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Leon Burman

Be the Solution, not the problem

By admin 15.04.2021

Shannon Bye, our Weaver and Tackler here at Whitchurch Silk Mill shines a light on textile industry waste, and tells us her thoughts on the moral dilemma of how to purchase textiles in a more sustainable manner.

Did you know that the world’s second largest polluter is the textile industry?

Bet you weren’t expecting that! Most of this is down to the sheer waste of textiles that ends up on landfill. This is largely due to our consumer habits, that could be altered by a change in our behaviour. In the past, fashion trends would change according to the season, but now we are told to keep up with trends that change every fourteen days…resulting in a lot of waste…creating a big problem for our planet.  So, what happens to those textiles that are no longer in favour? The image below illustrates what happens to our clothing waste, and where it goes:

Image courtesy of The Guardian

So how can the textile industry be greener, and less wasteful? The answer, is that it is not easy to change a habit that we have all become accustomed too over centuries.  The looms at Whitchurch Silk Mill remember a time when designing and weaving textiles was a precious commodity.  Historically to have the finest quality garments, in our case, silk fabrics, would speak volumes as to your status in life, and was considered luxurious.  Today, the excitement of adding something new to your wardrobe, or maybe the pleasure of being able to change the look of a room by replacing a cushion or throw, has always been the joy of textiles.

But we could be kinder to our textiles. The next time we go out shopping for clothing maybe we should ask ourselves what it is we actually need? Do we need three different garments of the same thing? Or could we just have one garment that can be styled in three different ways? Should we get a pair of jeans that we will have to replace in a couple of months because they’re only £10.99, or should we go for the high value, better quality jeans that will last us years? In the words of renowned English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less, choose well, make it last” sounds like a great motto to live by.

A mountain of clothes wastage. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

With that in mind, I would like to draw your attention to what it is we are doing here at the Mill. We try our best to practice sustainable textiles production in our work.  One of the ways we do this, is by striving to follow the methods of the ‘Slow Fashion Movement’.

Just to get you caught up on what the Slow Fashion Movement is, I’ll give you a little background on what it stands for. The movement encourages buying quality over quantity, and holds the fair treatment of the planet, animals and people at it’s core. It has made great strides against ‘Fast Fashion’ (cheaper clothing produced on a mass scale) in the last few years, giving the textile industry and the consumer, the information they need to make more informed decisions about designing and purchasing clothes, which in turn, protects the future of the planet. But there is still much more work to be done.  Today, some of our top leading designer brands are still burning around twelve tonnes of unsold garments a year (information found at by Madeleine Hill). So not only are we buying and throwing away way too much, brands that supply us with these garments are producing well over what fits in our already oversized shopping baskets. Over producing on this mass scale is a contributing factor to the huge waste issues we face, and is contributing to the demise of our planet, which brings me back to us here at the Mill.  Our policy is not to produce on a mass scale.  Our production process is slow.  It takes a number of weeks, sometimes even months to produce a woven piece of silk from start to finish, which allows us to keep the brakes on when it comes to over producing, and allows us to maintain control over our outputs.  With a process that takes this amount of time, patience, dedication and skill to use our beautiful old machinery, it would be devastating to see the silk products wasted as a result of over production. If a lot more clothing and soft interiors were able to be made this way, it would have a massive impact on our planet, due to less wastage. 

So back to us as consumers.  If you were to go through your wardrobe now, could you honestly say that you still wear all those clothes? And if you no longer wear it, do you feel that you got all you could out of that garment? Did you care for it? How did you feel when you wore it? Was it worth the money, and the wear you got out of it? All too often we walk through shops and think: “yeah that looks nice, oh and its only £5 so I’ll get it”, but did we even really like it that much? Or was it just because the price made us feel we should/could get it? We’ve probably all talked ourselves through a similar scenario, and we can all guarantee that sometimes the stuff we bought, we have never really worn.

Prices of garments have a massive influence on our decision to buy, it’s almost like the price tag is a part of the fashion. I know not all of us have the luxury of being picky about the value of our clothing, sometimes we have to buy things because it’s something we really need.  Sometimes though in our modern consumer culture, we are just buying it because we can, and for a lot of us, this is what clothes shopping has become without us even realising it.

I’m not saying that we’re horrible humans…it’s a habit we’ve all become accustomed to.  It’s down to decades of sales tactics, marketing, and branding etc. that has trained us to always be on the lookout for the next big thing or the biggest bargain. The question is: is it really a bargain if you are always spending little and often on something that didn’t last very long, because it wore quickly due to poor quality? Or you just never really liked it that much and now never wear it? So, the next time you go out shopping and a garment catches your eye, ask yourself how much do I really love this? Could I see myself wearing it often? Will it last? Does it look durable? If a seam comes apart will I love it enough to try and repair it? The first step for us as modern consumers is to try and endeavour to make more conscious decisions when it comes to buying textiles…every well thought out purchase, will in turn have a much bigger impact on maintaining a healthier, stable planet for the future.  I will leave you to ponder again the ever poignant words of Vivienne Westwood: “Buy less, choose well, make it last”.

Image courtesy of:

Shannon is part of our Weaver Team, and operates and maintains our Mill looms, while producing beautiful silk fabrics.  Shannon studied Textile Design at the Norwich University Arts (NUA), before taking up the role of Trainee Weaver learning the skills and art of weaving on our industrial heritage looms.  Shannon has now finished her training, and is part of our team…you can often find her weaving away downstairs in our Weaving Shed.  She has a keen interest in sustainable textiles, and the slow fashion moment.  This blog was based on Shannon’s research into textile sustainability for her Undergraduate Degree dissertation.

For the further information on Slow Fashion visit:

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