Ethical and Sustainable Fashion — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 19th March 2013.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:10 pm, 19th March 2013

My Lords, I join everyone else in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for securing the debate-it is indeed very timely, in view of the article in the Guardian today-and for her excellent and comprehensive overview of the issues. I am glad that the debate is to be answered by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for many reasons, not least, and I hope he will not mind my saying this, because we could all agree that he is unarguably one of the most stylish Members of your Lordships' House.

I had not intended to speak-I should be singing-but I wanted to make a couple of short points. However, they have all been made by other speakers and so I will quickly pick up on a couple of matters that other people have spoken to and expand them a little. My noble friend Lord Stone spoke about buying less and wearing it more. That is absolutely at the heart of how we change human behaviour in this area. It will be difficult because in the developed world we have become addicted to over-consumption, and fashion is no exception. I am a complete serial offender in this respect. I have that wardrobe full of misguided purchases, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred, which were bought in haste and without due consideration. I am very ashamed of it, but unfortunately that does not stop me doing it.

We buy too much of everything because we can and because the market is geared towards high volume and low costs, as we have heard from many other speakers. We have largely forgotten how to value, restore, maintain and sustain the clothes that we wear. We are shamefully and shamelessly profligate.

This is a difficult issue for Governments of all complexions because the prevailing economic orthodoxy says that consumption equals growth, and growth is the only game in town. I can see that we have got problems but we should surely be wondering whether that model is itself sustainable. I rather doubt that it is.

Fashion, of course, is very much about novelty and therefore inevitably about consumption. However, at its best it is also about beauty, craft, skill and durability, and it is often about small businesses doing one thing really well. Does the Minister agree that one of things the Government can do is to put as much support as they can behind small businesses in fashion, as well as trying to persuade the large businesses to change their practices, which I do not deny is extremely important?

We must not forget that sustainable fashion is, of course, about sustainability, but it is mainly about fashion. If we do not get the fashion part right-that is, if the fashion that comes as sustainable is not as good as, if not better than, other fashion choices we could make-then it will never get off the ground. That is why we need small businesses that have creativity built into them.

My final point goes to the heart of how we can keep those small businesses coming: our education system. The system that we have at present, as we have already heard, has allowed some very talented people to come through and has allowed the fashion industry in this country to be world beating in many respects. If we do not keep the education system balanced so that the creative education necessary to allow those talents to emerge is properly sustained and valued, we shall find in a few years' time that we are not the world beaters that we once were. I would extend that into the higher education sector where, as I should probably have said at the start, I have a personal interest in the excellent work of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, which has been mentioned many times today, because my son works for it. What he has learnt through being part of that team has engaged my interest and I hope that there will be more units like the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in future, and that they will themselves be sustained.


J Robertson
Posted on 27 Jul 2013 12:56 pm (Report this annotation)

Declared family interest on this page, second entry.
Work of the family member includes securing government funding to promote a particular view of ethical fashion.

More here on impact of this funding