Are Clothes Made in the UK More Eco-Friendly?

Are Clothes Made in the UK More Eco-Friendly?

It’s great to support British manufacturing, but what does clothing produced here mean for carbon emissions? After all, the cotton still needs to be shipped from somewhere, since it’s not something we grow on these isles…

I thought I’d take a look at this issue, since reducing our overall impact is what we’re all about here at My Little Green Wardrobe.

When it comes to sustainability, is it a case of British and best, or is it more complicated than that?

Is British-Made Clothing More Sustainable?

silhouette of an old-fashioned sewing machine

Well, the good news is that clothing produced here in the UK can be more environmentally friendly than garments manufactured abroad.

A report by the University of Nottingham’s Energy Innovation and Collaboration team compared the manufacture of clothing by a British brand, based in Derbyshire, with similar operations using overseas textile production bases.

The study suggests, in the scenario they looked at, the emissions of clothes made in the UK were cut by almost half (47%) compared to garments produced abroad.

According to the report, the largest contributory factor to cleaner and more efficient manufacturing was the low carbon intensity electricity supply network here in the UK. 

Simply put, compared to the likes of China, Bangladesh and Turkey, the UK has significantly lower carbon emissions per unit of electricity produced.

To put this into context a manufacturer in China would typically release around 90% more greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) while using the same energy as in the UK; Turkey would release around 70% more; and Bangladesh would use around 24% more.

What’s more, many brands transport garments between different locations for each stage of their production - and even for each stage of finishing.

If we take a t-shirt, for example, it’s thought as many as ten pairs of hands will have touched it during its finishing stages - and they could even be in separate factories. Or countries. 

One factory might cut out and sew the main body with another sewing the sleeves, or the neckline, and another might add embellishments or a trim.

Most transportation between factories is done by ship with around 10% via air. If the garment manufacture and all finishing processes are carried out on one site in the UK, and not shipped or flown between different sites, there is a lower GHG impact here too.

In terms of shipping, air freight is by far the worst contributor of GHGs - emitting 150 times the amount produced by a large cargo ship travelling the same distance.

What Other Benefits Do Clothes Made in Britain have?

Garment worker posing in front of fabric

Aside from environmental issues, one of the major benefits of clothing being made in the UK is that it’s easier to monitor factories and worker conditions.

Here we can ensure certified factories are providing suitable conditions for workers and that minimum wages are met. Not only that, but factories here ensure no child labour and they should be taking steps against modern slavery.

However, that’s not always the case with clothes made elsewhere in the world.

It is estimated that as many as one in five cotton products sold across the world are tainted with forced labour and human rights violations occurring in the Xinjiang region of China.

Separately, the International Labor Organisation estimates around 170 million children worldwide are affected by child labour. Many work within the fashion supply chain, making textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond.

And none will forget the 2013 Rana Plaza Incident in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers who were in unsafe conditions. That factory was manufacturing clothes for many well-known British high street chains.  

Locally produced garments also have the added benefit of a shorter supply chain, meaning brands are more likely to be able to produce on a just-in-time basis.

Usually, the fashion industry has long lead times for a new collection - with a typical cycle being as long as five months.

A lot can change in that time, including trends, colours, styles and even weather! With potential design mistakes thrown in for good measure, this can lead to whole clothing lines that are obsolete before they even make it to the shop floor.

Clothes made closer to home generally have a shorter turnaround time, meaning brands can be more reactive to trends and quantities required - all leading to lower overall waste.

British Brands Support The Local Economy

And beyond all this, clothes made in the UK support the local economy - not only providing money and jobs for local communities, but maintaining a highly-skilled workforce.

There have been some calls for the government to build up the UK textile and garment industry by awarding grants to brands that source their garments from the UK. Even if it sees them partially manufactured here.

Much like the British film industry, which was on its knees in the late 20th century, there needs to be serious investment and upskilling in this sector to see major brands onshore their operations here.

Ethical Kids’ Clothing Made in the UK

A little girl wearing Roc + Rudi mango crosses pyjamas playing with a wooden toy

While most of the sustainable childrenswear brands at My Little Green Wardrobe are British, only a few of them are currently manufactured here in the UK.

We assign icons to each of our brands and their clothes depending on which ethical criteria they meet. One of these is Local. Here we are looking for brands that manufacture all - or some - of their garments nearby.

Rockit Kids is one such brand. They handmake all of their garments to order in a small workshop in Northampton. Their signature style is Brighton meets Scandi! You’ll see lots of eye-catching designs in bright colours and retro vibes.

Sustainable British brand Roc + Rudi, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different - with gorgeously soft pastel colours in gender-neutral styles that you’ll just love.

Designed in London and produced in Leicester, their organic cotton kids pyjamas are super soft and snuggly, and their short baby rompers are just bliss for the warmer weather!

Todd Fox icon Head of Wardrobe Final Thought…

While locally made clothing is not the panacea to the harmful impacts of the fashion industry, it can be seen as a positive step. Let's not forget that the vast majority (70-80%) of the impacts of clothing occur at the very beginning of the supply chain, when the textiles are grown and produced.

But when combined with sustainably-grown certified organic cotton and shipped in the most carbon-efficient way, making garments close to home certainly can help reduce the overall impact of our clothing.

After all, sustainability is not about perfection, but progression.

 

  

 

With love,

Lucy
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