Coming into my own style and realising I’m a vintage lover at heart, I haven’t had excessive dealings in ‘fast fashion’ since the dedicated Primark hauls that 14-year-old’s frequent. Of course, I pass high streets and retail giants every day, and I’m aware that their domination of the market reaches far beyond my decision to walk away from that pair of trousers-that-I-really-like-but-know-I-don’t-need. However, consumers do have power – if every one of their customers stopped and considered the impact of their choices and purchases, these global brands would lose more and more power to dictate said choices and purchases.
Despite having a Fashion degree, I was naïve to common practice in the e-commerce and fast fashion markets
Unfortunately, I did eventually come face-to-face with fast fashion: I was offered a job at a smaller brand based in the Midlands (which shall remain nameless). Halfway through the second day, I had to turn it down. I had been inputting what I thought were sample garments, given that they all had different labelling, some even from their supposed ‘competitors’. I was cautious, but I had to ask…’where are these garment’s from?’
Despite having a degree in Fashion Design and Communication, I was clearly naïve to common practice in the e-commerce and fast fashion markets. I was illuminated to how, what are basically middle-men companies claiming to have unique brands, all bid and compete for cheap lots of cheap clothes from the same wholesalers in the East. These companies subsequently all end up with the same products, many at the same time, and send them off to be re-labelled. These wholesalers build a monopoly of the market, as the only way for the fashion literate and illiterate alike to access produce without their own designers, rather than sell to customers directly. The brand clamored for paid ‘celebrity’ endorsements and social media posts, the director demanding why their new face hadn’t tagged them, and why their biggest ‘competitor’ had copied their styling – despite them having the same (horrible) clothing.
Any hint of original or creative thought is faceless, lost through the many layers of commercial (and environmental) hurdles before the garment arrives at your door via free-next-day-delivery. I tried to disguise my disappointment, anger and powerlessness (which ended up being unnecessary as one of the department heads later confided in me her similar feelings towards the business and industry). I hoped this would be my first proper, industry-specific, ‘adulting’ job since graduating, and I hated everything about it and what it stood for. I decided that if that is representative of the industry, then I don’t want to be in it.
This self-imposed ultimatum would leave the best of us at a loss; not only for my choice of profession, but for what I’m going to wear. Fashion grad or not, I’ve still got to get dressed. How can we do that when every garment has such a monumental cost behind it? Next to fossil fuels and animal agriculture, the textile industry is at the top of the big hitters of climate change, not to mention the source of endless human rights violations. And when it comes to green efforts from leading retailers, they always seem a little bitter sweet – H&M has made great strides with in-store recycling points, and their pledge for all their cotton to be sustainably sourced by 2020…at the same time, however, according to a report by Business Insider in 2014, H&M can produce and ship out new designs in as little as 2 weeks. Is trying to be sustainable swimming against the tide in a rising sea of the mass-produced?
I decided that if that is representative of the industry, then I don’t want to be in it
In 2015, filmmaker Andrew Morgan confronted the world and lifted the veil on the effects of our consumer habits, in the form of the jaw-dropping documentary, ‘The True Cost’. When watching, all I could think was, ‘it’s not worth it’. Nothing is worth that level of injustice, poverty, greed, human suffering and environmental destruction – certainly not clothes. What I am wearing now isn’t worth it; what you wear tomorrow won’t have been worth it. But we do have the choice not to buy into it. Don’t let your needs, wants and morals be dictated to you through a shiny advertisement, trendy new store, or Instagram ‘worthy’ plastic-and-chemical garment; so that the few can gain and the many perish. If you can choose to put it on, you can choose to buy it in the first place; and I am certain you don’t need to buy another dress or t-shirt from the high street.
Love second hand, buy small, and support sustainable and ethical businesses.
Join us for a screening and panel of ‘The True Cost’ on Wednesday 21st March with Sophie Benson (freelance stylist and writer with a focus on feminism and sustainability), Livi Jane Riley (final year fashion student creating a recycled and repurposed graduate collection), Awoken Clothing (vegan, ethical handmade clothing based in Birmingham), Amna Akhtar (co-founder of GirlDreamer and designer of her own brand Almari by Amna) and BuyBetter (online platform comparing clothing on ethical ratings, price, style and brand).
See the whole series displayed at Yellow Wednesdays.