Consumers should buy half as many new clothes and fashion retailers should focus on selling second hand products and repairing goods in-store, the organiser of London Fashion Week has said.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council (BFC), warned British fashion brands they need to sell fewer clothes to lessen the industry’s vast environmental footprint.
The BFC’s Institute of Positive Fashion Report, released as London Fashion Week draws to a close, calls on brands to encourage shoppers to buy 50% fewer new clothes to move beyond the current trend-driven model, which uses 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources and creates 92 million tonnes of waste each year.
The aim is to the tackle the industry’s vast environmental footprint and in particular its contribution to climate change, which accounts for 5% of global emissions – more than aviation.
The report says systemic change is needed to address waste across the supply chain, the high volume of clothes bought annually in the UK – four billion pieces in 2019 – and the percentage destined for landfill.
Approximately 90% of fashion and textiles bought on UK high streets are imported and 60% of used textiles collected domestically are exported.
Despite selling fewer clothes, the industry could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs by 2035 by adopting new “circular” business models including second-hand, rental and subscription, developing virtual outfits, and repairing old clothes that today end up in landfill and are later incinerated, the report said.
British consumers are already showing they are comfortable with changing the way they shop, whether to be more sustainable or because of changing perceptions about the way they buy clothes, the report noted.
A survey of “high-intensity shoppers” – those who buy two or more new items a month – found that 37% are already using rental services, 58% are repairing clothing at home and 63% are buying pre-owned items.
However 54% of shoppers are not concerned about the environmental impact of their purchase.
Ms Rush said: “The UK has all the ingredients needed to create a blueprint for a circular fashion economy that will deliver significant environmental, commercial and societal benefits.
“The mammoth job at hand to put this into action can be supercharged through a Sustainable Fashion Programme that sees industry, Government and stakeholders all come to the table to play their part beyond their focus of each individual business.
“We have an opportunity to create this target state quicker and in doing so creating jobs and skills benefiting the UK as a whole.”
The UK fashion market is one of the largest globally, with revenues of £118 billion, 890,000 workers and £35 billion contributed to the UK’s pre-pandemic GDP.