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UK fast fashion: Half of top brands’ clothes made entirely from virgin plastic

By Huw Hughes


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Image: Pexels

A study looking into the use of plastics in the UK’s fast fashion industry has found that 49 percent of the clothing from four top brands is made entirely using virgin plastics.

Boohoo was the biggest culprit with 67 percent of its fashion made entirely from fabrics derived from petrochemicals such as polyester, acrylic, nylon and polyamide. That was followed by PrettyLittleThing (66 percent), Missguided (62 percent) and Asos (49 percent).

The study was conducted by the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA), which analysed 10,000 items of clothing from across the four brands.

It also found that on average 80 percent of items listed on the brands' websites contained some amount of new plastics - rising to 89 percent for PrettyLittleThing, followed by Boohoo and Missguided (each 84 percent) and Asos (65 percent).

The study comes amid mounting criticism of the global fast fashion industry and its astronomical carbon footprint.

One MIT study found that the average polyester shirt produces 5.5kg of CO2, 20 percent more than its cotton equivalent, and the same emissions as driving 13 miles in a passenger car.

‘Vanishingly small’ amount of recycled fabrics

One way the fashion industry has begun to mitigate its environmental impact in recent years is by using recycled materials, but the RSA study found a “vanishingly small” amount of recycled fabrics are being used by the four brands.

The percentage of clothing containing recycled material for Missguided was the highest at just 5 percent, followed by Asos (4 percent), Boohoo (2 percent) and PrettyLittleThing (1 percent).

A separate RSA study earlier this year suggested there is an ‘awareness gap’ when it comes to shoppers and the clothing they buy, with just 49 percent of those who regularly buy fast fashion admitting to buying clothing that contains synthetic materials.

The RSA is calling on the government to explore a per-item ‘plastics tax’ on clothing imported into or produced in the UK containing virgin plastics.

It also said fast fashion brands should look at new ways to promote second-hand clothing and other circular business models such as rental and repair services, and should regularly publish statistics on how much plastic goes into their clothing.

And it said shoppers should commit to “buying less and buying better”.

Fast fashion