Laura Young, programme manager at Tearfund, introduces an idea to challenge fast fashion – a fashion fast.
A recent survey1 by Christian charity Tearfund, to find out about our relationship with fast fashion, has shown that more than half of us (57%) have new clothes in our wardrobes that we’ve never worn… and now after inspection of my own wardrobe, I know I am certainly one of those people!
We may think our love of fast fashion is normal, but according to some statistics, in the UK we now buy five times more clothes than we did in the 1980s2 and we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe3! It’s a way of life we’ve become used to, but it’s damaging our planet because the fashion industry emits more harmful carbon emissions than aviation and shipping combined4.
Tearfund’s survey showed only 4% of UK shoppers rank the carbon footprint of clothing as their top consideration when buying clothes and under a quarter (23%) say concern for the environment is the main reason they’d buy fewer clothes.
So there’s plenty of room for us to pull our socks up with regard to our wardrobes, and as Christians we have a responsibility to care for God’s creation, and our global neighbours impacted by the climate crisis. Individually we may feel weak in the face of a global industry, but every purchasing decision we make is part of a collective force which can nudge the fashion industry out of its ‘make, use, dispose’ pattern. We need to aim for a more circular model – reusing precious resources rather than discarding them – allowing ethics and sustainability to drive out our throwaway thinking.
Tearfund’s survey also revealed most people are more likely to reuse clothes that have a sentimental value, and as Dr Ruth Valerio, environmentalist, theologian, and Tearfund director, says, ‘What better way is there to invest clothes with memories than to wear them more often?’
Dr Valerio was talking as Tearfund launched its ‘Great Fashion Fast’ challenge, to highlight the link between the fashion industry and the climate crisis. People are signing up to wear just ten main items of clothing for the whole of March and get sponsored to fundraise for Tearfund’s work tackling poverty. Happily, undies are not included in the ten-item limit.
I’ve had a lot of fun thinking ahead about which ten pieces of clothing I’ll wear in March when I take part in Tearfund’s Great Fashion Fast. Which will be most practical? Will I need clothes to keep warm or cool? I’m guessing layers will be the way forward, and I’m expecting to have fewer decisions to make every morning, as I cast my eye over my ‘capsule’ wardrobe.
I’ll be sharing my progress on my social media channels and there’s lots more information at tearfund.org/fashion and @tearfund. Joining the Great Fashion Fast gives us an easy way to open the conversation about the damage caused by fast fashion. The COP26 United Nations Climate talks in Glasgow last autumn shouted out loud and clear about the climate crisis we’re in; now we need to start acting with urgency. Questioning our fast fashion habit is a way we can all get on with that job.
Laura Young is a programme manager for Tearfund working on climate issues, and is also a climate activist, environmental scientist, sustainability educator, and ethical influencer. Laura lives an environmentally conscious lifestyle, advocating for environmental education and climate justice and can be found on social media under @LessWasteLaura lesswastelaura.com
1 Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,314 UK adults aged 18+ online from 28-30 January 2022. Data were weighted to be representative of population by age, gender, region, and socio-economic characteristics such as social grade. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comresglobal.com.
2 & 3 Source: House of Commons report Sustainability of the fashion industry
4 Source: House of Commons report Sustainability of the fashion industry citing Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future (2017) . Textile production produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Feature photo: Andrew Cawley