Mary Creagh: Keep Up the Pressure on Sustainability

The fashion industry and consumers must continue to put pressure on policymakers to combat waste and unsustainable business practices, according to the chair of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

Speaking at the Telegraph Responsible Fashion Forum yesterday (18 June), Mary Creagh voiced her disappointment at the UK government’s response to the recommendations of the EAC Fixing Fashion report published in February.

The response, published yesterday morning, rejected every one of the EAC’s recommendations, including a 1p levy on every garment to support improved collection and sorting for fabric recycling, as well as cutting VAT on clothing repair services.

Earlier this month a survey conducted by Drapers showed that respondents broadly supported the recommendations.

In her keynote address, Ms Creagh urged the Responsible Fashion Forum audience to continue advocating for change across the industry, noting that it is clear the industry wants to become more sustainable and that consumers will continue to ask “Who made my clothes?”

Throughout the event panellists discussed the challenges and opportunities of moving towards sustainable business models, discussing themes including recycling and circular economies, sustainable fibres and changing the mindsets of businesses and consumers alike.

Buying and sourcing practices play a huge role in sustainability, with smaller production runs forming part of the solution. Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, explained that over-ordering from buyers can put substantial pressure on manufacturers to deliver, which is then reflected in overtime and exploitative labour conditions for workers. She added that companies with better forecasting capabilities can avoid this by ordering smaller consignments of products they know customers will buy.

Professor Stephen Westland, Deryane Tadd and Neliana Fuenmayor at the Telegraph Responsible Fashion Forum 2019
Neliana Fuenmayor, Professor Stephen Westland and Deryane Tadd discuss digital disruption in fashion

Future Fashion Factory research is enabling more companies to do exactly this. Professor Stephen Westland of the University of Leeds, who leads FFF’s data-driven design research theme, spoke in a panel on digital disruption about the ways in which new technologies will inform the creative design process.

Speaking alongside Deryane Tadd from The Dressing Room and Neliana Fuenmayor from A Transparent Company, Prof Westland talked about how AI-assisted design can create 3D renderings of garments and generate patterns from those models. He added: “I don’t think this will take away designers jobs at all, but I do think it will completely change the way they work.”

Data-driven design will leverage vast amounts of data using AI, machine learning and big data analytics, translating data into meaningful information about consumer demands in different markets. By using these insights to inform the design process, brands can ensure that they make the right products at the right time, significantly reducing the amount of unsold stock which could become waste.

Panellists also flagged traceability throughout the supply chain as crucial to ensuring sustainable practices. Jenny Holloway, chief executive of Fashion Enter, explained how the company works with Future Fashion Factory partner Galaxius Systems to track garments through their production line, while essentially making garments to order to minimise unsold stock.

Find out more about how Future Fashion Factory is working to reduce waste and make industry more agile with Innovation