Last year, the British Fashion Council launched the Institute of Positive Fashion in an effort to push the industry towards improving its impact on the environment and on people. The council’s chief executive, Caroline Rush, shares her views on what manufacturers, big brands and the government could do better.
Are you looking at ‘circular’ fashion?
We have commissioned a piece of research from 3Keel, a sustainability consultancy, about how we can create a circular fashion economy in the UK. The UK is a leader in post-consumer fashion and textile collection, which is brilliant, but at the moment that waste is shipped to other countries. While we are collecting it, could there be an infrastructure within the UK that allows it to take the lead in upcycling and recycling through both mechanical and chemical recycling units? That would bring opportunities for new fields and new jobs in the UK, and, importantly, access to sustainable materials for designer communities. There’s also a big push towards material innovation in the supply chain. We’ve seen some great things come out of the UK, like Piñatex, which is a leather substitute from waste pineapple leaf fibre [created by British business Ananas Anam].
Is capital making a difference?
The investment community is of course looking for environmental credentials within businesses, and there will be a push from the government to transparency and reporting — we are already seeing that in other countries — making sure that it is not just financial reporting, but reporting on impact as well.
I think that the past 12 months, going through the pandemic and the impact it has had, has highlighted some of the challenges in the supply chain. What we at the British Fashion Council very much hope for — in a year when the UK will host the next UN Climate Change Conference, Cop26 — is that there is a very strong focus and commitment to rebuilding and strengthening businesses through that sustainable lens and making commitments to significantly reduce negative impact.
Who is responsible for a fairer fashion?
It tends to be the fast-fashion side of the industry where working conditions are not acceptable. The call is to the brands, or whoever has buying power, to make sure that the audits and checks are in place, to make sure that workers are paid properly and treated fairly. The owners of those manufacturing businesses are responsible, ultimately, but certainly fashion brands should make sure that those checks are in place.
Will reshoring ever happen?
It is something that has been talked about probably for the past 15 or 20 years. Businesses that manufacture in the UK work with incredibly skilled small units; however, manufacturers here are competing against counterparts in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and in some of those countries there are government incentives in place to support manufacturing that just aren’t available in the UK — there are grants that businesses can take, which essentially ensure continue employment for those businesses during downtime in the fashion cycle. There are some really interesting things that we could look at if the UK government was open to that.