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Written by: Lucinda Gregory
10/02/2020
Sustainable fashion has been thrust into the spotlight. Here’s how to keep up with the trend.

Most celebrities attending this year’s BAFTAs ignored the memo to choose outfits with the environment in mind. However, it’s not only celebrities who spend money on clothes they only wear once. Our research shows one in eight pieces of clothing (13% of people’s wardrobes) are never worn or only worn once.

Surprisingly its men who are more wasteful with clothes than women. One in six (15%) of men’s fashion items are never worn or only worn once, compared to just over one in 10 (11%) for women.

As a nation we spend £2.4bn a year on clothes we barely wear and an estimated £140m worth of clothing goes into landfill every year. Not only is this shocking from a financial point of view, but we’re also damaging the environment because we don’t want to be judged for wearing the same outfit twice.

Social media plays a big role in this. In an age where many people will not post an Instagram picture wearing the same outfit twice there is huge demand for quick, cheap clothing. This change in consumer habits has seen the global consumption of clothes double between 2000 and 2014.

In fact, research shows one in three people buy at least one fashion item a month and a similar number (29%) admit to buying two or three pieces of clothing. We’re spending around £50 a month on average trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends.

Is the fashion industry really that harmful?

You can’t dispute the major role the multi-billion dollar fashion industry plays in the global economy, creating millions of jobs, however its effect on the environment can no longer be ignored.

When asked which industries have the most harm on the environment many of us would think of transport, mining and manufacturing. However, the UN Conference on Trade and Development considers the fashion industry to be the second most polluting industry in the world, consuming more energy than the shipping and airline industries combined, as well as being responsible for producing 20% of waste water and about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The fashion industry is standing up and taking action though. Last year at the G7 summit French President Emmanuel Macron announced his plan to advance sustainability in the fashion industry, enlisting the help of Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault. Pinault, who is responsible for luxury brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, has been appointed to unite brands from around the world in reaching their sustainability targets.

It’s not just luxury brands recognising the need for change. Zara, the biggest brand of the third largest apparel company in the world – Inditex – has pledged to use 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. Zara has also partnered with the Red Cross to donate leftover stock.

How can we make a difference?

We’re starting to see some celebrities try to make changes and re-wear outfits. Joaquin Phoenix has broken the mould this year with his pledge to wear the same suit – designed by leading voice in sustainable fashion Stella McCartney – for the entire awards season.

But it’s not just big fashion names or celebrities who can make a difference. Making small changes can actually go a long way to help the environment.

I’ll be taking part in the UN #ActNow Fashion Challenge this year. The campaign aims to educate and encourage individual behavioural change by adjusting consumption patterns.

But here are some other ideas to get you started:

  1. You can prevent old or unwanted clothes going into landfill. Shops, such as H&M, run garment recycling services. H&M will give you £5 towards your next purchase in exchange of a bag of your old clothes.
  2. Instead of buying a new outfit for a special occasion, rent one. There’s been a flurry of companies, such as Rotation, Cocoon and Endless Wardrobe, launching websites where you can rent clothes for occasions.
  3. Make your own clothes out of unwanted clothes. We’re all guilty of throwing something away because it’s gone out of fashion but you can use the material to make new outfits. Spending a little bit of money on a sewing course could save you money in the long run.
  4. Borrow clothes from friends or family. It’s a massive compliment to them that you love their taste, but it also limits the negative impact on the environment and saves you money.
  5. Consider your purchase. Ask yourself will you wear it a minimum of 30 times? If not walk away as that purchase will leave you with a lighter wallet and a heavier carbon footprint.

Impact investing

You don’t just need to change your shopping habits to make a difference. For instance, where you save money or how you invest can actually play an important role in having a positive impact on the environment. For example:

Kering

This luxury retail group owns brands such as Gucci, YSL and Alexander McQueen and sustainability is at the core of its mission. CEO Pinault believes protecting the planet and protecting shareholders goes hand in hand. The company has a long-term commitment to embed social and environmental sustainability at the heart of its business and has defined a series of ambitious targets to attain by 2025. These comprise of environmental stewardship, social welfare inside and outside the group and a focus on innovation to drive lasting change in the industry.

BMO Responsible Global Equity

The objective of this fund is to achieve long-term capital growth by investing in companies whose products and operations are considered to be making a positive contribution to society. The fund avoids investment in companies with damaging or unsustainable business practices. BMO are one of the leading players within the field of Responsible Investing and actively engage with companies to encourage good governance.

VT Gravis Clean Energy Income

This funds aims to deliver a regular income of 4.5% per annum as well as preserving investor’s capital with the potential for growth. The fund invests in renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro via companies owning renewable energy assets or operations directly linked to the funding, construction, generation and supply of renewable energy. It also invests in greener energy – companies that derive a significant part of their revenue from increasing the efficiency of or reducing pollution from generating and supplying energy or using energy.

With awards season underway and London Fashion Week just around the corner, it will be interesting to note whether 2019’s sustainable trend continues with celebrities going green for red carpet events, and if this starts to make its way into our everyday lives more too.

Lucinda Gregory is investment research and guidance manager at The Share Centre

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