Living with less

Who pays when we buy fast fashion?

Recently, I can’t stop thinking about the downside of fast fashion.

For most of my life, I can’t honestly say I’ve walked into shops and wondered who made the clothes I was about to buy. I cared about fit, I cared about style – and I cared about price. Namely that things were cheap, cheap, cheap.

The older I get, however, the more I stop and think: how is it even possible that I’m getting this so at this price? And what impact is that having on the world around me?

It’s an uncomfortable question. The reality is, when we get something very cheaply, someone in the supply chain suffers.

Fast fashion vs. fair standards

I think we all know that factory workers in many locations operate in unsafe, unfair and underpaid conditions. When Rana Plaza collapsed, the fast fashion industry killed 1,134 people.

This isn’t just the downside of fast fashion – it’s a crisis.

A huge amount of work has been done since, following the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Sadly, while standards have improved for some, many are still working in unsafe, unfairly paid, and abusive conditions.

But this isn’t just a distant problem for another country’s government to solve.

Fast fashion in the UK

In 2017, River Island, New Look, Boohoo and Missguided were all revealed to be using factories that pay workers between £3-£3.50 an hour. Those factories were in Leicester.

People are working for less than the minimum wage so that we can have a Kylie Jenner knock-off dress in under six days from its red carpet debut. (Probably to wear once.)

We have to reset our expectations. When we as consumers expect the lowest prices at maximum speed, we’re endorsing minimum standards. What motivation do factories have to give people fair pay and decent conditions when retailers are motivated to relentlessly push for cheap prices?

Aside from the poor treatment of workers in the supply chain, the other downside of fast fashion is that it’s also undeniably buggering up the planet. Not to mention killing species in their droves.

So, what can we do?

Vote with your wallet, when and where you can afford it

The sad reality is that buying ethically made clothes is often more expensive. (All of this is absolutely not to suggest that people shouldn’t buy from the likes of Primark – for many, these price points are the only ones that are accessible. And Primark is taking some good steps.)

But given that many of us are happy to spend £50 on a night out, it feels a bit disingenuous to claim we have to buy £10 dresses because we can’t afford anything else.

Making ethical, sustainable fashion choices can also feel confusing. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Download Good On You, the ethical fashion app, to gain instant insight into the stances of your favourite brands.

And, if you can afford to vote with your wallet, send a message to retailers: do better. Be fairer.

The rise of the slow fashion movement

Fortunately, the slow fashion movement is growing, encouraging us to buy clothes that last for longer, get worn more, and ensure the fair treatment of people (and the earth). This is making it easier to shop ethically – and often at accessible price points. Just look at Nobody’s Child.

It’s imperfect. It’s hard. We can’t always get it right. Lots of ethical retailers don’t make bigger sizes, for example, and that’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

But we can all try to buy less, and buy better where we can. Because while we may not be the ones who pay when we shop fast fashion, somebody else – and the planet – certainly does. 


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