I’m keeping the theme of fashion going this week as you may have seen my previous post on Boohoo’s new Student Meal Deal package. I’m studying corporate social responsibility (CSR) this year as one of my modules and in particular, we’re focusing on fashion, especially fashion retailers and their CSR.
After hearing recommendations to watch Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets documentary (I also highly recommend), I was intrigued to understand what this term ‘fast fashion’ meant that I had recently been hearing everywhere. I wanted to know just how impactful the fashion industry is on our environment and how we can go about changing this.
For my CSR assignment, I have chosen to investigate the clothing retailer Forever 21, but while doing so I have come across a lot of fashion brands and retailers that are just as bad. Some of which I shop from on the regular. If you knew more about a company’s CSR, would it deter you from shopping there? Or would it make no difference?
What is fast fashion?
We are now living in the digital age. The age of social media. The age of Instagram and YouTube. Where Influencers are showcasing new fashion items every single day, adding affiliate links to their Instagram stories and advertising discount codes and promotions in their posts and YouTube videos.
Do you ever see your favourite Influencer (or even your friends) in the same outfit more than once? Do you feel pressured not to be photographed in the same outfit twice? I know I do.
Fashion stores and online retailers are adding new items to their rails every few weeks and some are even bringing in new stock every single day just to keep up with competitors. Forever 21 and H&M bring in new items daily. Boohoo.com has up to 29,000 products available to buy on their website. Burberry used to produce clothes from their runways twice per year after Fashion Week but have now committed to updating their rails every month to keep consumers interested.
Clothes are no longer seasonal. When we go into a store, we want to see newness hanging there, not something we have already worn. Have you noticed clothes are selling out quicker and not being restocked? This is to entice you to buy straight away. Don’t think about it and miss out, you must. buy. now.
Remember how quickly Fashion Nova produced a replica of this Kim Kardashian dress? All of these brands are wanting to be the first at everything, trying to imitate what celebrities are wearing but selling at a more affordable price with poor quality materials and poor working conditions. Note the comments, “wow lol so fast,” and “f**k they’re good”. More recent comments include, “when will this be restocked??” and “I NEED this dress”. How to make an impact: high demand, little supply.
Welcome to the world of fast fashion.
The impact on our environment
According to Stacey Dooley’s documentary mentioned above, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world following the oil industry. I never would have believed this to be true, but after seeing what is going on in the developing world where most of our clothes are being produced, the impact is extremely evident.
MPs launched an inquiry into the impact of fast fashion in June of this year, but there has been no reports of any findings as of yet. Stacey Dooley approached numerous fashion brands and retailers asking for their comment on fast fashion and how they were doing their bit to help the environment. None of the brands wanted to comment. Why have Communication Managers in place if they won’t communicate? What are they hiding?
I was working for the Burberry brand at the time the news story came to light about the fashion house burning up to £28 million worth of stock so that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands or end up in downmarket stores. Burberry have had a major turnaround in regards to brand reputation, taking it from chav to chic but is this how they are accomplishing it? Making sure no one ‘unworthy’ gets their hands on a garment by burning the waste? Is that the best way to get rid of old fashion lines?
We are all well aware of the current plastic crisis hitting our oceans and are actively changing our ways to try and help. A reusable water bottle, reusable coffee cup, no more plastic straws in bars/restaurants and reusing shopping bags. But what are we doing to help with the fast fashion crisis? I don’t think enough of us are aware about the impact fashion has on our environment. It’s not ignorance, it’s just that we’re not informed. And we need to be informed.
The problem with Corporate Social Responsibility
CSR is completely voluntary. Of course it looks better for a company to donate to charities, have good ethical values and treat their employees fairly, but are they made to do this? No. They do it for brand reputation and to attract consumers as well as future employees.
The burning of millions of pounds worth of clothes by Burberry was unethical yes, also damaging to their reputation and bad for the environment. But were they thrown a law suit? No. Do companies have to ethically source their fabrics? Do they have to be transparent about what they do with chemical waste?
