On Tuesday evening at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, designer Stella McCartney and Dame Ellen MacArthur cohosted the launch of a sustainability report that sets out a new vision for the fashion industry. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Circular Fibers Initiative Report, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future, laid bare damning findings that will hopefully ignite some change.
While the equivalent of a garbage truck's worth of textiles is wasted every second, less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new pieces. If this continues, the fashion industry will consume one quarter of the world's annual carbon budget by 2050.
Beyond being wasteful, we're already aware of the pollution caused by the clothes we wear. Thought plastic was bad? Every year, during washing, garments release half a million tons of microfibers into the ocean — the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles. These microfibers are near-impossible to clean up, and can enter food chains as well as harm our marine life.
While these facts are frightening (and may seem overwhelming), the report does offer a positive and progressive alternative future, its authors are calling for an industry-wide collaborative effort to put the sustainable plan into action.
“Today’s textile industry is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model and is hugely wasteful and polluting," MacArthur stated. "[This report] presents an ambitious vision of a new system, based on circular economy principles, that offers benefits to the economy, society, and the environment."
The first step in radically changing the way we source, make, buy and retain clothes is to phase out the substances that damage our health and planet, removing all plastic microfibers. Next, a transformation in the disposability of the clothes we wear: we must design them to last longer, and buy with longevity in mind. The third step needs to address the way we recycle old garments, from considering the fabric's durability to increasing the appeal of renewed pieces. Finally, we need to cut down on waste wherever possible by reusing fabric offcuts and reducing production methods that use colossal amounts of water.
“What really excites me about [the report] is that it provides solutions to an industry that is incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment," McCartney said. "The report presents a roadmap for us to create better businesses and a better environment. It opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry, for the future of fashion, and for the future of the planet.”
With some huge names backing the report (including industry giants H&M and Nike), we hope the findings and proposals for a healthier, greener, and more responsible industry are a challenge the rest of fashion's power players are willing take on. Because without some accountability (and real, tangible change), the long-term implications will be devastating.