WRAP: Lockdown has made Brits more aware of fashion’s environmental impact

Many have taken time during lockdown to clear out their wardrobes

That is according to new research from WRAP, published today (10 November). The charity polled more than 2,090 adults in the UK on their attitudes towards sustainable fashion and their consumption habits around clothes, shoes and accessories in May, and then again in October.

Of the respondents, more than half (55%) said in October that they class the fashion industry’s negative impact on the environment as “severe” – up from 35% during a similar survey in 2017. The sector is believed to emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) annually than aviation and is a major contributor to water pollution and waste. Respondents frequently said they had become more aware of the issue due to media coverage and social media.

However, male respondents and those classed as “high-frequency shoppers” – those who buy new fashion on a weekly basis – were more likely to underestimate the environmental cost of their clothing.

The survey also tracked how lockdown restrictions changed consumption patterns in the fashion sector. In April 2019, WRAP concluded that 40% of UK adults purchased one or more fashion products in-store at least once a month. The rate this summer stood at 15%. And, while some shifted to online purchasing, only 28% of respondents in October said they were shopping online once a month or more.

WRAP believes the combination of store closures, more free time for education on the topic and financial constraints of the recession has led many adults to rethink the lifecycle of their clothing. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the survey respondents said they now consider whether clothing will last longer as a key factor when shopping, making it the second-highest priority after whether the items look good. Moreover, one in four said they now know how to complete basic repairs on clothing.


WRAP warns in the report that consumer attitudes are now changing more rapidly than most large fashion brands are adapting their processes, targets and business models.

While praising members of its Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) – a voluntary, collaborative agreement through to the end of 2020 – for exceeding the framework’s core targets on carbon and water, WRAP believes action must be scaled up and accelerated if fashion is to stop contributing to the climate and nature crises.

With this in mind, the organisation has launched Textiles2030 – SCAP’s replacement. The agreement and supporting scheme will officially launch in April 2021 and will bind signatories to aligning with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory – a feat which will require most businesses to reduce their absolute emissions by 40-50% by 2030.

Other commitments include reducing the aggregate water footprint of new products by 30%; sourcing more recycled or renewable materials than virgin materials; scaling up reuse and resale models and contributing to a sector-wide roadmap for the circular economy. These aims, WRAP claims, will make the UK’s fashion sector “fit for the future”.

The first cohort of signatories includes John Lewis & Partners, Next, Primark, Sainsbury’s, Ted Baker and Tesco. Several charities and trade bodies are also taking part, including The British Fashion Council, British Heart Foundation, The British Retail Consortium, Cancer Research UK, Charity Retail Association, Salvation Army Trading Company and the Textiles Recycling Association.

“I am hugely impressed by the extent to which we have been able to make such a difference by working together; SCAP 2020 signatories have been the recognised leaders,” WRAP’s chief executive Marcus Gover said. “However, more action is needed by more companies to make clothing more sustainable. That is why we need to continue this work. Textiles 2030 will pick up the mantle.”

The news comes on the same day that the British Retail Consortium announced that more than 43 additional retailers have joined its effort to produce a roadmap to get the UK’s retail sector to net-zero by 2040.

Sarah George

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