COLLABORATION

How one Nottingham report could turn the UK fashion industry on its head

SOURCE: Frame China / Shutterstock
A manufacturer in China would typically release around 90 percent more greenhouse gas emissions while using the same energy as in the UK.

Offshore manufacturing has long been an accepted part of the UK retail industry. But with cheaper costs comes increased pollution, with two-thirds of emissions from UK clothing being generated overseas, a new report into sustainable fashion has found.

A report carried out by the University of Nottingham, and commissioned by fashion firm David Nieper, found that manufacturing clothes in the UK produced 47 percent less emissions when compared to similar operations in overseas textile factories.

Doing a deep dive into the workings of David Nieper, a women’s online and catalogue clothing store based in England, the report examined greenhouse gas emissions and the energy consumed in the manufacturing process.

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Those clothes manufactured in the UK benefitted from David Nieper’s solar panels, energy-efficient machinery and LED lighting, cutting the energy usage per garment from 5.16kWh to just 8kWh. That’s a reduction of 37.5 percent.

Overseas outfits, however, don’t adhere to such stringent energy requirements and don’t use the most efficient equipment.

The biggest contributor, however, to overseas emissions is simply the higher carbon intensity of the electricity supply network.

sustainable fashion
Employees produce down coats at a factory for Chinese clothing company Bosideng in Nantong in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on September 24, 2019. Source: STR / AFP / China OUT

The UK has very low carbon emissions per unit of electricity due to its turn towards renewables in recent years. When in comparison with places like China and Bangladesh, where many clothing is manufactured, the UK is far lower making their fashion more sustainable.

For example, the report found a manufacturer in China would typically release around 90 percent more greenhouse gas emissions while using the same energy as in the UK. Bangladesh uses 24 percent more.

On top of that, there is, of course, the consideration of distance. The products need to make their way back to the UK for selling. In many cases, this means travelling distances that traverse the whole planet.

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Shipping distances to the UK high street from the three biggest textiles manufacturing centres range from 6,226km from Turkey, 16,123km from Bangladesh and 21,694km from China.

The fastest way to transport is air freight, but this is the worst contributor to greenhouse gases. As David Nieper Ltd managing director, Christopher Nieper, believes, the process has to change.

“The trend to manufacture overseas has not only decimated the jobs in British fashion, but is having a disastrous effect on the planet,” Nieper told the Derbyshire Times.

“We commissioned this report to highlight the environmental benefits of manufacturing closer to home. As an industry we can become more sustainable by removing at least some of these journeys to help make production process gentler on the environment.”