Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Starting on the road to sustainable clothing

Starting on the road to sustainable clothing

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (287/07) issued by The Government News Network on 5 September 2007

Representatives from the fashion, clothing, and textile industry as well as environmental and ethical groups are meeting today for the first time to look at how they can work with government to improve the sustainability of clothing throughout its life cycle.

Opening the event, Joan Ruddock, Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, said:

"Increasingly, consumers really care about the environment and the social impacts associated with clothing. And clothes, almost more than any other product, fill magazines and get column inches. Not only are consumers really getting their teeth into this, but fashion journalists are increasingly keeping pace with the green game.

"There are plenty of examples of people in the industry already seeing sustainability as an opportunity, not a threat. There are people taking an active role in ethical sourcing, designing and producing clothing throughout the supply chain.

"That's why Defra is aiming to work collaboratively with the clothing and fashion industry to improve the sustainability of clothing."

Speaking at the event, Katharine Hamnett, one of the industry's most ethical and environmentally aware designers, said:

"Sustainable clothing doesn't have to be more expensive. It can be more affordable and it should be more affordable."

Clothing, across its life cycle, generates a range of environmental, social and economic impacts - with the growth in fast fashion and consumption being a key factor in this.

In 2006, UK clothing and textiles produced up to two million tonnes of waste, 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 and 70 million tonnes of waste water. Clothing imports into the EU as a whole now account for 42 per cent of the global market. In the UK only 10 per cent of our clothing is manufactured at home, the rest is imported.

Following this event, the clothing and fashion industry will be invited to be involved in developing the sustainable clothing roadmap coordinated by Defra. The roadmap examines all stages of clothing's life cycle (from raw materials to end of life), charts the environmental and social impacts arising at each stage, and proposes ways of limiting those impacts where most effective.

Notes to Editors:

1. UK clothing consumption is high at approximately 2 million tonnes (£23 billion) per annum. For the period 1996-2005, consumer expenditure on clothing and textiles has grown 34%, with predicted demand increases.

2. The fast/discount fashion/value clothing sector accounts for one fifth of the UK market and has doubled its growth during 1999-2006.

3. In 2006, UK clothing and textile impacts included up to 1.5-2 million tonnes of waste, 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and 70 million tonnes of waste water generated.

4. In terms of its economic impact, clothing is a high value sector globally worth over £500 billion. It contributes to 7% of world exports and employs approximately 26 million people, supporting a significant number of economies and individual incomes around the world.

5. Just 10% of clothing consumed within the UK is manufactured here. The UK textile and clothing industry is small in comparison to the global industry, accounting for approximately 0.78% of UK GDP, 3.3% of UK manufacturing (valued at £9.5 billion) and employing approximately 170,000.(1)

6. Further information is available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/consumerprod/index.htm

7. Katherine Hamnett's video address is available at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y0NYGdfJQQ

(1) HM Customs & Excise, Provided by the British Apparel & Textile Confederation (2005)

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