The public are making do and mending clothes during the lockdown – but government, industry and consumers themselves must do more to make sure that we avoid a return to ‘fast fashion’, according to a leading charity.
A new report from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) finds that the lockdown has dramatically altered consumer habits and attitudes:
The lockdown has forced changes in that way that we buy fashion - 35% of women stating that they intend to purchase fewer items of clothing in future, and 28% of us are finding that we’re reusing or recycling clothing more than usual. The public want more opportunities for repair and reuse (68%) and less pressure from advertising (62%) and social media (65%) to buy clothing. 58% of the public report having bought less clothing during the lockdown.
There is a strong appetite for change in the fashion industry after the pandemic. Fewer than 1 in 5 (19%) of people believe that the industry should return to business as usual and 50% think that industry should do whatever it takes to become more environmentally sustainable.
Consumers haven’t simply raced from shopping on the high street to online – around half have adopted different activities as an explicit alternative to ‘shopping’, such as spending more time with ‘themselves’ (24%), exercise (20%), cooking (20%), and phoning friends/family (18%).
Leading the charge towards sustainability are ‘generation Z’, many of whom are planning on making changes to their purchasing habits as a result of the lockdown. Young people between the ages of 18 and 24 (27%) are particularly committed to supporting brands with strong social and environmental policies. 35% of 18-24 year olds intend to buy fewer items of clothing after the lockdown has ended. This group is critical to fashion marketing and for fashion companies to attract new talent to the industry.
But there are worrying signs we could see a revert to type: 40% say they are looking forward to buying clothes again, and only 34% say that we should be prepared to pay more for clothes. This is in spite of 83% agreeing that clothes should be designed to last longer and be repairable.
This present a huge problem: the fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions, nearly 20% of wastewater, and uses more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. In the UK, 30% of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill.
The government to invest in sustainable fashion. The RSA calls for the creation of a dedicated green ‘Beyond GDP’ resilience fund to support burgeoning circular economy innovation within clothing and textiles (and other sectors) in order to enable greater regional resilience, to stimulate local demand and create high skilled local employment. This should also ensure that any job and training support programme announced later this year supports growing circular economy jobs within fashion.
In addition, government should introduce stronger environmental standards on the industry including an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme to incentivise waste reduction and improved design for durability and repair, and a reduction in VAT on repair services.
The industry itself must take action. There’s an incentive for industries to adapt – for instance, sustainability is a key value for their Gen Z target customers as well as new industry intake of talent. Firms should therefore develop circular economy models which ensure that they use safe, sustainable materials, design their garments for durability, and explore reuse and repair services to keep clothing in use for longer. There should also be investment in upskilling marketing, advertising and journalism creatives on the impacts of fashion, in order that they can better inform the public’s choices.
Consumers also need to be encouraged to keep up changes in their behaviour. The RSA is launching the poll as part of its Regenerative Futures programme, one of the five Bridges to a better future post-lockdown. Part of this programme involves working with communities to develop interventions which change our relationship with fashion, from new ways of manufacturing to repair services and reuse networks.
Josie Warden, Associate Director at the RSA says:
“The fashion system is a significant contributor of waste, carbon emissions and other pollution, including microfibres in the ocean. It is also an industry riddled with poor labour conditions. Concerns about these impacts are quickly rising up the public agenda and, in a similar way to the backlash we have seen against plastics, this is another issue on which citizens are demanding rapid change.
“The results of this survey provide cause for optimism. The enforced lifestyle changes have disrupted our purchasing habits and given us space to reflect on what matters. Our impact on the environment and society are clearly important concerns, particularly amongst young people who want to enjoy fashion more responsibly after the lockdown is over.”
“As with plastics, those businesses who can move quickly will have a competitive edge within the market and attract top talent. The demand for sustainable, long-lasting clothing and services which enable repair and reuse are there, demands that the industry needs to meet.”
“The UK is rightly proud of its reputation for creativity in fashion but there is much more to be done by both industry and the government to create an industry fit for the future, which delivers both environmental and social benefits. As support packages are developed for industries and employment in the coming months there must be investment to support and grow businesses and jobs which manufacture garments safely and fairly, extend their lifetime, and which support local communities and economies through their activities.”
The full poll results are available here.
Populus conducted an online sample of 2,125 16+ adults on the 27th to 28th April 2020. Data is weighted to be representative of the population of Great Britain. Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the National Readership Survey, a random probability F2F survey conducted annually with 34,000 adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by it rules. For further information see http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/ .
The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is an independent charity which believes in a world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future.
Through our ideas, research and a 30,000 strong Fellowship, we are a global community of proactive problem solvers, sharing powerful ideas, carrying out cutting-edge research and building networks. We create opportunities for people to collaborate, influence, and demonstrate practical solutions to realise change.
Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control.