OPINION - Admit it: you’re addicted to fast fashion — but it doesn’t have to be this way

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

The weather is finally warming up, and fashion retailers will be delighted — emboldened by the sunshine, we head to the shops, hankering for glossy, frothy or floral new outfits in our wardrobes to celebrate the arrival of summer. It induces a frenzy, as we indulge in as many dopamine hits as possible after the grizzly, grey winter. Go on, admit it, if you haven’t already gone shopping, you’re planning to. Whether you need it or not.

And how many of you will do so, with a slither of guilt attached? Because we know there is a price to pay for our consumerism, our addiction to convenience and the new. We are far better informed on how damaging and dirty the fashion and apparel industry became in the last three decades.

Fast fashion has rightly come to dominate conversation around the fashion industry. It’s also often unfairly demonised retailers who were democratising fashion trends for the masses. But fast fashion, mass fashion, whatever you prefer to call it, has without doubt vastly increased pollution and waste, aided the promulgation of a disposable mentality, and meant businesses have outsourced production to low wage, low regulation countries, with unsafe workplaces to keep prices down.

Aided by globalisation and digitisation, we opened a Pandora’s box and getting those ghouls back inside is going to take time. Together as a society we can tackle the downsides, and we will. The answer is a circular fashion model.

In its simplest terms, circular fashion is a system where our clothing is produced through a more considered model. In practical terms this means working to remove waste in production cycles, plus reducing non-recyclable and polluting materials from the supply chain, while recapturing everything from garment offcuts to packaging to use again. Ensuring we keep garments in the cycle for as long as possible, including collections, helpful tax schemes to promote fashion reuse, and finally returning any unavoidable waste to nature safely.

I know. Not so simple.

In fact, it’s horribly complex. And companies ,however genuine their goals are to reduce emissions and educate their consumers, will prioritise their bottom line. In the meantime, there is a lot of greenwashing and ESG targets being tossed around. We are made to feel better and keep spending.

But how much wiser could our buying habits be, if we could know far more about the item we are buying, and its footprint on the planet and the effect on those making them? The lack of information on the characteristics of what we buy to wear are an essential barrier to circular economy strategies (and applicable to almost all that we consume, from food to clothing and technology).

Achieving this level of transparency with textiles is at the heart of developing EU regulation and strategy. And one of the fixes they are considering are Digital Product Passports (DPPs). Defined by the European Commission, a DPP is a “product-specific data set”. Essentially, it would provide information on the origins of the item, its composition, durability and recyclability, bringing a whole new level of transparency. This will boost consumer consciousness and empower better decision-making along the whole production and selling cycle.

Currently data is predominantly being utilised to market goods at you. And further AI development is only going to aid the sophistication of that process. DPPs are one of the ways we can turn data collection to the good: we have a linear economy; transparency can seriously aid turning it into a circular one. The battle ahead is how to persuade businesses who don’t want growth or profits stymied that sharing their data is essentially helpful to them as well as us.

The EU is leading the way globally: it introduced the Circular Economy Action Plan in 2020. The ambition is for all textile products on the EU market to be long life and recyclable by 2030. It’s an admirable target. We left the EU, but the reality is it is doing the hard work we should be part of. And consumers, this is where you come in. If you keep demanding from the brands you love more information, more responsible behaviour alongside your own, and reward those giving that to you with your hard-earned spending power, we will get there. And the demons of consumerism we let out of the box can one day be contained.

Shopping responsibly, knowing we are not killing the planet for a fashion hit, will be attained.

Tate Britain’s re-hang has given it new life

I was at Tate Britain on Wednesday night for its summer party and to see its controversial rehang, I can only say don’t let the negative reviews keep you away.

Yes, the Tate has prioritised social and political history over quality, and delivered it in some rooms with painful, sometimes crass commentaries, but these are largely contained to the 18th-century paintings (abolition, pollution, Travellers, feminism, no box is left unticked here).

Overall the results are still stunning. The room of watercolours from William Blake and Chris Ofili are totally absorbing. I felt the freshly painted rooms and new juxtapositions meant I could appreciate Tate Britain wholly anew. And I enjoyed that more contemporary female artists were given space (though some of the choices were baffling, given what they have left in their vaults).

But don’t take it from me or the reviewers: go see for yourself.

If Rishi wants a bonkbuster, read Cleo

Are we really to believe Rishi Sunak is a fan of Jilly Cooper? As one who devoured all the books in her Rutshire Chronicles, beginning with Riders, I am not convinced this has ever been bedtime reading for our swotty, serious PM, as he insisted on Good Morning Britain. I suspect Amber de Botton, a top aide of his, is the real fan. And anyway, these days those in Westminster are far more likely to be found dipping into Cleo Watson’s hilariously sexy satirical novel Whips. This six-foot, statuesque chief of staff to Dominic Cummings and self-described ‘nanny’ to Boris Johnson has given politics the Rutshire makeover. And yes, Jilly Cooper is a fan. I’ve ordered it already.