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A paradigm shift in the fashion industry? From "trend obsession" to "sustainability"

What is it about?

A few weeks ago, Selfridges announced that it will start clothing rental and resale service. This is in response to continuing customer uncertainty due to Covid-19 and sales struggling to reach pre-pandemic levels. Selfridges will be collaborating with HRUU, an online fashion rental platform, to offer fashion products from 40 brands, and selling vintage clothing through the secondhand clothing platform it launched with Vestiaire Collective last year. Expanding its involvement in the rental and resale market will allow Selfridges to target millennial and Gen-Z customers who are particularly sensitive to the ecological impact of fast fashion.

Thinking beyond

Fast fashion, a business model that encourages quickly changing fashion trends to increase purchase, has long been criticised for its devastating environmental impact. During cotton production, a significant amount of fresh water is used along with chemical pesticides. Water that has been used then becomes too contaminated for any reuse. Also, retailers tend to over-order products as it is cheaper to produce more in a factory than to make an additional order later. This has resulted in a vast amount of unsold stocks being burnt or sent to landfills. A report from the Environmental Audit Committee states that textile wastes have flown to the oceans and have been found in seafood. Fast fashion is speeding up and exacerbating this environmentally fatal fashion cycle.

Despite the concerning effects of the fashion industry, the environmental law seems to be lagging behind. For example, last year, the government rejected 18 recommendations made by EAC on various reforms in the law to force the fashion industry to become more environmentally accountable. These included tax reforms to reward fashion brands that implement policies to reduce their carbon footprint and banning landfilling of unsold clothing. With a growing voice on the need for reform from both customers and retailers, it is to be seen whether the government will be introducing any measures in its Environmental Bill to regulate the fashion industry. Environmental lawyers advising stakeholders in the fashion industry would therefore need to keep an eye on the updates in the law. In the meantime, given the growing interest in sustainable fashion from consumers, they may advise inserting environmentally-friendly clauses in commercial contracts between fashion suppliers that produce garments and retailers that buy them.

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