Two-piece 'Neptune Dress' designed and made by Cecilia Mary Robson using repurposed textile waste from Cornish businesses. Worn by Hollie Kirk

Textiles industry faces ‘legislative challenges’ to clean growth, report finds

Businesses that make new products from old clothing and waste textiles face ‘legislative challenges’ that stop them from selling their products, a new report finds.

The report, published by the University of Exeter and produced for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, highlights how the clean growth of Cornwall’s textiles and fashion industry can be achieved through recycling, repairing and refurbishing items of clothing.

It looked at two Cornish Community Interest Companies (CICs) that create new products from textile waste and old clothes, which the authors describe as examples of “sustainable innovation, directly reflecting what the levelling up agenda foresees for many UK regions – not just Cornwall”.

Cultivate Cornwall and Upcycle Kernow will this year process an estimated total of 32 tonnes of fabrics, a figure set to double year-on-year.

But the report finds that safety and labelling legislation for textiles, some of which dates from the 1980s, mean firms cannot sell all the products they make, representing a ‘barrier to clean growth’ for those businesses that use waste to make new products.

Regulations on safety, including General Product Safety Regulations 2005, Nightware Regulations 1985 and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 were found to impose punitive extra costs for businesses repurposing textiles and fabrics, as they would be forced to meet the additional costs of safety tests.

And regulations on labelling, such as the Textile Products (Indications of Fibre Content) Regulations 1986 and Textile Products (Labelling and Fibre Composition) Regulations 2012, intensify the labour process by requiring all refurbished products to have labels indicating material content while requiring businesses to develop their own infrastructure through which to categorise donated textile waste by its material type.

This may not always be possible in where received fabrics lack their original labels, which means the businesses are not able to sell all the products they make.

Dr Constantine Manolchev, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Futures at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “Our report shows how clean growth can be achieved in Cornwall’s textiles and fashion industry.

“What Cultivate Cornwall and Upcycle Kernow are doing is bold and innovative. Their business innovation reflects the ambitious sustainability targets of the Levelling Up agenda but also goes beyond them – the two companies also engage with schools and train members of the local community. On the other hand regulations on safety and labelling mean they cannot sell all the products they make.

“Current regulation requires each sold item of clothing to be safety tested. However, there is no specific legal guidance on what that entails for a given product. As a result, the burden of responsibility falls on the business.

“Not only does this prevent consistency in terms of customer use but has implications for the whole craft industry, including sellers on Etsy who are in direct contravention of UK legislation if they don’t test their products and label the fabric content of each item.

“We believe that changes in those legislative areas could have a direct benefit for businesses seeking to support sustainable regional growth through circular innovation.

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly’s LEP’s Vision 2030 outlines six development areas through which local business can help local communities thrive, by enabling access to decent work and good quality of life.

A sub-theme in this framework is the development of research and innovation hubs to improve productivity, increase wage levels and support sustainable economic growth.

The report states that the business models of Cultivate Cornwall and Upcycle Kernow provide the blueprint for such an innovation hub that could underpin Cornwall’s textile industry transition towards sustainable and circular production.

'Cultivating Clean Growth in Cornwall’s Textile Industry' is available to read and download here.

Date: 1 November 2022

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