EACH year, we throw away or incinerate around 70 billion clothes, or 250,000 tonnes in Ireland alone.
That’s about the weight of 140,000 cars in old T-shirts, jeans and jackets.
A catastrophic side effect of the extraordinary rapid fashion boom is the environmental damage caused by our taste for cheap clothes.
About ten percent of all global emissions are caused by the fashion industry – more than air and sea travel combined – which has prompted a fundamental rethink of how we produce, wear and dispose of our yarns.
And measures are now underway at European level to impose strict standards which, from 2023, will see labels on clothing explaining their effect on the environment.
Southern Ireland MEP Deirdre Clune said the new legislation would be a warning to fast fashion hawkers to take shape – or to feel the wrath of consumers demanding greener solutions.
She told The Irish Sun: “It will give the consumer a choice so that they know that if I buy this product, I know the damage it has caused.”
Penneys has been the poster child of fast fashion for decades; their discounted clothes are proving to be extremely popular with consumers around the world.
Parent company Primark has made efforts to improve its environmental record in recent years, but Clune says big brands will have no choice but to get even better.
She said: “There is now a demand from consumers – they want to be informed and more and more companies are going down this road anyway.
“Zara does, H&M had a problem in China with Uyghur cotton. They answer it, companies must do it. “
As for Penneys, she said: “This would mean they will be forced to label products so consumers know the sustainability factor. If they don’t follow, consumers will demand it.”
MORE SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
The Irish giant insists that even if it becomes more and more sustainable, they will keep the price of their products low.
A spokesperson told The Irish Sun: ‘We are increasingly offering customers sustainable products at the same great prices that we know they love – from our sustainable cotton lines, made from cotton. grown by farmers trained under Primark’s sustainable cotton program, to our lines. made from recycled materials.
“We are also committed to eliminating all single-use plastics from our business. This year, we are accelerating our plans because we want to make responsible fashion affordable for everyone. “
The European Commission has launched a roadmap for the future of sustainable textiles in the EU to help the environment in the long term, including plans to ensure that clothes are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy efficient. .
The European Parliament wants the Commission to define product-specific standards, so that products placed on the EU market can be easily repaired, improved or recycled, contain recycled content and are resource and energy efficient.
Clune said: “Achieving a more circular use of products and materials, keeping them used as long as possible by extracting the maximum value from them during their use and recycling them at the end of their life reduces the production of waste and Requirement. for resources and associated environmental pressures.
“Fast fashion has led to a huge increase in the amount of clothing produced and discarded.
“Switching to a circular economy is essential to achieve the EU’s ambitions for climate action, nature protection and sustainability, and also bring benefits for innovation, growth and jobs. “
Commission legislation will go to Member States to have their say and to parliament to agree before it becomes law in less than two years.
Clune told The Irish Sun: “It could be 2023 when it goes through the cycle and consumers can look at a label on a T-shirt and understand its environmental impact.”
STEPHEN O’Reilly, co-founder of Irish sustainable clothing company Grown, suggests that some foreign fast fashion brands may be guilty of ‘greenwashing’, creating the false impression that a company’s products are more eco-friendly. environment than they are.
He said: “There is no way to produce clothes at such a low price and be completely sustainable or ethical.
“I can’t see this happening personally from the point of view of being in the industry.
“There’s probably a bit of greenwashing going on, so it’s important to question everything, research your marks and look at where it’s all coming from.
‘CHOOSING A BETTER FUTURE’
“We vote with our pockets and by choosing ethical and sustainable clothing, you are essentially choosing a better future.
“You are not buying conditions like child labor – you are buying a better future and that is also what you vote for.
“So you are simply choosing a better future when you choose an ethical or sustainable business. “
The new rules will demand the highest standards for any company seeking to do business in the EU on everything from human rights to governance and contributing to climate change.
A LOT TO DO
THE TASK ahead is enormous: textile production is responsible for around a fifth of the world’s clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products. Up to 80% of the environmental impact of products is determined during the design phase, and with global material consumption expected to double over the next 40 years, there will be problems ahead.
The Penneys spokesperson continued, “At Primark, we have been working hard to become a more sustainable company for over a decade, because we know how much it means to our customers and colleagues and because we are committed to minimize our impact on the environment. wherever we can.
“We have an extensive environmental sustainability program that works throughout our supply chain, from raw material sourcing and production to in-store efficiency and our commitment to recycle where possible. “
SUPPORT LOCAL & SUSTAINABLE
AOIFE McNamara is ahead of them in this regard.
The owner of Aoife’s Cottage, in Adare, County Limerick, creates “slow fashion” collections with biodegradable and locally sourced materials.
She told the Irish Sun: “I think thanks to Covid people have become aware of fast fashion and they have had time to slow down and really understand what fast fashion is and what it is in comparison. is slow fashion and how to support it.
“It’s one thing of the pandemic, when stores reopen people will really try to support local and sustainable brands.
“I think it will take a while for the younger generation – obviously they don’t have the disposable income to spend $ 200 on a blouse and that’s a big part of the problem, the price of sustainable fashion.
“But I think we are working to produce more and reduce costs.
“It is by educating customers that we will see consumer trends change.
“I hope that when consumers change it will change the bigger companies and I hope we will see more of them over time.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
STEPHEN O’Reilly, of green clothing company Grown, said the central message of sustainability is to buy better and buy less.
He said: “I can understand the reluctance of people to say ‘it’s a little more expensive than I usually would’, but it actually costs a lot more to create the garment because everyone gets a salary. fair from the farmer to the end product.
“So you don’t just buy the garment, it will last you a lot longer.
“It will cost you less because you won’t need to replace it as much. If you don’t need an item of clothing, don’t buy it, don’t forget the things you have.
“The reason it costs a little more is because everyone gets a living wage, the standard of living is higher.
“By using renewable sources, the crops don’t get pesticides or herbicides, it’s better for the planet and for people, it’s also traceable and the idea is that it’s going to last you a lot longer.
“If you buy a nice sweater you can wear it a hundred times, but if you buy a cheaper, unethical, and unsustainable item of clothing it will be thrown away much sooner.
“Save for this signature piece that will last you a lifetime and that you may even pass on to future generations or pass it on.”