The fashion industry is notoriously bad for the environment - but why is this and what can we do about it?

AdDRESSing the Climate Crisis - It’s Fashionable to Care is our newly launched mini four part series breaking the issues down and empowering more sustainable fashion choices.

Let's start with the waste...

Did you know that this year there will be over 80 billion items of clothing made and 30% of these new clothes made are never sold - that’s 24 billion items this year alone!

If we think about it in terms of weight, it's 92 million tonnes of clothes every year - a small car weighs one tonne so we are talking 92 million small cars of waste in a year!

Why are soooo many clothes heading to landfill?

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, how can so many clothes be destroyed every year often without ever being worn? The problem lies with retailers and the way they choose what clothes to make and sell.

Traditionally fashion retailers are designing and making clothing collections months before they hit the shops. Because they design so far in advance and without knowing what customers are likely to buy they create lots of different items (each item is called a SKU in the fashion industry). The average fashion retailer brings thousands of SKUs to market each year in a spray and pray approach. For example, in 2021, Zara offered 50,000 new SKUs on its website while H&M had 25,000 and fast fashion retailer Shein brought in a whopping 1.5 million. Retailers know not all items or colours will be popular but by offering so many thousands of different options they know that by the law of averages some will be sell outs…and they build in price margins to compensate for those that won’t sell.

The waste situation is getting worse. In recent years clothing sales have doubled but garment usage has decreased by 36%.

Why are people buying clothes but wearing them less?

One of the main reasons for this has been the rise of fast fashion otherwise known as …throwaway fashion. Fast fashion items are, as the name suggests, trend led clothing items that are quickly and cheaply produced - catering to those keen to buy the latest fashion fad and then move onto the next. Mass produced and with deliberately low price points (with all the garment worker and environmental issues low prices cause - discussed in later issues) these clothes are created in the expectation that they will be worn briefly before the wearer discards them for the next trend.

Fast fashion retailers bring many thousands of different items to market and sell them cheaply. Primark is a good example. Primark pricing promotes spontaneous purchasing - shoppers go into Primark and because the prices are so low they end up buying items they didn’t even know they wanted! Such low clothing prices strengthens the belief that clothes are disposable - thus many fast fashion purchases are never worn at all.

Fast fashion is the absolute opposite of made to last, and the growth in it as a retail segment has resulted in a generation of shoppers who expect to buy cheaply, wear briefly and then discard.


But I'm okay because I send my unwated clothes to charity shops?

Our nations over consumption means that UK charity shops are currently overwhelmed with only 10% of clothes donated actually sold. Charity shops are finding themselves inundated with cheap fast fashion clothing that is essentially waste and 70% of the UKs used clothing is now sent overseas - creating new problems of fashion wastelands in the Atacama Desert and Africa.

The UK even has a new accolade, but it's not one that we want, we are now the second largest used clothing exporter in the world, second only to the US.

What can I do differently?

The best thing you can do is consider your purchases - ideally buying timeless items and quality staples that you will wear for years over fashion fads. Check the brands you buy from - do they have thousands of different SKUs, do prices seem too cheap to be true and do they often hold cut price sales - all of these would indicate that they are over producing which leads to new clothes waste. And finally if you don’t wear it - recycle it or pass it on to someone else.

We are very much on our own sustainability journey and although not perfect we are committed to cutting waste and creating long term change...find out more about how, here.

Join our adDRESSing Climate Change Mission.