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Fast fashion: fish, fibres and our future

Last week was The Campaign for Wool’s 7th annual Wool Week, and at Pandora HQ we’re feeling a renewed interest in sustainable fashion.

But is fashion really that harmful to the environment?

Yes. It really is.

Fashion hurts the environment in three main ways: resource-intensive clothing manufacture, synthetic fibres in our water systems, and mountains of wasted clothes dumped in landfill or mouldering away on charity shop rails. According to Sunday Times Style journalist Fleur Britten:

‘A garment’s footprint is measured in the three stages of its life cycle: production, use (i.e. cleaning) and end of life.’ In her article from Sunday 9th October, ‘How Green is Your Jumper?’, she says that production accounts for most of the environmental impact. And cotton is maybe the biggest beast of the bunch. ‘Cotton… uses 25% of the world’s insecticides and about 11,000 litres of water for every pair of jeans.’ (And we thought a nice pair of Stella McCartney dark jeans in organic denim would earn us a few brownie points.)

Cotton fieldPublic Domain, Link

On the other hand, at least natural fibres like cotton and wool will break down (eventually) in landfill – although the more chemically treated even a natural garment is, the more damage it will cause as it degrades. Blur bassist Alex James’s documentary, Slowing Down Fast Fashion, shows exactly what happens to an acrylic jumper when it’s buried for four months: nothing.

Says GQ Magazine: “James takes a closer look at the fashion industry, and how consumers’ seemingly unquenchable thirst for cheap clothing is having a huge effect on the environment and workers, both at home here in the UK and abroad.”

Excuse us, but we don’t remember pressuring Zara to change the face of fashion by ‘restocking new designs twice a week instead of once or twice a season’.

“They broke up a century-old biannual cycle of fashion,” says Tank editor Masoud Golsorkhi, speaking to Suzy Hansen for the New York Times. “Now, pretty much half of the high-end fashion companies make four to six collections instead of two each year. That’s absolutely because of Zara.”

Given that mysterious Zara founder Amancio Ortega is the second richest man in the world, we’ll assume that the plan is to make him rich, not us fashionable.

Still, it’s undeniable that we’re chucking out more clothing than ever before. According to British sustainability charity WRAP:

An estimated £100 million worth (based on 2015 prices) or around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.

And now it seems that fast fashion is poisoning the water system, too. Recent studies have found that hundreds of thousands of tiny synthetic fibres are released every time we do a synthetic wash. These microfibres are turning up inside both freshwater and ocean fish and sparking fears that – aside from the risks they pose to aquatic and marine life – they could bioaccumulate further up the food chain.

So what can we do?

In reality, there’s a long way to go in the sustainable style stakes. But there are positive steps we can take now. Here are 3 of our favourites:

  1. Shop differently – look for lasting style, not fast trends. According to WRAP, ‘extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints’.
  2. Choose natural fibres and lower-impact synthetics such as modal, tencel and recycled polyester. H&M’s Conscious Collection uses a mixture of natural, recycled and organic materials, including FSC approved natural rubber, organic leather and recycled plastic.
  3. Buy preloved, vintage and second-hand clothing. This is the best way to extend the lifespan of a piece of clothing, and it’s a more cost-effective way to update your wardrobe than shopping for flash-in-the-pan fashion.

We feel that designer dress agencies are uniquely placed to help the fast fashion problem, by reselling quality clothing that outlasts its disposable high street equivalent. Designer labels tend to favour natural fibres – too. So, for quality clothing that the consumer and the planet can afford, dress agencies might just be the answer – until more is done – to the world’s fast fashion problem.


  • Britten, F. (2016). How Green is Your Jumper?. Sunday Times Style, pp.48-49.
  • Carvell, N. (2016). Alex James’ new documentary, Slowing Down Fast Fashion, has just hit Amazon Prime. [online] British GQ. Available at: [Accessed 20 Oct. 2016].
  • Hansen, S. (2016). How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Oct. 2016].
  • Wicker, A. (2016). No one wants your old clothes. [online] MSN. Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2016]

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