Aileen McLeod: Scots making fashion a greener industry

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From traditional Highland kilts to the finest catwalk-ready cashmere from the Borders, Scotland’s textile industry is popular around the world. It is estimated to be worth £1 billion a year, with ambitions to grow that by 50 per cent by 2020.

However, the fashion industry relies heavily on raw materials, and it’s essential that it reduces or captures the waste being produced, and looks for new sources or methods of producing materials.

There is a growing movement in Scotland and elsewhere to move away from a make-use-dispose “fast fashion” model towards a circular economy, where materials are kept in high-value use for as long as possible.

The textiles industry in Scotland has a reputation for quality, and the export of luxury goods by the sector has been growing strongly since 2011, now accounting for 64 per cent of its production. This could mean greater environmental impact, but Scotland is at the forefront of developments to reduce these effects, and is well-placed to showcase this.

This is evident from the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival’s decision to focus on sustainability this year. The festival is partnering with Zero Waste Scotland, an organisation supported by the Scottish Government, which is working with the textiles and retail sector on circular approaches.

The festival is the country’s opportunity to profile these developments in tandem with the quality, expertise and heritage of the Scottish industry. For example, products made from durable, iconic Scottish textiles like Harris Tweed are the antithesis of “fast fashion”.

Zero Waste Scotland provides manufacturers, designers and retailers with support to explore new business models which encompass the principles of a circular economy – for example, creating demand for clothing designed using durable materials, backed by guarantee and with repair and upcycling in mind. It’s already common to hire a kilt for a wedding, but could we hire dresses or handbags, or lease school uniforms, returning them for repair?

The consumer has a role to play in this. The average household owns £4000 worth of clothing, 30 per cent of which is never worn, and the Love Your Clothes campaign is encouraging consumers to value their clothes and waste less. It promotes buying clothes to last, repairing and upcycling them, and recycling.

Tying all of this together will be a panel discussion tomorrow examining whether a sustainable fashion industry is achievable. With participants from Ikea, Pringle, H&M and more, this is a great opportunity to debate the possibilities and get a glimpse of what the Scottish textile industry might look like in the future.

Dr Aileen McLeod is minister for the environment