Young women are leading the charge against fast fashion, study finds

A young woman grocery shopping at a flea market (Getty Images)

Last month, the Office for National Statistics reported that three-quarters of the British public felt concerned about the climate crisis ahead of the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow. One of the biggest polluters in the world is the fashion industry, which accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions each year.

The need for a more sustainable fashion industry was highlighted at the climate conference by several high-profile figures, including British fashion designer Stella McCartney. Despite the continued success of many fast fashion companies – Boohoo reported sales of over £ 975 million in the six months to August this year, a 20% increase from last year – public attitudes are changing. , according to a new study.

According to a survey of 2,094 adults, commissioned by the University of Hull, more than half of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 (58 percent) want to “turn their backs on fast fashion” and change their shopping habits.

The study also found that 25% of respondents in the younger age group are already renting out pieces for their wardrobe or buying second-hand gifts for Christmas. However, only five percent of people over the age of 55 said they would consider buying second-hand gifts.

This year it highlighted clothing rental companies, with the likes of Holly Willoughby and Carrie Johnson using their services. The prime minister’s wife made headlines this year when she rented her wedding dress, while Boris Johnson later followed in her footsteps and wore a £ 34 a day rented dress at Cop26.

Members of the royal family, such as the Queen and Duchess of Cambridge, were also photographed wearing garments from their wardrobe, as Angelina Jolie’s daughter famously wore her mother’s 2014 Elie Saab Couture dress for the eternal earlier in October.

The university’s survey, conducted by YouGov, found that women are more likely to change their shopping habits than men. More than half (51%) of women said they would consider wearing rented or second-hand clothing in the future, while 21% of men said the same.

Professor Dan Parsons, director of the University of Hull’s Institute for Energy and Environment, said the findings show that “whether driven by an environmental or ethical reason, young people are increasingly turning their backs on fashion. rapid”.

“We will have to live with the consequences of our throwaway culture for decades – if not centuries – to come, and the discarded clothing created by the emergence of” fast fashion “has played a significant role in what is a tsunami of waste. of microplastics around the world, ”Parsons said.

“It is encouraging to see that young people are now leading a step towards a new environmentally conscious society – renting and hiring clothing, and moving to say ‘no’ to fast fashion, is an important step in the right direction. “

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the fashion industry uses around 93 million cubic meters of water per year, while 20% of all annual wastewater comes from dyeing and treating textiles. .

Additionally, many clothes sold by fast fashion companies are made from plastic microfibers. According to UNEP, half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the oceans every year.

“The volume of plastic now in circulation globally means that we have indeed entered a new geological period – geologists call it the Anthropocene – but the prevalence and distribution of plastic waste in the environment means that I think we will eventually call it plasticene. – ‘the plastic age’, “said Parsons.

The university also highlighted the impact of the fast fashion industry on modern slavery and other forms of worker exploitation.

In June 2020, an investigation by The Sunday Times found that a Leicester factory producing Boohoo clothing continued to operate during the lockdown with no social distancing measures in place.

Additionally, an undercover reporter who worked at the factory for two days was told they would only be paid £ 3.50 an hour. At the time, the living wage in the UK for people aged 25 and over was £ 8.72. It has now increased to £ 9.50.

In its response, Boohoo said the conditions at the factory, Jaswal Fashions, were “totally unacceptable and sadly below any acceptable standard in any workplace.”

“Our investigations have shown that Jaswal Fashions is not a declared supplier and no longer operates as a clothing manufacturer.

“It therefore appears that another company is using the former Jaswal office and we are currently trying to establish the identity of this company. We are taking immediate action to thoroughly investigate how our bosses were in their hands and will ensure that our suppliers immediately stop working with this company, “he added.

Trevor Burnard, director of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, said consumers of all ages can “take a stand in the fight against modern slavery and coercive labor practices” by changing their habits. of purchase and buying more clothing by hand.

“Even on an individual level, by making ethical purchasing decisions we can begin to make meaningful change that will make a difference for the people working in fashion supply chains around the world.”

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