The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) releases its report into the sustainability of the fashion industry today, giving its verdict into how retailers are dealing with the social and environmental impact of their clothing.

But, while retailers undoubtedly play a key role in ethical and sustainable production practices, we, as customers must also consider our responsibility in how we look after our clothes, both during their usable life, and at the end of it.

We commissioned some research to gain an insight into how people shop, care and dispose of their clothes, with the results highlighting just how much still needs to be done to encourage green thinking around the issue.

What we found

Of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed, over 1 in 6 say that they throw their unwanted clothes in the bin rather than seek more sustainable disposal alternatives. This is no small statistic when we consider that 40% say they buy new clothes at least once a month, coupled with the fact that the UK alone disposes of a shocking 350,000 tonnes of clothing in landfill every year.

This “throwaway culture” becomes even more apparent when we consider the relationship people have with their clothes when they become old or damaged, with many seeming to view their clothing as a disposable commodity.

Our poll showed that nearly a quarter of people (22%) say that they’re put off fixing their clothes because it’s easier to buy a replacement, and one in five (17%) say it’s cheap enough to do so. In total, only 18% of people strongly disagree with the statement that they’d be more likely to buy a new item of clothing to replace a damaged one.

No make do and mend

Delving deeper into our survey results, a lack of basic sewing knowledge and/or confidence means that many people aren’t mending their clothes. We found that two-thirds (62%) say that they’re deterred from fixing small faults because they either don’t know how, or they’re scared of making a mistake. This number rises to 77% for 18-24-year-olds, compared to just 38% of those aged 55+, highlighting a wide generation gap.

Mindful of this, we’ll be supporting people unsure about how to tackle their damaged clothing through a series of “fashion fix” sessions at customers’ business premises during February and March, with a First Mile seamstress on hand to mend damaged clothes. Employees can also take part in First Mile sewing workshops where they can learn the basics, such as attaching buttons and fixing hems.

Now’s the time to take action

We buy more clothes per person in the UK than any other country in Europe, but our survey results send a clear message that more needs to be done to encourage people to show their purchases some love and prolong their life.

There’s no doubt that retailers have an important role to play, but the buck doesn’t stop with them. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a high street shirt, a designer dress, or a coat from the charity shop, we all have the opportunity to be planet savers and look after our clothes, both while we’re using them, and when we’re finished with them.

Our top tips

There’re plenty of ways to reduce the environmental impact of your fashion purchases, here’s five for a start….

  1. Have a wardrobe blitz: As well as discovering forgotten treasures, it’s also a great opportunity to sort out items that need fixing, or those that can be donated to charity or recycled.
  2. Recycle what you don’t want: Old clothes shouldn’t end up in landfill when they can be reused, repurposed or transformed into a wide range of new items. Lots of shops and supermarkets have clothes recycling bins on site, so it’s easy to “drop before you shop.”
  3. Do your homework: Many fashion retailers provide repair and reuse programmes, or voucher incentives if you recycle clothes through them, saving you money and avoiding landfill.
  4. Buy second-hand: Charity shops and online auction often sell quality items at a fraction of their original cost, setting you apart from the crowd and often supporting a good cause at the same time.
  5. Brush up on your sewing skills: “A stitch in time saves nine” is a good philosophy to adopt – if you have a wobbly button, sagging hem or small tear, fixing them straight away will prolong your garment’s life, saving you money and the environmental impact of buying a replacement.