The recent Dispatches programme ‘Undercover: Britain’s Cheap Clothes’ took a look into the unfair labour and poor working conditions that lay behind our favourite fast fashion brands. These factories where staff were paid below half of minimum wage were not in the far-flung corners of the globe, but right on our doorstep. In cities like Manchester the investigators discovered that the demand for new looks had led to many factories roping in subcontractors-who happened to run incredibly poor practices. Many of our favourite retailers were discovered to have produced affordable items at the expense of someone’s livelihood. At Debut we love fashion, and we love being treated well at work. So we need to ask- why is this happening, and what can we do about it?
Fast fashion that is manufactured in the UK competes against brands that use factories abroad. When we get a bargain, something somewhere in the supply chain has to take the flack. As consumers our spending patterns dictate the trends that companies must follow, which means that the manufacturing of goods at cheap cost is a mere response to our buying habits.
In this social-media dominated age we are seeing a lean towards ‘disposable’ fashion and people wearing looks once or twice, before moving on to something else. Consumers want a fresh look constantly, and therefore, brands are making cheaper trend-led outfits. The casualty of this is that people aren’t thinking twice before making multiple purchases, increasing demand further. How many of us have ordered two or three ‘going out dresses’, or headed to an online retailer to pick up something new for each upcoming event in our social calendar? You can’t blame some of our fashion brands for catering to demand and offering a ton of new gear online each week, but it does beg the question-how does ‘slow’ fashion fare in comparison?
A mere five years ago, the iconic Easy Jean was the only thing of its kind on the market. American Apparel was a high street store that promised high quality, and even higher prices. The clothes were expensive, but the fabric they used was long-lasting, and their risqué marketing campaigns informed customers of their ‘good ethics’. Despite this, the bodysuits, polo neck tops, crushed velvet, and that general trashy/sporty aesthetic that American Apparel pioneered can now be found on virtually every fashion retailer’s shelves-for a far more inexpensive price.
It turns out that we don’t want slow-fashion enough, or at least for the actual price it costs to make garments fairly. The USA-manufactured American Apparel as we know it is closing as the brand can’t cope with their once original designs being undercut by other companies. If we can’t sustainably fill our wardrobes with gorgeous pieces at £30- £80 a pop, and we don’t want to think about the ramifications of our online shopping habit, what can we do to fix this moral dilemma?
The best plan of action would be to try and buy more pieces that you really care about and are going to look after. No-one is saying you need to remove that baby pink feather boa from your shopping basket, but endeavor to shop a little more selectively when you can. Reuse your party wear with some new accessories, or swap your stuff with friends. Remember to sell on or give away things you don’t need anymore. By getting more creative with the clothes you do have we can send the message as consumers that we love fashion so much, we don’t want it ending up in a landfill after it has been worn twice. A strong look that dies a death isn’t fun for anyone.
Words by India Alicia