Katharine Hamnett: Fashion tax is ‘stupid’

Image copyright
Getty Images

Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett has described proposals by MPs to impose a 1p-per-garment fashion tax on the industry as “stupid”.

The suggestion was made by a Commons committee in an effort to fund better recycling of clothes.

It came amid growing fears that the industry is increasingly dominated by throwaway “fast fashion”.

But Ms Hamnett said she feared the garment industry would just end up paying workers less to absorb the tax.

Instead, she is in favour of EU legislation making it mandatory for goods from outside Europe to meet the same standards required by the region.

She told the BBC that taxing retailers would be “like putting a plaster on a septic wound”.

“The reason we say legislation is that the brands are not going to do it willingly – we’ve seen that, we’ve been talking about this for too long and nothing’s changed. They have to be forced by law,” the designer, who is known for her political slogan T-shirts and ethical fashion activism, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Wouldn’t it be better to force brands to pay their workers properly, and not discharge toxic chemicals into the environment, rather than making them pay for the privilege to do that?”

Ending ‘throwaway clothes’

Over the last two years, concerns have been increasingly raised about the environmental impacts of “fast fashion”.

According to Stella Claxton of Nottingham Trent University’s clothing sustainability research group, falling prices, social media marketing and the convenience of online shopping have led to British shoppers buying twice as many items of clothing as they did a decade ago.

And because clothes are so much cheaper, consumers have fewer qualms about throwing away good clothes when they have too many.

The UK now throws away a million tonnes of clothes a year, 20% of which end up being dumped. Discarded clothes are piling up in landfill sites and synthetic fibre fragments are flowing into the sea when clothes are washed, where they are digested by fish.

The fashion industry is said to be worth £28bn to the UK economy, but it is estimated to produce as many greenhouse gases as all the planes flying in the world.

In June, MPs on the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) put forward 18 recommendations aimed at forcing the fashion industry to reform environmental and labour practices in its supply chain.

The proposals include:

  • Clothing makers to pay 1p item to fund recycling schemes
  • Tax changes to reward re-use, repair and recycling – to support responsible fashion companies
  • A ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be re-used or recycled instead
  • Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36m.

Prof Dilys Williams, director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, is in favour of taxes being imposed on new clothing.

“[The price listed] isn’t actually the full price of the garment, so the tax would help. Also, people need to realise they’re being duped,” she told the BBC.

“We’re spending more on clothes than we used to.”

Amber Kim, a BA graduate of London College of Fashion, is making clothes out of discarded tents, because she was appalled by the waste generated at music festivals.

She is fundamentally opposed to the fast fashion trend: “I don’t really want to own any denims because… it uses a lot of water to make one pair of jeans.

“You can’t just keep buying new things and have that shopping habit.”