Some 12 million seasonal jumpers will be sold this year, many of which will end up straight in the bin or at the back of a cupboard — perhaps the worst demonstration of fast fashion we see all year. Carla Passino reports.
Every year, millions of Christmas jumpers get bought, worn and binned before January 1. As if that weren’t bad enough, however, it turns out that nearly all Christmas jumpers on sale in the UK contain plastic — something which has again put the spotlight on how much damage disposable fashion is inflicting on the planet.
According to research by environmental charity Hubbub, 95% of jumpers sold online and on the high street are either partially or wholly from plastic fibres such as acrylic. Three quarters contain some acrylic, while and nearly half are made entirely of it.
Man-made fabrics have a huge impact on the environment because, when washed, they shed minuscule strands that eventually make their way into the ocean. A 2014 study on plastic pollution found that small and large microplastics account for the vast majority of plastic debris found in our seas. Many of these tiny particles are then eaten by marine wildlife, from zooplankton to cetaceans, seabirds and marine reptiles, and can even enter our own food chain.
Acrylic, in particular, is the most polluting fabric because it releases almost 730,000 microfibres in each wash, according to a 2016 study by the University of Plymouth — that’s one and a half time more than polyester, another synthetic fabric, and five times more than a blend of cotton and polyester.
‘We don’t want to stop people dressing up and having a great time at Christmas, but there are so many ways to do this without buying new’
The environmental footprint of fast fashion is worsened by the carbon emissions the industry generates to produce garments, which the United Nations Environment Programme estimates to be 10% of the world’s total, the natural resources it uses (it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans) or contaminates (textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally) and the amount of waste is causes — the vast majority of fast-fashion clothes is discarded and the United Nations Environment Programme found that the equivalent of one truckload of textiles is burned or buried in a landfill every second.
And nothing is ‘faster’ or more disposable than Christmas jumpers. Hubbub discovered that one out of three people under the age of 35 buy a jumper each year — that’s a massive 12 million jumpers in 2019 alone — and two out of every five festive garments are only worn once during the Christmas season.
‘We don’t want to stop people dressing up and having a great time at Christmas, but there are so many ways to do this without buying new,’ explains Hubbub’s project co-ordinator, Sarah Divall. ‘Fast fashion is a major threat to the natural world and Christmas jumpers are particularly problematic as so many contain plastic.’
Instead, Hubbub recommends people give last year’s jumper another wear or, if they are after something different, ask friends and family whether they’d swap, update a garment they already own with some nifty DIY or buy second-hand from vintage and charity shops.
‘Remember,’ says Ms Divall, ‘a jumper is for life, not just for Christmas.’
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