Finding ways to deal with lockdown boredom can sometimes feel like a pointless endeavour. However, many have taken to online shopping as a remedy to quell such mundanity. As the ‘physical’ fashion industry has taken a slight pause with the cancellation of summer fashion shows and September fashion weeks looking increasingly unlikely, the virtual fast fashion world has kept charging on at its usual unsustainable speed. PFS discovered in a recent survey of 2,000 Brits that “three in five (60%) consumers have purchased more goods since the lockdown began, than they did before, with 53% having shopped more online”. Moreover, the report outlined that “more than three quarters (77%) of these […] expect they will continue to purchase online more once the lockdown is over – indicating a potentially irreversible change in consumer purchasing behaviour”. But what does an “irreversible change” in UK consumer behaviour mean for the employees at the bottom of the supply chain and the environment?
Consumers’ relentless demand for convenience and low prices inevitably comes with severe consequences. For decades the fast fashion industry has perpetuated poverty and poor working conditions for its factory workers in order to satisfy consumers’ unrealistic expectations. Arguably, as the virtual fast fashion world grows at an unnerving rate, exploitation of textile workers will only increase. In recent weeks, Boohoo was exposed for paying its factory workers in Leicester less than half the minimum wage and forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions, resulting in the fast fashion giant losing more than £1 billion from its share price. Just over a year ago, Forbes reported a devasting fire that broke out in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka killing 80 people; sweatshops were identified as the fire’s “fuel”. Sweatshops are undeniably an integral part of the fast fashion business model. Yet, until consumer purchasing behaviour drastically changes and brands join the slow fashion movement, the exploitation of factory workers will simply continue. With news stories revealing the mistreatment of workers becoming somewhat a normality, surely it is time that companies and consumers alike value employees’ rights and fair treatment over low prices, rapid clothing production and trend replication?
In addition to the human cost, the environmental impact of the fashion industry is overwhelming. In 2019, the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee released a report highlighting how the industry accounts for global emissions equivalent to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, making it the second largest polluter after the oil industry. The linear system that the industry is inherently built upon, make, use, dispose, similarly treats the environment and its ecosystems as wholly expendable. In order to fight the climate crisis, as consumers we need to rethink our shopping habits and purchase our clothing with the values of quality and longevity at the forefront of our minds.
Instead of turning to the virtual fast fashion world to shop, there are many sustainable and ethical alternatives that will satiate the seemingly everlasting lockdown boredom. Online marketplaces like Depop, eBay and Vestiaire Collective give individuals a platform to sell their pre-loved clothes. If you don’t feel ready to browse a charity or vintage shop just yet, online marketplaces are a fantastic alternative. The company Organic Basics sell, you guessed it, high quality basics including men’s and women’s underwear, activewear and accessories. The brand “designs everything to last”, rejecting trends and the frequently short lifecycle of clothing.
People Tree, founded in 1991, are a self-proclaimed pioneer of sustainable Fair-Trade fashion. Selling a diverse array of women’s apparel, the company appeals to a large consumer base. Another ‘pioneering’ brand, Komodo, have been producing ethical and sustainable fashion for over 30 years, using “premium quality organic, natural and eco fibres, breaking new ground with innovative fabrics” in the creation of all their pieces. Additionally, the company invests in ensuring that their garments are made in a safe working environment, where all employees are paid a fair wage. Lastly, the womenswear brand Ninety Percent launched their truly innovative and inspiring business model in 2018. The company share a staggering 90% of their distributed profits “between charitable causes and those who make our collection happen” and give shoppers the unique opportunity to vote on their chosen cause.
The time of turning a blind eye to the fateful consequences of fast fashion must come to an end. If shoppers begin to demand authenticity and transparency from brands, the industry will inevitably follow suit. For the welfare of both textile workers and the environment, consumers and fashion companies must rethink and reject the damaging linear system of the industry. With a diverse range of sustainable and ethical fashion brands on the market alongside charity shops and online marketplaces, there seems to be little excuse not to become a conscious shopper and opt for slow fashion.
– Alice Tait
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