UK, the fourth largest producer of textile waste, has been losing its grip from being a nation that was leading in delivering key interventions through governmental policies for the fashion sector. On June 8, 2022, erstwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson had expressed his support for the new 10-year Fashion Industry Sustainable Change Programme, aimed at creating a world-leading circular fashion and textiles eco-system in the UK.
Policy support for sustainability
The PM’s office collaborated with the British Fashion Council (BFC), unveiled the 10-year Fashion Industry Sustainable Change Programme, which Johnson said would bring opportunities across the UK to meet the government’s Climate Action Plan of environmental and societal change. UK Fashion & Textiles Association (UKFT) has been working closely with the British Fashion Council (BFC), Innovate UK and other stakeholders to attract wide-ranging government support for a new 10-year Fashion Industry Sustainable Change Programme, focused on creating a world-leading circular fashion and textiles eco-system in the UK.
Shortly after the event, Boris Johnson had pledged $97.5 million of government money for the scheme. Nigel Lugg OBE, chair of UKFT, said that this is a pivotal time for UK fashion and textiles. Lugg felt that In order to survive and grow, it was essential that the sector strengthens its sustainable competitiveness. It will mean a fundamental change and one that needs to be delivered at pace and will call for new skills and new jobs.
Ground reality in the UK
A report published by Hubbub claims the UK government has failed to tackle fast fashion. The research found there has been a ‘lack of progress’ made by UK governments, despite what Hubbub calls ‘growing concerns’ of the environmental and human rights damage caused by the fast fashion industry. According to Oxfam, 13 million items of clothing are sent to landfill in the UK every week which does not support the government’s waste reduction targets. The research looks at government progress in tackling fast fashion and found it has published only 19 policies in five, despite the fast fashion industry being the second largest user and polluter of water globally and one of the largest contributors to modern slavery.
The majority of the policies were proposed in a way that was ‘unlikely to lead to implementation’, the research concluded. For example, five per cent of policies (one policy) contained any details of a cost and/or budget, it says.32 per cent policies proposed actively sought to address the issue of fast fashion, rather than just increasing awareness. The policies were largely introduced in broad strategies aimed at tackling the waste issue rather than directly tackling fast fashion. Of the policies that sought to directly tackle fast fashion, they were aimed at providing voluntary guidance and standards or attempts to enable producers to make change, but no stronger incentives, regulations or legislation have been proposed to date.
Mishandling fast fashion as an issue
The Hubbub research also criticized the fact that that all policies have been proposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – a department that is not ‘technically responsible for fashion’. Fashion as a policy area technically falls under the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The research says lack of cross-departmental work has resulted in the policies having a narrow focus on the relation between fast fashion and waste reduction, with little positive impact on waste reduction.
Circularity is a failure
UKFT has tried hard to impress on the implementation of policies regarding circularity and has met with limited success. It has managed to address the circularity of a mere 10 per cent of its annual fashion and textile waste of around two million tonnes. The main problem lies with the lack of direction in the Textile 2030 Roadmap.