By Ellie Peach
On June 18th 2019, Vanita Badlani, founder and CEO of LaBante London and avid sustainability activist, was invited by the Fabian network, a think tank organisation, to the UK government, to discuss the fixing fashion bill held at the house of commons in Westminster. Vanita represented sustainable businesses for the UK and gave her the opportunity to voice her initiatives for future sustainable fashion practices to the British Government. On this panel of representatives was also a member of parliament, Mary Creagh, curator of V&A - Edwina Ehrman, Tamara Cincik – CEO & Founder of Fashion Roundtable. Jenny Holloway- Ceo of Fashion capital and Mhairi Tordoff chaired the discussion. The points Vanita addressed are as follows;
Fast fashion brands continuously make the mistake of manufacturing excess stock to keep up with the fast-paced industry. They take advantage of doing this simply because there are very few costs involved; these companies can dump the excess stock in landfills simply, because they can. The Government's argument against this was that they ‘consider positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban’. Which completely avoids the immediate issue that clothes are still being dumped and doesn't force any action.
Vanita brought up the fact that the fashion industry alone is a great polluter, so there should be some sort of infringement to try and stop these corporate giants in their tracks. A ban on the incineration on the stock was her suggestion. The hope was that this would create a massive decrease in the production of excess inventory and hopefully would thus reduce landfill waste astronomically. This would significantly affect the environment as fewer greenhouse gases would be emitted while simultaneously promoting reuse, recycling, and clothing upcycling.
The way the Government refused this suggestion seemed to favour the large industries that undoubtedly bring in a lot of revenue. While not thinking about the exploitation of workers or environmental degradation in the countries where these shops outsource their production.
The vast amounts of waste this industry yields is a statement of how far out of hand fast fashion has gotten. With lower prices and more deals on every day, it makes you wonder where that materials actually come from, what is it made of, and who is impacted when we buy thousands of pounds worth of clothes from these stores every day?
Another important point brought up by Vanita was the idea that brands could partner with recycling companies. This way, they can add prepaid labels to their products that show them exactly how and where they can recycle their old item. This encourages a circular trade whereby the materials used in the product will eventually be cycled back through the production process instead of extracting new raw materials.
The next idea was to reward fashion companies that design more sustainable products. This would incentivise companies who are currently not doing all they good for the environment, to do more. The goal was a sustainability index similar to the immigration visa point system. As a rule, the scale would work on a 1-100 point system. The higher the index, the lower the corporation tax on a company or a higher cash saving incentivisation. This could help by allowing sustainable businesses to get established as a business far quicker and enable them to receive financing from the Government. This thought came from Vanita’s own experience of struggling to get a loan when starting out her company LaBante.
This financial hurdle makes it harder for companies who want to make a difference to establish themselves, increasing the issue of the fast-fashion giants as they can carry on with few competitors. To imagine this in practice, this could be based on how many recycled materials the brand uses in their clothes. 50% recycled could equate to 20 points, for instance, or using renewable energy in various parts of the production process could yield different amounts of points. This is another excellent way to prevent the burning of excess stock as well. This point was rejected by stating, ‘Govt will focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing.’ a weak argument considering the amount of waste the fashion industry does, in fact, produce.
Suppose funding for companies trying to be as sustainable as possible was available. There would be potential for more significant technological advancements to be made. For example, the development of vegan leathers could be more readily accessible rather than some still being in the early development process, such as apple leather. These materials eradicate the need for genuine leather, not only positively impacting the environment in terms of CO2e levels but also in terms of animal cruelty. After all, nature and fashion are interrelated, so harnessing nature more would result in a much more sustainable fashion future.
However, finding this balance is tricky for smaller sustainable brands as materials like vegetable waste leather are costly, so trying to make these products affordable while making a profit is tricky.
In addition to this, Metropolitan cities are costly. Small businesses start out in homes. A great way to allow a business to hit the ground running and stay running would be implementing some sort of campus for small companies to have office spaces. This could also be measured on the sustainability of the brand. Rent could be subsidised with the amount of effort the company puts into their environmentally-friendly efforts.
In this idea we would follow Sweden’s example to reduce VAT on repair businesses. This idea has worked very well in Sweden to promote reuse and repair, something we often ignore in the UK where buying new clothing is cheaper than repair. The points brought up by Vanita Badlani on the recording were rejected by the Government.
” It’s unfortunate and true that fast fashion pays a lot in terms of taxes to our Government. there is, unfortunately, no initiative to stop their growth and momentum; however, the planet is very much paying the price. As such, our push at LaBante has been what we can control: namely innovative products and packaging.”
If more companies made these kinds of small efforts to combat their waste and where their waste ends up, there would be a lot less ceaseless tossing into the nearest bin that would end up in landfills and a lot more awareness of recycling.
Vanita's final point was the influence of the media in fashion. Currently, the awareness of sustainable brands is low. This is due to the countless adverts sponsored by fast fashion brands plastered on buses, tube stations, billboards, and on our tv. This is incredibly expensive, and small businesses just can not afford to do this. This means majority of the mind share is held in fast fashion. This could be combated by, again, the use of Sustainability tax credits. Media could be subsidised for advertisements for smaller brands. This would incentivise or even just allow smaller companies to get their brands out and their voices heard.
While the points brought up so far have been rejected, the sustainable community is still pushing for the Government to see the benefits these points could have for the environment. Currently, the Government is of the view that the fashion industry already brings in enough money for it to not need any financial support, but, they are solely considering the fast fashion giants that can quickly bring in revenue through their constant advertisements and being able to keep up with trends on a day to day basis. This enables these companies to become more profitable while smaller businesses struggle to keep up. Obviously, this needs to change, but in the meantime, small sustainable businesses will continue to fight for what they believe is right, often sacrificing profit in a bid to save the environment.
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