Nobody wants to willingly buy something made in a sweatshop or using child labour. But studies have shown that as consumers, we also don’t want to work too hard to find out if the products we buy were made ethically.
If you really thought about it, that £10 dress you bought from a high street fashion shop, made in Cambodia or India, probably wasn’t made in the best conditions if you were able to get it for that price. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it?
Many of us choose to ignore the ugly side of fashion in favour of grabbing the latest look at an affordable price. And it’s not really our fault.
We’re trapped in a ‘fast fashion’ cycle. This is a really effective business model developed by the big fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Primark etc.
These brands control the whole process from design and manufacturing through to retail. Their cycle is 2-4 weeks, which is 12-24 new collections per year. That’s a LOT of clothes!
The clothes they produce are made at the lowest cost possible to deliver them at a cheap price to the consumer. They’re poor quality and not made to last. With a new collection hitting the shelves in a couple of weeks, they want to keep you as a consumer coming back for more. (If you want to know more about how the fast fashion business model works, watch this video by Justine Leconte)
In April 2013, the world witnessed the true cost of the fast fashion boom. The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh killed 1,134 people and injured over 2,500. Most of these people were garment workers in factories that serve fast fashion brands.
For some people, this was a lifechanging wake up call. For others, it was yesterday’s news fairly quickly. Even for those who were shocked into action, the fast fashion habit is hard to break.
These brands work by keeping us coming back for more. They have big marketing teams and budgets and an army of fashion bloggers at their disposal to deliver the latest fast fashion trends directly to our newsfeeds in a way that doesn’t even feel like advertising.
All of it designed to keep us coming back to stores for our latest fix of outfits that we’ll only wear a handful of times.
In fact, we’re so addicted to throwaway fashion that a study by Marks and Spencer found that 3.6 billion clothes are left unworn in British wardrobes – that’s 57 items of clothing per person!
As fast fashion consumers, we’re victim of clever marketing and fast-paced sales cycles that move so quickly, we rarely stop to think about the impact our buying habits are having on other people and the planet.
Even when shocking events like Rana Plaza happen, we’re so quickly swept back into the cycle that for most of us, it doesn’t have a lasting impact.
Consuming fast fashion has become an unconscious habit for many of us, and those are hard to break. Plus, when you start doing the research, what you find doesn’t make you feel good.
Channel 4 showed a Dispatches documentary earlier this week about how fast fashion brands like BooHoo are exploiting workers right here in the UK. On our doorstep! And yet even when faced with that, most of us won’t change our shopping habits. At least not long-term.
I can tell you first hand how hard it is. I recently decided to switch my beauty products to cruelty-free only. I know that animal testing happens, but honestly I’d never made the effort to find out if the products I use are tested on animals – even though in principle I’m completely against it and love animals!
Being wilfully ignorant was much easier than finding out the truth.
And when I did do the research, I was shocked. My favourite brand, L’Oreal, is one of the worst culprits for animal testing. But now I know, I have to change. And human beings don’t like change.
I still haven’t found a foundation I love as much as their sheer matt perfection – but now I know the truth I can’t bring myself to keep using it.
My life would have been so much easier if I’d just kept my head in the sand! (But that’s a blog post for another day. Back to fast fashion…)
I was fascinated with this Buzzfeed article by Laura Silver in response to the Dispatches documentary. In it, she asks why the fashion bloggers and social media influencers who work with these brands don’t call them out on their un-ethical practices.
It’s a fair comment. When faced with evidence of exploitation, poor working conditions and even loss of life in Rana Plaza, it does make us question how these bloggers can keep working with un-ethical brands. But it’s for the same reasons people still choose to buy from them.
I honestly believe that we are often ethical ostriches. We stick our head in the sand because our routine is comfortable and safe, we’re reassured and swept up (often subconsciously) by the glossy marketing messages these brands put in front of us, and it’s easier to stick with what we know.
Finding out the facts and facing the truth is hard. They say the truth hurts and they’re not wrong. Once you know, you can’t go back.
It makes you feel guilty for supporting these brands for so long. It takes effort to find alternatives. Add to that the negative stereotypes associated with ethical fashion (news flash, we’re not all “tree-hugging hippies!”) and it’s so much easier to be an ethical fashion ostrich!
Plus, for many of these bloggers, changing their buying habits and calling these brands out on their behaviour would also mean big changes to their business and potentially even a loss of income – not just a change of lifestyle.
Ethical fashion blogger Tolly of Tolly Dolly Posh wrote a brilliant, honest post about making the transition to working only with ethical brands, and it’s well worth a read.
Ethical brands don’t usually have the big marketing budgets that fast fashion brands do. Ethical fashion bloggers don’t usually have the massive audiences that mainstream fashion bloggers do.
As consumers, we’re so used to the short style cycles of fast fashion that we’re not as excited by more sustainable brands.
The consumer education just isn’t there, and if during that education process we’re made to feel guilty about our past purchasing habits, we disengage and stick our heads right back in the sand.
It’s not our fault that we’ve been sucked into this fast fashion world, but it is our fault if we stay there. It’s impossible to ignore the impact of our purchasing habits forever. One day they will catch up with us, whether it’s global warming, climate change or more human disasters like Rana Plaza.
We can’t keep our head in the sand forever.
There are so many resources out there to educate ourselves.
Ethical fashion is just as beautiful and stylish as fast fashion – if not more so because it’s made to last, the people making it are treated well and it’s not going to kill the planet as quickly.
It’s easy to find when you know where to look, and I can speak from experience as a recovering fast fashion addict, that the ethical fashion community is so welcoming, supportive and helpful.
There’s no need to feel guilty about your past purchases, and you don’t have to rush in all at once. Small steps soon add up to big changes!
So if you’re an ethical fashion ostrich, isn’t it time to take your head out of the sand?
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