Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Whatever happened to


That thing you bought at Primark?

I have only once been to this emporium, the week its megastore opened opposite Selfridge's, and unable to stop myself buying something I purchased a bronze green anorak thing which I wear in wet weather to go to the shops. It cost £10.

As far as the eye could see was a top. In every size and every colour. The same top. A whole room of one top.

Where does that cheap crap from Primark go when no-one wants it anymore? A long and informative piece in the Times today tells the depressing tale.

In his textile recycling factory on the industrial outskirts of East London, Lawrence Barry wades across a floor feet-deep in other people's discarded clothing. Above him, precarious fabric dunes lean against the walls and reach up to the corrugated iron roof. The air is heavy with mothballs and the sweet, cloying stench of stale sweat.

There was a time, 58-year-old Barry says, when the clothes coming into his warehouse reeked of love, instead. “People used to buy a good-quality suit and that was it. That was their suit,” he says. “The clothes that ended up here were worn to death, treasured, loved.” Now the 100 workers at LMB Textile Recycling spend their days sorting through the detritus of our addiction to throwaway fashion - cheap, synthetic, often unworn, rarely loved. And Barry and his employees have unwittingly found themselves at the cutting edge of British eco-policy.

Textiles have never been a great concern for keen-to-be-seen-to-be-green governments that get more brownie points from an easy tonne of glass or paper. But the textile problem has become too vast to ignore.

In February the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will launch a “sustainable clothing roadmap” to try to reduce the environmental impact of our clothes. In preparation, it has commissioned a series of studies in which the true extent of our shopping habit is revealed in stark detail.

In the past five years, with the rise of “value retailers” such as Primark, H&M and TK Maxx, and supermarket fashion ranges, the price of clothing in the UK has plummeted by up to 25 per cent. At the same time, the amount of clothes we buy has increased by almost 40 per cent to more than two million tonnes a year.

Instead of two annual seasons for clothes - winter and summer - we are now offered, and can afford, new apparel every few weeks. We buy fresh holiday wardrobes, which we wear for a fortnight. Our style icons are celebrities who are never seen in the same outfit twice. And as our high street stores reel from the credit crunch, still we are cashing in - packing out the shops, desperate for discounted clothes.

As a result, textiles have become the fastest-growing waste product in the UK. About 74 per cent of those two million tonnes of clothes we buy each year end up in landfills, rotting slowly (or not at all) in a mass of polyester, viscose and acrylic blends.

8 comments:

Nadine said...

SEVENTY-FOUR percent!?!?! I am horrified.

Completely Alienne said...

It is horrifying isn't it. Oddly, as clothes have got cheaper I have found myself buying less and less - as it gets harder to find anything I actually want to buy.

Deja Pseu said...

I'm with C. Alienne. The cheap crap generally fits horribly and falls apart after a wash or two. And it seems to dominate the landscape (now literally, I guess).

Arabella said...

My mind is now completely boggled by that %.

Seven years ago I spent many pounds in Agnes B on a black cotton v neck top, with elbow-length sleeves. It was a lot to pay, but it was perfect, so I did, twitching a bit. Every time I wear it I examine it to see if it's still OK, afraid that it will bobble or fade. It's still going strong.
I have tried to find other versions of this flattering piece but they are either the length of a mini dress or have wonky seams, or sleeves the width of pipe-cleaners.
If you aren't built to last, it doesn't matter how much money I have or don't have - you're not coming home with me.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

"People used to buy a good-quality suit and that was it. That was their suit."

And I can sell that 1950's or 60's suit today as a beautiful and high quality vintage piece that will keep on working on someone's wardrobe. In 2050, vintage dealers won't have much of anything to sell because today's cheap throwaway clothing won't stand the test of time. Some of this stuff won't even last 50 days, much less 50 years!

Anonymous said...

Obviously the British authorities haven't heard of the vast market for second-hand clothing in developing countries. We have whole markets devoted to the sale of such clothing for people too poor to afford new clothes. This can lead to surprising situations, however, such as seeing a pretty, innocent-looking young girl wearing a t-shirt with an obscene word in English emblazoned on the front!

Cal said...

Anonymous you obviously didn't go over and read the whole article at
The Times site where it talked at great length about the shipping of our used clothes off to developing countries.

And how even there lots of clothes end up in landfill (pushing away our waste somewhere else) and how even there cheap Asian imports are beginning to appear competing with second hand clothes.

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