Radio 4's fast fashion segment, the 1p fashion tax & beyond with Naomi Bulliard

Radio 4's fast fashion segment, the 1p fashion tax & beyond with Naomi Bulliard

By Amelia Curwen

Radio 4’s Fast Fashion: The Environmental Impact aired last week and featured a sample of accounts from some of the biggest authorities in the fight for fashion to become more sustainable: Dilys Williams FRSA, the Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), activist and designer Katherine Hamnett, Co-founder and Creative Director of Eco-Age, Livia Firth, Stella Klaxton of Nottingham Trent’s Clothing Sustainability Research Group, and BA Graduate Amber Kim.

The global fashion industry has a bigger carbon footprint than shipping and aviation combined. The BBC Radio 4 show looks at the environmental cost of fashion and specifically who should be responsible for change? 

We first hear from Amber Kim who is setting a new trend; she is making clothes out of discarded tents, Kim tells us that a “third of this waste will end up in landfills”.

Professor Dilys Williams is up next: “the two fundamental parts of anything that is next to your skin right now is nature and labour so whether it is grown in a field or whether it has come from the deep deep elements of the ground to become oil that is then turned into a manmade fibre. All of these things come from the earth.”

Pioneer of the #greencarpetchallenge and eco-activist Livia Firth talks about the origin of the idea to use red carpet appearances to showcase high-end sustainable fashion. This began when her actor husband, Colin Firth, was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 “I wore recycled plastic bottles, I wore recycled fishing nets, I wore peanut eggs, a fibre made from pineapple waste, you name it I’ve done the strangest things”

Stella Klaxton says “We have been very driven by the very competitive market within the clothing industry, and the development of online shopping, the development of social media marketing, all of those things that have led to cheaper prices and more convenience, same-day delivery sometimes has fuelled this sort of behaviour that we have as consumers” 

Dharshini David the BBC's business presenter who is chairing the conversation with each of the interviewees, states:

“It’s not just about how clothes are produced, we buy 5 times what as much as we bought 30 years ago, and throw a million tons away every year - 20% of that ends up in a landfill.

With budgets squeezed and the high street struggling, no politician, business, nor consumer is likely to entertain that idea.

But it’s the planet that’s picking up the tab for our thirst for fast fashion, is the answer just to buy less? Would a fashion tax make us think twice about buying?”

When posed this question, Dilys Williams says assertively “Yes.” Williams goes onto explain “Because actually that isn’t the full cost of that garment, so the tax would help” and continues "people need to realise they’re being duped. For every 5 pounds, they're spending another 5 pounds the following week, and the next week."

This question of a fashion tax relates to the Environmental Audit Committee's (EAC) report Fixing Fashion, that was released in February 2019 and outlined eighteen potential actions that the government could take. The 1p fashion tax deals with overconsumption while the report also tackles issues such as waste, pollution, modern slavery, a ban on incinerating and landfilling unsold stock, environmental targets for companies with an annual turnover of £36million or more, and an ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ scheme that would force retailers to take responsibility for the waste they produce.

In the second half of the Radio 4 show, Katherine Hamnett is interviewed. She is asked if she thinks there could be an end to fast fashion: 

“I don't think fast fashion will ever go away while people can exploit slavery in outsourced countries, it could be all fixed with a swish of a pen, if we only allowed goods into of our economic blocks that were made from the same standards as outside that were mandatory and law inside. 

I’m actually working on getting this legislation reposed to the EU because all of these countries are export economies, their clothing was designed for export and the EU is the biggest, richest economic block in the world and they say this can only be allowed in with REACH

However, when Hamnett was asked to give her thoughts on the 1p tax, she told the BBC that this was “stupid.” and continued by saying that taxing retailers would be "like putting a plaster on a septic wound".

“Wouldn’t it be better to force brands to pay their workers properly and not discharge toxic chemicals into the environment?”. The bold opinions from Hamnett and the 1p fashion tax grabbed the headlines appearing in BBC,, Global China Daily, Politico.

Fashion Roundtable spoke CSF’s Strategic Development Manager Naomi Bulliard to share her views on the 1p Fashion Fashion Tax and beyond:

Naomi Bulliard on the 1p Fast Fashion Tax

I think it could be heard on the Radio 4 interview as though there has been contradictory opinions on whether the 1p tax is a good idea. It isn’t about whether this is enough by itself, as it is a step in the right direction. There is a multiple number of things that need to be done for short term gains and long term benefits that don’t need to negate one another, and this potential tax is one of them, and as such I think it is a good idea.

[This tax] also allows for investing in R&D in recycling, and as it is a tax per garment, it works by taxing those who produce the most, it was aimed at addressing overproduction. Having a 1p tax on garments does not mean that we should stop lobbying governments around the world

The rejection of the 1P tax does feel like a failure by government to recognise the amount of waste that results from the industry.

As we know all of the 18 recommendations by the EAC in their Fixing Fashion Report have been rejected, but I believe what is crucial to understand is that we shouldn’t wait for the government to come up with all the answers.

It’s important to work on small gains and activate changes that will feed into the bigger picture, ultimately we are looking at ways to decouple growth from the depletion of resources and this means finding new ways of prosperity. The fashion industry is not going to survive if we say nobody is allowed to sell anything anymore, but it can perhaps better capitalize on other avenues, such as thrifting. As the money from 1p tax was intended to be invested in innovation in recycling, the whole industry could benefit from it

The most sustainable fashion is to keep using the clothes you already have. At the same time, we can’t ignore young people’s attraction to new garments. It’s perhaps the case that the garments only need to be new to the customer, as opposed to newly made or created using completely new resources. There are many small brands looking at what might this look like, this is what I was saying about finding new ways of prosperity.

There are plenty of ways that as a consumer you can access and make the most of second-hand clothing and there is a growing number of places that provide repair and remake solutions to extend the life of your clothes.

Our education work with students from London College of Fashion, looks at sustainable mindsets. We ask students what is it means it to have ecological thinking, and through our research, we ask small and medium businesses what it means for an enterprise to be prosperous, whilst having the earth at the heart of everything that they do.

Mindset shifts are going to be the key to making lots of changes. What can we do to stop buying brand new garments that harm the planet and the humans that create them? How can we stop seeing garments as perishable goods.

Currently with sustainability in fashion, there is a serious knowing-doing gap. It is evident from our work with students that Gen Z have access to so much knowledge and they as a generation want to be sustainable, but there is so much confusing language and advice that they aren’t sure what to do anymore.

Essentially, we need to clarify the use of the terminology around fashion and sustainability in a way that is inclusive, makes sense to the consumer and makes the industry accountable

There is a lot to be said about the importance of the designer, the choices that the designer makes have repercussions on the whole value chain. At CSF we work with the designers as a starting point of our work with industry for that reason.

The smaller design teams have much more fluidity, can be more experimental when making changes to be sustainable, so they are a hugely important driver for change in the industry.

Ultimately, we need a multi-pronged approach, it is an incredibly complex problem so there isn’t one solution, it is about changing habits by raising consumer awareness, ensuring transparency and integrity, nurturing the local traditions, and also lobbying government and policy for the necessary measures to be put in place.

A unanimously shared view is that action is needed both in the short term and long term. One way to help is to write to your MP using our template.

UPDATE: Visas and employment in the garment manufacturing sector

UPDATE: Visas and employment in the garment manufacturing sector

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