Isn’t it time to start legislating certain aspects of CSR? Shouldn’t companies take responsibility for the damages they are causing to the environment? As well as the working and living conditions of their employees and surrounding communities? It’s ok for us to sit here in England and not see/smell/drink/wash in the contaminated rivers around the factories that produce our clothing. But there are so many that do because they have no choice. We don’t see it, we don’t live it, it’s not our problem. We’re ignorant to it. We’re overusing our privilege of living in a developed world for a nice Instagram picture and a few likes. Seriously?!
Here’s something terrifying. The Aral Sea in Uzbekistan was once the planet’s fourth-largest inland body of water. It almost completely dried up due to being used to make cotton clothes. Imagine, a sea the size of Ireland drying up and leaving a desert behind. This happened in the space of 30 years. Their thriving fishing industry is no longer, the health impacts are severe with disease rife around the area as well as extreme climate change; their winters are colder and summers warmer. Sound familiar?
Influencers focusing on sustainability
It was much more difficult than I thought to find Influencers that are promoting sustainable fashion. But I do get it, ‘influencing’ is their job after all. They’re making a full-time career from working with fashion brands, promoting different items and pushing discount codes and affiliate links. There’s a reason the fashion blogging industry is so large.
After an intense search of the internet and Instagram, I didn’t find many results. I started talking to friends about fast fashion and one of them pointed me towards an Influencer that they follow, @alishalemay. On her Instagram, she shows her followers how to style the same pair of jeans/trousers/leggings with different tops, or a top with different skirts/jeans/shorts etc. She’s doing the unthinkable: wearing the same thing TWICE. And fair play to her for it.
Below is an example of her promoting sustainable fashion in her caption, “I really hope I can teach you how to wear things different ways to prevent fashion from destroying the planet!” Alisha has almost 100,000 followers and believe it or not, some companies still see this as being a micro-Influencer. It’s time more Influencers started to promote sustainable fashion to their followers and educate them on the harm they are doing to the environment by participating in fast fashion.
Just before publishing this post, I noticed a lot more conversations surrounding fast fashion on my Instagram feed. Anna Heaton (@annarrclaudia) who I’ve been following for a while as she used to work for ASOS as a stylist/fashion insider, shared a list of sustainable Influencers that she had been recommended. Grace Beverley (@gracefituk) gave her opinion on Stacey Dooley’s documentary but wanted to highlight that it was a fashion Influencer’s career to talk about the latest trends and to show new things on their feeds. She also talked about how much people hold Influencers on a pedestal and attack them for every little thing they do wrong or don’t do enough of. But Grace wants us to look closer to home. Never mind what the Influencer is doing, what are you doing to help the environment when it comes to fast fashion?
According to Erica Davies’s (@erica_davies) Instagram stories, Jess Cartner-Morley, fashion editor of The Guardian has vowed that from now on she will feature a mix of new, old and vintage on the shopping pages of the newspaper, rather than just constantly pushing the new. A bold, but great move forward towards sustainable fashion.
What can we do to help?
We can stop giving into the pressure of buying so many clothes all the time. Clear out your wardrobe and see what you already have in there. I bet there are lots of items still with the label on – I’m guilty of this too – that you could wear once in a while. You could style your outfits differently, make things versatile and like you haven’t already worn them.
What we really need to do is stop feeling embarrassed or made to feel bad for wearing something more than once. God forbid if you paid £50 for a dress that you might want to wear it again. Could you imagine the shame?! We need to stop thinking this way and get the most for your buck. If you look and feel good in it, by all means wear it until it’s worn out.
We can also think about where our clothes are coming from, who is making the clothes and the conditions they are working in. We’ve all heard the horror stories about Primark’s factories but does that deter us? Absolutely not. We need to be more ‘woke’ if you will, and be willing to change our spending and buying habits when it comes to fashion.
Otherwise, the harsh truth is that we’ll all be wiped out by 2030. That’s only 12 years from now. We’re killing our own planet. Climate change is real and we need to wake up to it and prevent the inevitable.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Vivienne Westwood, “buy less, choose well, make it last.”