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Regulating fast fashion: Drapers interview

On 8 July, the Environmental Audit Committee launched an inquiry into the social and environmental impact of disposable 'fast fashion' and the wider clothing industry.

Harriet Brown, staff writer at Drapers, interviewed Duncan Reed about what this might mean from a regulatory standpoint – as featured in a Drapers Guide on 'Solving fashion's sustainability problem' available to read here

What is the current regulatory picture in the UK on issues of sustainability in fashion?

"Sustainability in fashion is largely non-regulated in the UK currently – that is to say it is typically left to self-regulation through the use of standards and logos that retailers and manufacturers can voluntarily meet. It's the carrot rather than the stick approach, if you like. 

"There is a strong incentive for meeting these standards, as retailers and manufacturers can then use it as a distinguishing factor for their brand and attract more followers who care about the issue. 

"While this approach does generally work, there can be issues around the use of words like 'recycled', 'green', 'ethical' and 'organic' in promotional advertising if this is deemed to be misleading to customers. These concepts are very fluid and can mean different things to different people, so brands can easily end up in hot water." 

How will this new investigation potentially change the current state of play? Is it likely to bring real change?

"The recent ban on microbeads shows that sustainability is becoming a more regulated issue and how quickly the law can change – if something is deemed to be a significant problem. The microbeads legislation came about extremely quickly; it came into force in October last year, manufacturers were banned from using microbeads in January and retailers were banned from selling products containing them from 9 July. If you apply that same speed to anything that comes out of this consultation, there could be significant changes quite quickly.

"Nobody knows what changes to expect at this stage. It will largely depend on what evidence there is that this is causing real harm, and whether there are particular chemicals, compounds or processes for example that are used that are causing significant environmental problems."

What requirements do you think retailers, brands and manufacturers could be subject to?

"Any legal requirements would necessarily have to be quite specific and detailed to ensure certainty for retailers, brands and manufacturers, and also the people charged with testing them and to settle any disputes. This is already the case with the use of certain dyes and colourings that are banned within the EU."

How far away are we from achieving progress in terms of policy change what sort of a timescale is change likely to happen? 

"Once there is a consensus that there is a product or process that is causing significant harm, the government and industry is usually quick to respond to that. Given that this is talking about so-called 'fast' disposable fashion and the rate of disposal due to price point and expected use, any issues identified are likely to be dealt with quite swiftly." 

What areas do you think will be a particular focus in the investigation?

"The investigation will most likely focus on those areas that are deemed to be highest risk, including the most voluminous, most widely used and most damaging." 

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at July 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

To follow the inquiry including evidence, news and meetings, please see here

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