ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
ACCESS - Advancing Capacity for Climate  and Environment Social Science
Different coloured and patterned fabrics
Gin Patin

Challenging the unsustainability of the UK fashion and textile sector

Regenerative post-growth fashion – Challenging the unsustainability of the UK fashion and textile sector from the perspective of key suppliers in Bangladesh

Project Team

Patrick Elf

Patrick Elf
Senior Research Fellow
Middlesex University

The Project

The project draws on multiple social science disciplines to explore how a rapid transformation of the global fashion and textile system from unsustainable practices to regenerative, post-growth alternatives is possible.

It sets out to address a number of critical key challenges in the fashion and textile industry, including

  • exploitative labour practices
  • over consumption
  • pollution
  • and emissions

The focus will be on the intersection between key suppliers in developing countries and UK food and textile buying practices.


The research adopts a novel approach to data collection, analysis and dissemination by giving a voice to actors at the beginning of the global fashion supply chains that too often remain overlooked. This practice-orientated research project is based on ‘on the ground realities’ highlighting good practice initiatives and collaborations between UK buyers and suppliers in India and Bangladesh to reduce waste, and promote livelihoods and healthy ecosystems.

Guiding Principles

We will be closely following the ACCESS Guiding Principles; Environmental Sustainability; Knowledge Co-Production; and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.


We will promote the report to other sustainable fashion organisations, fashion industry media and influencers to amplify and maximise impact. The report will include helpful tools for buyers and F&T companies, and a series of subsequent in-person and online industry workshops will help fashion professionals to use the tools, implement and further develop regenerative practices while enabling crucial industry participation.

Other activities as part of the impact-focused dissemination strategy include:

  • Report launch with panel discussion as part of Regenerative Fashion Celebration organised by Fashion Declares.
  • Blog posts, articles and interviews about project findings with industry fashion press including Drapers and Vogue Business, among others, in the UK and overseas.
  • Invite supplier participants and their partner brands to publicise findings and create an ongoing community of regenerative post-growth practice.

Note that this is a desirable output and we will seek further funding to ensure sustainable, long-term change.


The film illustrates initial findings from our work with fashion and textiles producers in Bangladesh and India, exploring the role and potential of regenerative practices in transforming global fashion value chains from a radical bottom-up perspective. Providing a glimpse into the rich data we collected visiting more sustainable producers, Safia Minney, MBE, leads us through the stories of those often overlooked, demonstrating how a shift from fossil fuel-based materials to low-impact materials (e.g. organic cotton) promote ecosystem health and biodiversity and farmer livelihoods reporting from Gujarat, India.

Safia meets organic and regenerative organic and Fairtrade cotton farmers such as The Rapar & Dhrangadhra Farmers Producer Company (RDFC) who maintained ownership of their businesses; and farmers supported by Suminter India Organics, part of the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA). In the process, we learn what buyers can do to partner with farmers to regenerate soil fertility, healthy ecosystems and social impact.

Filmed and edited by Marcus James. Narrated and produced by Safia Minney

Reflecting on the process, Patrick speaks about the collaboration with Safia Minney and how social science knowledge and skills helped shape the purpose of the research and content of the film.

“The collaborative effort of the entire research team, in conjunction with Safia Minney as practitioner and research consultant with her vast practice-oriented knowledge and network, resulted in the development of a comprehensive, systematic research approach.

In our role as social scientists, we, from the get-go, grounded our research in the ACCESS Guiding Principles that allowed us to craft our research design, ensuring theoretical foundations and adherence to academic standards. Key to our transdisciplinary approach, we – as a team – engaged in constant reflective practices throughout the process of data collection and analysis. For instance, we co-created the project and decided on its objectives, discussed disciplinary and sectorial differences and eventually developed a robust topic guide. The incorporation of critical reflection facilitated the theory-informed (abductive) data analysis, enabling an exploration of the role and potential of regenerative practices – all of this, through a bottom-up approach focusing on downstream value chain actors, in an attempt to change actors further up the global fashion and textile value chain.

Beyond environmental considerations, our research allowed us to delve in a variety of issues and topics including

  • power dynamics,
  • trust,
  • ethical considerations,
  • colonized practices, and
  • the often pervasive role of misogyny in hindering progress toward sustainability in the fashion and textile sectors.

The research has already uncovered a multitude of potential avenues for further exploration. Going forward, we hope to leveraging insights from anthropology and sociology, geography, business ethics and organisational studies as well as ecological economics to understand how buyers, brands and consumers can integrate environmental, social, and commercial considerations in their practices.

Importantly – and in line with the research’s ambition, the emerging findings are not confined to academia but are intended for broader impact. The team plans to integrate these insights into teaching, contribute research papers, and actively influence policy and practice. A primary focus is on amplifying the voices of actors at the outset of global fashion supply chains, often overlooked but instrumental in driving tangible change.

Looking forward, the team is committed to pushing the boundaries of conventional research, embracing the challenges of conducting research on the edge to amplify impact and exemplify the potential of social sciences in driving positive change.”

Reimagining Sustainable Fashion: Interdisciplinary Perspectives for a Regenerative Future

CUSP deputy director Fergus Lyon writes in his blog about the project researchers’ experiences and findings.

“By examining sustainable fashion through the kaleidoscope of interdisciplinary perspectives, a recent project on the subject gained a dynamic and multifaceted view of a potential future.”  Read more

Rail of clothes


Project poster created for the ACCESS Assembly 2024

Click here to view the Poster PDF

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