Fast Fashion's Impact on the Environment

Fast Fashion's Impact on the Environment 

For quite some time, fashion and the environment have had a somewhat fractured relationship. In light of the BBC 1 documentary ‘Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’, ripples of guilt were evident amongst both consumers and industry insiders.

This isn’t a new story but it did act as a stark reminder that our insatiable appetite for fast fashion is literally costing us the Earth. We delve into fashion’s impact on the environment and how both consumers and brands can make a change.

The Effects of Fast Fashion on the Environment

During the programme, the fashion industry is revealed as the second most polluting industry in the world (after oil). Fashion’s impact on the environment is so far-reaching; it is shockingly responsible for reducing Kazakhstan’s Aral Sea to a dustbowl, a result of the region’s over-production of cotton. Rivers in Indonesia are discoloured and frothing, with toxic waste pouring out of sewage pipes from the factories directly into villages’ main watercourses.

More alarming statistics surfaced:

- 10  billion new garments are produced every year 
- 300,000 tons of discarded clothing are sent to landfill every year

      MP Mary Creagh (chair of a government committee investigating the environmental impact of fast fashion) explained:

      “Fashion shouldn’t cost the Earth. But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. Producing clothes requires climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain into the oceans. We don’t know where or how to recycle end-of-life clothing.”

      Stacey Dooley Fashion's Dirty Secrets Documentary

      On social media, fashion influencers (who understandably are frequently held responsible for fuelling consumer desire for newness and on-trend looks) were quick to respond. They cited investment buys and the support of sustainable fashion brands as the answer. Yet cheap clothing and fast fashion brands at the heart of these disclosures, who all share this responsibility for ethical, planet-saving practices, continued their silence without exception.

      Stacey Dooley Fashion's Dirty Secrets

      Clothing Has a Huge Environmental Impact

      In the same week, the UN issued a landmark report stating we have only 12 years to limit an irreversible climate change catastrophe. Just half a degree increase in global temperatures (from the current 1.5C to 2C) could lead to the complete destruction of coral and worsen the risk of drought, floods and extreme heat causing poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

      As these devastating environmental side effects are revealed, we believe enough really is enough. All fashion companies, large and small, owe their customers (and the planet) full transparency on their fabrics, production and distribution, so that we can make much swifter progress on educating consumers to make better choices.

      How Do We Measure Up?

      At Madderson London, our starting point is BE KIND. By this we mean be kind to our environment, the communities in which we operate, and ourselves.

      From here, we advocate for a BUY WELL, BUY LESS approach and aim to inform our customers on the provenance of the fabrics used in every single garment, as well as how and where that item is made. This gives our products integrity and critically, longevity thanks to our carefully chosen, high-quality fabrics.

      Our desire is to make beautifully crafted investment pieces that stay in your wardrobe for many, many years to come. Every garment we sell comes with a ‘30 Wears’ tag, following the lead from EcoAge’s 30 Wears campaign.

      Madderson London 30 wears

      Take our best-selling Ophelia dress for example, a Madderson classic since the day we opened for business. Ophelia is made from Italian ponte jersey base produced by Mario Bellucci, an environmentally pioneering mill where its jersey has been certified as having no toxic chemicals used in its dyeing process. 

      Ophelia is also lovingly made in London by Greek-born Tom, who runs a small factory with his dad in East London. Their head machinist has worked with them for 30 years and they operate in a cool little clothing community in Haringey which is committed to recycling all waste from its manufacturing processes. 

      The Circular Economy of Fashion

      Sharing the story of each piece, and staying true to our design ethos. We create timeless pieces that can be worn for the next 10 or 20 years. This helps us to put sustainability at the heart of everything we do.

      By manufacturing in the UK and Portugal, where rigorous regulation is mercifully in place, we also reduce the distance travelled by fabrics and finished goods between mills, factories and our warehouse.

      By using premium fabrics from heritage mills, such as Hainsworth, a British woollen mill founded in the 18thCentury or Vanners a British jacquard weaver founded in the 17thCentury, we are weaving a sense of history into every garment.

      By upcycling archive trims and fabrics and re-imagining them for new collections, we massively reduce our wastage.

      While our Books for Schools initiative (where we donate a book to an under-resourced UK Primary School) enables us to give back to the communities where we live and work.

      It is our responsibility to ensure that not only do we minimise our impact on the planet, but that we become a force for good. We ask our customers to join us on this journey by championing sustainable brands, and choosing clothes that are to be treasured not consumed. Find out more about our approach to sustainable women’s fashion here.


      Helen Hughes is co-founder and head of marketing at Madderson London.
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      • Lisa Springgay says...

        I too watched the documentary and it shocked me so much that I am making changes to my family’s shopping habits.

        I also set up a government petition calling for forced change and urge anyone who feels that something needs to be done urgently please sign (and share):

        On November 21, 2018

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