Cheap workwear is the new Fast Fashion
21 September 2022
Avoid cheap workwear and invest in sustainable protective wear to reduce your carbon footprint, says Peter Dumigan.
THE BBC reported recently that the latest dumping ground for our unwanted clothing is the rapidly growing Fast Fashion graveyard in Chile’s Atacama desert.1 Traders in Chile import unwanted clothes of all types mainly from Europe and the US, to resell both locally and to other Latin American nations. But more than half of the 60,000 tonnes of clothes imported into Chile each year ends up in illegal desert landfills, with dire consequences for the environment and the local communities.
Sadly, it’s typical of an all too familiar story in our throw-away culture of how the demand for Fast Fashion is contributing to long-term waste and seriously impacting the environment. While it’s a relatively new buzzword, Fast Fashion is certainly at the heart of the sustainability debate in the clothing industry. As far as protective wear is concerned and, especially given its short lifecycle, cheap protective wear is effectively becoming its own kind of Fast Workwear.
Fast Fashion is cheap clothing produced to satisfy a short-term mass-market demand. That’s precisely what Fast Workwear - cheap protective wear - does. It fulfils a demand for low-cost working clothes and PPE, satisfying a conscious buying decision made by individuals and businesses. They believe they are investing in a cost-effective solution and saving themselves money. But cheap protective wear comes with a hidden cost – because of its short life cycle it’s not sustainable and our environment pays the price.
So just how big is the throw-away clothing problem in the UK? It’s said that each Briton owns an average of 115 garments and that the UK is the fourth largest textile-waster in Europe. In 2018, £12.5 billion worth of the UK’s clothes went to landfill. Sadly, most consumers are blissfully unaware that the clothing industry is resource-intensive. Globally, the Fast Fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion tonnes of water each year and, given the volume of chemicals used in its manufacturing processes, it is the second biggest polluter of water supplies and also responsible for 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions. What’s more, these figures are not about to start decreasing given that the demand for raw materials in the industry is expected to triple by 2050.2
Pioneering sustainable practices.
The leading protective wear brands are beginning to think carefully about sustainability by considering the processes and resources required to make clothing. They are also advocating buying better-quality garments that will last longer and incorporating recycled fibres into their fabric and garment materials technology thereby reducing our plastic footprint.
For the likes of the Hultafors Group and particularly its protective wear brand Snickers Workwear, the transition to adopting sustainable business practices and product development is a priority. The linear business principle followed by some cheaper clothing and footwear brands is essentially a 'take, make, dispose' practice in which raw materials are taken to make products, and once they have reached the end of their useful life, they are disposed of – without any consideration for cost and impact. Snickers Workwear’s philosophy is to 'Reduce, reuse, recycle' and turn waste into workwear. It’s an approach which involves reducing the resources used during a product's manufacture and striving to keep these products in effective use for as long as possible.
Snickers Workwear’s vision is to be at the forefront of sustainability by using smarter solutions and technologies, including sourcing the highest quality, most hard-wearing products in its AllroundWork, FlexiWork, Litework and RuffWork ranges with as little environmental impact as possible. Some of the steps the brand is taking to improve its environmental performance include:
Prioritising premium materials for premium products through their internal and external supplier assurance process (Show OEKO-TEX and Blue Design logos)
Prioritising Preferred Fibres which are those that have more sustainable properties in comparison to conventional options.
Recycling man-made materials such as nylon and polyester fabrics to create new, Preferred Fibres that have the same performance levels in comfort, flexibility and durability as the originals.
Ensuring garments made from Preferred Fibres deliver high levels of durability and comfort, because creating hard-wearing products with a long product lifetime is key to reducing waste.
Choosing the most appropriate fibre to achieve a long tire-time for different types of garment - this might include man-made materials, such as nylon and polyester, that can easily be recycled to create new raw material with the same performance level as the original virgin material.
Committing to conscious cotton choices with a goal of sourcing 80% of cotton as more sustainable cotton by 2023.
Driving demand for Better Cotton, and initiative which positively impacts farmers and the environment, see bettercotton.org
Using a more sustainable colouring processes that significantly reduce water, chemicals and energy use – commonly referred to as dope dye.
Using 'Mulesing-Free' Merino Wool to prevent animal cruelty
How can you make a difference?
As manufacturers navigate the complex and challenging transition to more circular and sustainable business models, you can support them by evaluating environmental standards within your supply chains and valuing those companies who are committed to improving sustainability. Things you can do include:
Avoid Fast Workwear and cheap protective wear products.
Get to know your supply chain and seek out socially and environmentally conscious trusted suppliers
Invest in quality workwear - select products that are built to last that can be kept in use as long as possible
Work with suppliers on how to extend the lifespan of a garment. Responsible suppliers will be able to advise you and support you in increasing a product’s lifespan
Educate workers on the importance of looking after products to extend their longevity. It is said to be easier to select new garments than wash or maintain existing garments in some workplaces. Therefore, consider whether employees need support in looking after garments or if a maintenance service is an option.
Look for the labels. Ask whether adopt the Better Cotton, OEKO-TEX, Blue Design or any other standards which can provide reassurance that high environmental standards are being followed throughout their supply chains.
Increasing levels of awareness about the impact of waste on our environment will surely have an impact on the clothes people choose for work in years to come. For Snickers Workwear, this sustainable product development and initiatives for Turning Waste into Workwear is being be applied to every new product in the Snickers Workwear collection. It brings additional assurance that the Snickers Hallmarks of design, comfort, functionality and durability will not be compromised in any way.
Snickers Workwear’s objective is to ensure that by 2030, 70% of the fabrics used are Preferred Fibres – those with sustainable properties and a lower environmental footprint. As early as 2023, the company will be at 40% - a significant achievement by any measure. This will deliver full manufacturing transparency, traceability and thus reduce our climate impact and prevent waste from going into landfill.
Sustainable garment manufacturing aligned with conscious, sustainable buying decisions holds great promise in helping us to achieve our climate goals and secure the health of the planet for future generations. But we must work together to be successful. If you are looking for partners in sustainability and protective wear products that will help reduce your carbon footprint, please contact the Hultafors Group UK to see how you can collaborate on accelerating positive change.
1 BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-60249712
Peter Dumigan is managing director of the Hultafors Group UK, which owns Snickers Workwear, Hultafors Tools, EMMA, Solid Gear and Toe Guard safety footwear as well as Hellberg Safety PPE. For more information, visit www.snickersworkwear.co.uk