commitment to using recycled or more sustainable cotton or polyester across all its garments by 2025.

Other brands involved issued strong statements on commitment to doing better, how far they’ve improved in terms of sustainability and their future plans for active change. But these statements run completely opposite to their business models of cheap, fast and new, which is continuing roadblock for creating real sustainability.

Can fast fashion ever be sustainable?

It’s a great question. Fast fashion and sustainability can seem in a juxtaposition, but there are potential ways for this to be achieved.

  • The focus on fast fashion needs to move towards fast, but still high quality and affordable, instead of fast and throwaway. This will support a growing second hand market (such as in Ebay and Depop) with garments which are high quality enough to be constantly recycled through the circular purchasing loop.
  • The material composition of each garment in the cycle is vital. As well as being made from recycled fibres, each new garment needs to be created with recyclability and effective disassembly built it. Garments should not be made from brand new, difficult to recycle plastics.
  • Fast fashion brands that promote a throwaway culture need to shift their business models to be actively more sustainable, including commitments on increasing the quality of garments, the sustainability of materials and encouraging considered purchases from their consumers.
  • Innovative supply chain solutions to drive the fast access to fashion consumers demand, while being made from actively sustainable materials. Supply chain transparency will be crucial to this, and this requires huge commitment from fashion brands.
  • Consumers must become more aware of the impact of plastics in fashion. Recent campaigns to drive down single use plastics are beginning to see success, or at least increased commitment by brands and consumers. This must also happen in fashion.

To wrap up

If we return to the plastic bag analogy for a moment, there’s been a huge shift in consumer attitudes towards single use plastic bags, both by consumers and retailers. If the same can be achieved with fashion; viewing fast plastic made garments as damaging for the environment as a plastic bag, then real change may just be possible.

Textile Consult is a management and training consultancy operating worldwide. We are currently working with clients to find the best solution for sustainability- by recycling textile products with minimal negative environmental impacts. Contact us today to find out how we can advise your business on sustainability within the textile industry.