Fast fashion is hanging on a thin thread

Fast fashion is accelerating into our wardrobes and these clothes that are often just worn the once are sent to landfills.

The UK is the worst offender in Europe for this, with 26.7kg per capita. One person in the UK has double the clothing waste than someone in Sweden with 12.6kg. However, Northern Ireland does not fare well in terms of textile waste either, with our landfills being dressed up in around 500kg of our clothing waste a week.

Textile waste in Europe, the UK ranks the highest

The Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural affairs, Gordon Lyons has praised a new plan to trim the threads off the reliance and on wasteful and unethical fashion in Northern Ireland.

“This type of waste is a growing problem.” The Minister stated, “with many items having been worn once or still in perfect condition.”

“Sending this waste to landfill means harmful greenhouse gases are emitted causing environmental damage and negatively impacting human health.”

One programme is giving this industry a dress down. To give your wardrobe a green makeover, they urge you to follow three tenants, reuse, repair, reimagine.

This moto is from Fashion Forever NI, which is a part of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. Their Tackling Textiles Co-ordinator is Siobhan Purnell, who gives more detail about their mission for not just a more fashionable Northern Ireland, but also a more ethical and sustainable one.

Textile waste in Northern Ireland

“The fashion industry is sitting as the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. It is quite scary actually,” the Textiles co-ordinator of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful explained.

Although Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is not just concerned with textiles.

“We run the Eco Schools Project in Northern Ireland,” Siobhan Purnell explained.

“We are the awarding body for blue flags for beaches and we’re involved in marine service, monitoring litter on beaches. There’s lots of stuff that we do. One area of our work is called Waste and Pollution Solutions.”

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world, and the Tackling Textile Co-ordinator puts this down to the sheer amount of travel involved in shipping clothes around the world.

“At the moment it’s reported that the fashion industry is producing 150 billion garments every year. Globally, and an awful lot is made prices of miles from where we are,” Siobhan Purnell explained.

“Recently at Cop26, a famous fashion designer Stella McCartney talked about the ‘unfashionable fashion industry’, and I think the eyes of the world are starting to sort of wake up to the fashion industry and how it has produced clothes,” Siobhan Purnell stated.

“For example, how a t-shirt has been made. It might have been designed in the UK or Europe, but the cotton might have been grown in America. Then shipped from America to China to be turned into fabric and then be sent to Bangladesh to a factory.”

“Then that is turned into the design that the fashion houses decided on, and this is what the new t-shirt for the summer is going to be.”

“Then it’s shipped back to Ireland to then be sold. So, there’s an awful lot of waste and transport involved,” she explained.

Despite the toxic transport of something as simple as a t-shirt, we are just at the tip of the iceberg of what has been dubbed the worlds second biggest polluter.

“In some of the countries there is horror stories about what goes on in terms of even the human cost of making our clothes,” she explained. “How workers are being treated and what is going into their local rivers, the earth and the environment.”

Despite this, many are positive of change in this industry.

“Things are changing, albeit maybe slowly, I think the industry is starting to say that they have to make changes. And whether it’s fast enough to achieve what we need to achieve for net zero by 2050, I couldn’t say.”

Though the pollution created, and the pain caused from pollution and those in sweatshops barely being paid a wage, there are some ways people in Northern Ireland could help.

“We’re only scratching the surface with what we’re trying to do,” Siobhan Purnell said regarding what we can do about unethical fashion.

“The campaign is called Fashion Forever, and our key message is never put your unwanted clothing in the bin, encouraging people to either swap clothes they don’t wear anymore with friends and family who may actually wear it themselves, rather than think ‘oh, I’m sick of this old thing’ and not wear it again.”

“Never just discard something straight into the bin and learn about the journey of where it has come from and what can happen to it at the end of its life, and to perhaps give it a longer life if possible if it’s in good enough shape.”

To encourage reuse, repair, reimagine, Fashion Forever NI -in collaboration with Help and Reuse (Haru) – has popped up some pop-up shops in the Forestside Shopping Centre in South Belfast. Shoppers can not only donate their unwanted clothes, but buy pre-loved, with proceeds going to Action Cancer.

“It’s the idea of having something just a bit different for the shoppers, and the shoppers loved it. I was there the whole day to really engage with it. The shoppers loved the variety, the different brands and the different clothes that we brought on the day.

 “We had lots of sales, which was really positive, and we had a very positive reaction,” she said.

“We want to be breaking down the barriers and the stigma around buying second-hand or pre-loved and bringing it somewhere where you wouldn’t normally see it.”

The Tackling Textile Co-ordinator elaborated upon what they want people to do to tackle fast fashion.

“Just to try and be more aware of how and what they’re buying and the power that they actually have with their own money.”

“We encourage people to ask questions of their favourite brands they know, and say, ‘where are you making it?”

To find out more about textile waste and ethical fashion, visit

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Journalism bachelors graduate form the class of 2021. Interested in current affairs and Northern Irish politics and social issues.