Boris Johnson government pledges £80million to help fashion indus
Fashion

“The government has pledged £80 million to help the fashion industry – but why does it give us the ick?”

Boris Johnson has pledged £80 million in government funding to support a programme that the British Fashion Council believes can move the UK fashion industry towards a circular model – but why does it feel so wrong? 

After three years of omni-dithering from Boris Johnson and his cabinet of Conservative cronies, I was resigned to believing that there was very little the government could do to turn the tide of public opinion – and most certainly mine.

Everything is subject to change, however, and never has that been more evident than the news that the prime minister has pledged £80 million in government funding for a programme of structural change which the British Fashion Council believes can move the UK fashion industry toward a circular model.

Could this mean the end of £1 bikinis? Hurrah. Is this the beginning of the end for factory workers in the UK being paid £3.50 per hour (as one of the Boohoo group’s suppliers was alleged to be doing)? Let’s hope so. Does this also smell suspiciously like a very green, very transparent attempt at image rehabilitation? Sadly, yes.  

Boris Johnson government pledges £80million to help fashion indus
Carrie Johnson wore a rented wedding dress for her nuptials to Boris Johnson.

After surviving a vote of no confidence by the skin of his teeth earlier this week, when 148 of his own Conservative MPs rebelled against him, for the prime minister to pledge – not to be confused with already given – such a substantial amount of money to support the circularity of the fashion industry is necessary, sure, but also feels like a distraction tactic, one to divert the collective attention away from the considerable scroll of faux pas the government has made.

Lest we forget that the debt the UK has accrued because of borrowing during the pandemic currently sits at an estimated £400 billion, news which has been swept under the right-wing rug so quickly it was almost a whack-a-mole of a headline: blink and you’ll miss it. To toast to the government’s pledged funding of the British Fashion Council’s Sustainable Change programme, which will focus on establishing a “world-leading circular fashion eco-system in the UK”, Johnson and his wife, Carrie Johnson, hosted a champagne reception at Downing Street. 

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The truth is that fashion has a plethora of problems. This week, Inditex – the parent company of Zara – announced its sales have jumped by 36% so far this year, while Chinese ultra-fast-fashion brand Shein achieved a valuation of £76.5 billion ($100 billion) earlier this year, making it more valuable than Zara and H&M combined. Both are brands that have been mired in varying degrees of controversy of late.

Fast fashion is one of its problems – studies have found that young people between the ages of 16-24 consider a piece of clothing “old” if worn more than twice; garment factory workers’ wages are one of its problems and the consumption of materials, to both make and ship clothing, around the world is another of its problems.

Circularity would encourage and nurture the growth of the rental industry, which is considered by many to be a viable future for fashion and has been endorsed heavily by Carrie Johnson, who wore a rented dress on her wedding day to the prime minister. 

Boris Johnson government pledges £80million to help fashion indus
Carrie Symonds attending Birdfair in 2019.

In her first public speech after Johnson was elected in 2019, Carrie spoke of politicians’ “gigantic responsibility to make the right decisions” over the environmental crisis. “It is immensely complicated,” she said at Birdfair, an event described as “birdwatching’s Glastonbury”. “There is no escaping the fact that politicians, business leaders and journalists have a gigantic responsibility to make the right decisions, to change the way they do business and report the truth about what is happening in the world. We all share this crowded little planet. We all have a duty to take care of it and we all have a massive role to play in doing so.”

It’s not yet known when Johnson’s government will donate the promised £80 million to the British Fashion Council’s circularity programme, but, as Carrie said, we all share this crowded little planet and we all have a duty to care for it. That includes being honest, taking responsibility and having integrity, something Johnson still needs to be schooled in. For Johnson to commit arguably one of the most offensive attempts at greenwashing the industry has ever seen in order to restore his reputation is low, even for him. 

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