Increasingly, people appear to be striving to live a more ethical existence. The #PassOnPlastic movement has swept the nation, and the growing awareness of the realities behind the meat and dairy industries has caused a significant rise in vegetarianism and veganism. And yet strangely, little of the same consideration is given to the origins and effects of our clothing.
The fashion industry is a multi-trillion-dollar global industry, being kept afloat mainly by the consumer culture that engulfs the western world. However, the fashion products themselves are deflationary. As supply and demand increases, the products get cheaper, with the emphasis being placed on the speed with which they are generated in order to keep up with the continuously changing trends.
This ‘fast fashion’ business model prioritises meeting the demands of a society in which consumerism is becoming all the more ingrained. In addition to the advertisements produced by the clothing companies themselves, social media freely spreads the consumerist message. With YouTube ‘clothing hauls’ being popular videos to both make and watch, and Instagram furthering the ‘this can only be worn (or the very least, photographed) once’ mentality, the desire for new clothes is only increasing.
However, the issues with the fashion industry are undeniable. As the clothes get cheaper, the people buy more. As people buy more, the big fashion companies earn bigger profits. But the logical order of these steps breaks down at this point in the chain, as little of these profits find their way to the labourers in developing countries, who work to produce the items we wear.
Companies tend to seek the cheapest labour possible, with this being found in third world countries that have a miniscule minimum wage, and few (if any) laws protecting workers’ rights. The conditions would often be deemed wholly unacceptable in western countries, with the people at the production end of the supply chain finding themselves without a voice.
In addition, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on Earth. Poisonous pesticides, toxic waste and landfills filled with non-biodegradable clothing are but a few of the outcomes that have a huge cost to both human health and the environment. The constant cycle of production and consumption puts strain on nature’s resources, however little consideration is often given to these impacts caused by our fashion habits. Highly informative documentaries such as The True Costand The Machinists shed more light on these issues that arise around fast fashion. These thought-provoking insights offer broader pictures that hone in on the lives of workers in developing countries, as well as addressing the overall problematic economic model that is supported primarily by consumerism.
Taking the typical budget of students into consideration, thrifting seems the most favourable alternative if wanting to shop more ethically. Fair trade companies can often sell items that are pricier than your average Missguided or Boohoo purchases, making vintage stores seem a more reasonable route to take. Even though this doesn’t solve the issue, it certainly has its benefits, making use of the clothes that have been produced in years previous. And, as fashion is cyclical, pieces from bygone eras are bound to work in modern wardrobes.
London is a prime location for securing vintage pieces for reasonable prices. Stores such as East End Thrift Store, Beyond Retro and Absolute Vintage offer items from below £5 upwards, and will guarantee you a wardrobe that includes items that no one else has.
In this consumer driven society, the power is with the customer. We don’t have to buy what ‘they’ are selling. And if what is being sold equates to toxic pollution and appalling human rights, then it is certainly not worth the cost…