McCartney slams fashion’s throwaway culture

Expensive habit: It is estimated that $460 billion worth of clothing is thrown out every year.

Should we rent clothes instead of buying them? A new report backed by Stella McCartney has exposed the catastrophic environmental impact of the “incredibly wasteful” fashion industry.

When people think of environmental issues they may imagine smoke billowing from power stations or plastic bottles choking rivers. But some of our most harmful pollutants could actually be hanging up in our wardrobes.

That is according to a report released yesterday which claimed that the fashion industry is causing “dramatic environmental” damage.

The study estimates that the fashion business creates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year — more than all flights and shipping combined. At current levels, by 2050 the industry would consume over a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

Clothing-based pollution also reaches the sea. When some synthetic materials are washed they release plastic microfibres. The report claims that half a million tonnes of this plastic has been washed into the ocean — the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles.

Campaigner Dame Ellen MacArthur blamed this damage on the “take-make-dispose” culture of fast fashion, in which people buy cheap garments and quickly bin them. The findings suggest that less than 1% of unwanted clothes are recycled and half of clothes are thrown away in less than a year.

Fashion designer Stella McCartney supported the report, slamming the industry as “incredibly harmful” and calling on fashion to change “for the future of the planet”.

One solution the study suggests is for customers to stop owning clothes altogether. It claims that if people rented them instead, fewer items would be wasted and manufacturers would make durable garments instead of disposable ones.

The idea might just catch on. Dubbed the “Spotify for fashion” company, Rent the Runway offers a “closet in the cloud” in which customers pay a monthly fee to rent clothes. And CEO Jennifer Hyman thinks her business could destroy traditional shops: “I plan to put Zara out of business,” she declares.

But should we really rent all our clothes?

Generation Rent

Entrepreneur Anna Bance declared: “Ownership is becoming more irrelevant than ever before,” and many agree. The environmental benefits to renting clothes are obvious, but it is also where society in general is heading. Young people rent everything — from houses and cars, to films and music. Why should clothes be any different? Renting would let people experiment with wildly different styles and keep up with fast moving trends.

Clothes are too personal, counter others. There is a pleasure in owning and cherishing a special jumper or a particularly warm coat. When you own clothes they become a part of your identity — they hold specific memories or say something unique about you. Simply putting everything up for rent makes this identity cheap and disposable.

You Decide

  1. Should we all rent our clothes?
  2. Would it be possible to live life renting everything?


  1. Think about all the different items of clothing you currently own. As a percentage how much of these items do you no longer wear at all? If you like, share this figure with the people around you. Did you come up with similar percentages? Think of some ways in which you could dispose of your unwanted clothes in a sustainable way.
  2. Start from the Business Insider link in Become An Expert, then research the increase in renting culture amongst the younger generation. What things are being rented now more than they used to be? Is the rise in renting good or bad? Do you think that ownership is dying out?

Some People Say...

“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes.”

Vivienne Westwood

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Dumping clothes and textiles in landfill is very expensive. The report estimates that cost in the UK at £82 million every year. In America clothes are worn for approximately a quarter of the global average time. And 60% of German and Chinese people say that they have more clothes than they need.
What do we not know?
The report estimates that if current trends continue, the amount of clothing produced worldwide will more than triple by 2050 — reaching 160 million tonnes. However, with the rise of rental clothing and increased exposure of the environmental costs of fashion, we do not know if this projection will come true.

Word Watch

A study published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future.
Carbon budget
The amount of greenhouse gases which can be emitted. The International Energy Agency (an intergovernmental organisation of 29 countries set up to to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its members) has proposed a carbon pathway which aims to keep global temperature rises to within the target 2°C.
Plastic microfibres
Tiny plastic particles ingested by plankton and progressively larger animals through the food web.
Dame Ellen MacArthur
A record-breaking solo sailor. In 2005 she broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. In 2010 she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — a charity working with business to encourage sustainable economies.
One solution
Other proposed solutions include using renewable materials, phasing out harmful substances like microfibres, and encouraging people to use clothes for longer.
Anna Bance
Co-founder of Girl Meets Dress, a website which allows customers to rent designer clothes.

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