‘Tis the season to be buying something new. Research published last month found that the UK is expected to spend £6.7 billion on outfits this festive season, with 7.8 million Brits admitting they will wear these new items just once throughout the period.1
According to the research, released to help promote the launch of a new ‘(Re)Made to Party’ capsule collection by UK label Phoebe English Studio, over half (55%) of Christmas partygoers said they invested in a new outfit, while almost a quarter (24%) admitted they will leave last year’s purchases in the wardrobe in a bid to avoid outfit repeating on social media.
Phoebe English Studio says it has designed its new eight-piece collection to not only provide festive-ready looks for partygoers, but also to showcase the possibilities of repurposing pre-loved clothes that would otherwise end up in landfill.2
The collection, which the label hopes will inspire consumers to partake in a circular fashion economy, features a dress, shirt, T-shirt, trousers, blazer, jacket, scarf and handbag.
Each piece has been produced on a limited made-to-order basis, and according to the brand all items were made entirely using a combination of upcycled clothing, including T-shirts, deadstock plaid, occasion and party wear as well as deadstock wools.
Yet, while the collection and others like it will prove attractive to conscious consumers, in many ways Christmas still highlights the industry’s worst excesses.
Save the Children launched its annual Christmas Jumper Day in the UK back in 2012 and it has proved increasingly popular. The charity has urged people taking part in the event to either wear a Christmas jumper they already own, shop for a vintage item, decorate an existing jumper with festive decorations, or even knit their own.3
However, with many consumers continuing to purchase a new Christmas sweater, concerns remain about the unintended environmental damage of the initiative, as well as the trend for wearing the item at festive parties.
Last January, the discount supermarket chain Lidl reported that its Christmas jumpers were the fastest-selling item in its so-called Middle of Lidl aisle, with around one sold every two seconds on its first day of sale.4
The firm said the strong demand for its Christmas jumper helped drive record numbers of festive shoppers and a hike in sales over the 2021 festive period.
Lidl posted a 2.6% year-on-year rise in UK sales over the four weeks to December 26, 2021, with sales 21% higher when compared with pre-pandemic levels two years earlier.
These figures, and the research released by Phoebe English Studio, suggest little may have changed since a report by the environmental charity Hubbub released back in 2019 found that 12 million Christmas jumpers were set to be bought in the UK that year, despite an estimated 65 million already languishing in people’s wardrobes.5
The study also showed that most new Christmas sweaters contain plastic. Its analysis of 108 garments on sale from 11 high street and online retailers – including Primark, George at Asda and Topshop/Topman – found that 95% of the jumpers were made wholly or partly of plastic materials.
Acrylic was found in three-quarters of the jumpers tested, with 44% made entirely from acrylic. However, only 29% of consumers realised that most Christmas jumpers contain plastic.
Hubbub’s research also found that two out of five Christmas jumpers are only worn once over the festive period, and that one in three adults under 35 buys a new Christmas jumper every year.
Worries about the impact of festive clothing purchases have also been sparked by the popularity of garments made with sequins, and experts have alerted consumers to the dangers posed from wearing the items.
Jane Patton, campaigns manager for plastics and petrochemicals with the Centre for International Environmental Law, told the BBC that because sequins – which are generally made of plastic with a metallic reflective coating – fall off dresses and other items so easily, they are a significant contributor to fashion’s microplastics problem.6
"Because sequins are synthetic and made out of a material that almost certainly contains toxic chemicals, wherever they end up – air, water, soil – is potentially dangerous," she explained.
The warning came after a survey of 2,000 British women aged 18 to 55 carried out by the charity Oxfam back in 2019 found that around 60% were planning to wear sequins during the festive season, but only a quarter said they were certain they would wear their outfit again.7
The research also found that the items would only be worn an average of five times before they were cast aside. Of the respondents, 70% said they would buy something new, despite already owning sequined partywear.
From this, Oxfam calculated that British women were set to purchase 33 million sequined garments and accessories at a cost of £415 million during the festive season, and that 1.7 million sequined items of clothing and accessories would end up in landfill as a result.
While signs continue to emerge of consumers acting more responsibly, the evidence suggests that Christmas still shines an alarming light on the overall purchasing habits of today’s shoppers.
It is encouraging that over recent years there has been a surge in the demand for second-hand clothes, with a report published last November stating that Europe’s second-hand apparel market was expected to be worth US$18.1 billion in 2022, with demand forecast to grow at a CAGR of 8.4% to US$40.7 billion by 2032.8
Yet, while sales of second-hand clothing are on the rise – so is the demand for fast fashion. A report published in January 2023 found that the global fast fashion market is expected to expand by a CAGR of 13.8%, from US$91.2 billion in 2021 to US$173.9 billion in 2026, and then grow at a CAGR of 6.70% from 2026 to US$240.5 billion in 2031.9
The study found that in 2022 Western Europe was the largest region in the global fast fashion market, accounting for 29.3% of the total.
Amid the optimism that more consumers will embrace a circular fashion economy, for so many people the desire to wear something new, to look good at a party, and to buy and receive gifts continue to override any thoughts of sustainability – and it is often at Christmas when this reality comes into its sharpest focus.
6 Five ways sequins add to plastic pollution (bbc.co.uk)
Jonathan's work on the sports industry has been published by The Times, The Observer, The Independent and The Sun, as well as Sport Business, Off The Pitch, FC Business and Zero Carbon Academy.
He has also contributed to BBC Radio 5 Live, Middle East Eye, The Scotsman, Rediff.com., World Soccer, When Saturday Comes, Wisden Cricket Monthly and School Sport.
Away from sports, he has held full-time and freelance roles at a number of global B2B publishers. He was the Founding Editor of Twist - a magazine covering the latest developments across the fashion industry supply chain. The title is published by World Textile Information Network (WTiN). Following the success of the launch of Twist, Jonathan was promoted to Head of Content at WTiN. In this newly-created role, he was responsible for developing WTiN's digital content and social media presence as the company evolved from being a magazine publisher to a market-leading media company across all platforms.