With an issue as contentious as fast fashion and its consequences, it can be hard to figure out where the responsibility falls. To try and break it down into a more digestible form than a Twitter storm, here are four scenarios that you may be able to relate to, whether you’re willing to admit it on social media or not… By Sadia Nowshin.
Okay so… I bought £40 worth of clothes for £2.64 on Black Friday, which I was buzzing about. But now that I’ve read how problematic the sale is on Twitter, I feel kind of bad. I don’t really think there’s anything I can do to reverse the damage already done – am I a terrible person?
Firstly: no, you’re not. The temptation of the sale was an incredibly difficult one to resist – we love a bargain, and Pretty Little Thing (PLT) knew full well that selling clothes at such low prices would attract crowds. 2020 has been a hard year for their target audience of 20-something women, many of whom have struggled to find employment or have been put on furlough/lost their jobs to the pandemic. While their too-good-to-be-true sale and cash giveaways might seem like benevolent gestures, they’re really just capitalising on the fact that 2020 has hit wallets hard.
At the end of the day, if you took part in the sale and realised the problems after you had already pressed ‘Pay’, then all you can really do is use this moment as a learning opportunity and remember it for next time. Absolutely nobody is perfect, and companies like PLT and Boohoo know exactly how to reel you in. Next time there’s a 4p sale going on (because let’s be honest, there probably will be a next time), contribute your voice to highlight why the sale and company practises are problematic instead.
Unpopular opinion: I don’t get what’s so bad about buying cheap clothes in the sale! If I didn’t buy my 10p top on Black Friday then it would have just gone to waste straight away, so really I’ve saved one item of clothing from joining that pile.
The title of ‘fast fashion’ doesn’t just allude to how quickly it’s made and arrives on your doorstep – it’s also a pretty good description of the speed at which it’ll travel from the factory, to your wardrobe, to landfill. If Pretty Little Thing can afford to flog a top or a skirt for less than the cost of a Freddo, chances are consumers will be paying the price when it comes to quality. A couple of wears in, there’ll be a rip in the seam and the clothes will be chucked in the bin with no hard feelings, because of the very fact that it only cost the spare change in the bottom of a forgotten pocket.
However, there’s a good point to be made here: if the clothes that are being sold for pennies are headed for landfill anyway, then surely it’s better for it to at least be used and worn before that fate. The issue ultimately lies with the fact that PLT are happy for their clothes to eventually go to landfill, whether someone pays to delay that eventual end or not.
The company actually introduced a recycling scheme, where you can send in boxes of clothes to be repurposed rather than sent to landfill – but this tiny gesture (that gets nowhere near the same promotion as their sales or cash giveaways) doesn’t really absolve them of anything. The company is in the wrong for accepting that landfill will be the eventual end of their clothes and not particularly caring about that fact, and thus doing very little to try and change it. That doesn’t absolve us as customers though – by continuing to buy from them, we’re complicit in that complacency.
Alright so I kind of get the fast fashion argument and I’m going to stop shopping with these brands from now on. But why is Twitter getting angry about the cash giveaways, too?! Let me secure the bag in peace 🙁
As if 10p clothes weren’t enough, PLT took to Twitter to offer 10 cash giveaways of £1000. Superfans (or millennials with big dreams for such a sizable chunk of cash) competed to enter: cue some increasingly dramatic efforts to catch the attention of the social media manager who held everyone’s fate in their hands. Some recruited their boyfriends to enter in the hopes that some staged romance would sweeten the deal, others did vodka shots spelling out PLT to pledge their allegiance, and one girl even got a stick-and-poke tattoo dedicated to the brand.
Nobody is going to say no to free cash, and in itself the PLT £1000 giveaways aren’t doing any harm (except to that girl who now has PLT tattooed on her arm forever). The reason why people are angry, however, is that the company can afford to be handing out these big sums of cash, but they pay the workers who actually make their clothes a pittance.
In case you’ve forgotten amongst the chaos of everything else that happened in 2020, Boohoo (who also own PLT and Nasty Gal) came under fire earlier this year for the terrible conditions that workers in their Leicester factory were having to deal with. Health and safety hazards and evidence of modern slavery had the company hot under the collar for a while… but despite these troubling reports, they still celebrated a 45% surge in sales in lockdown.
Factory workers, many of which were women of colour, were paid poorly and made to work in awful conditions to add insult to injury. So, for these same companies to then act all cute and quirky on Twitter by handing out wads of cash to their ‘fave gals’ is hugely distasteful and a bit of a slap in the face for their workers. Without whom, can we note, there would be no clothes to be selling in the first place.
I know full well the impacts of the fast fashion that I buy – environmental, the impact on the people who make it, the moral shadiness of it all – but tbh I just don’t care enough to make any changes. Sue me.
Sure, a massive chunk of the responsibility of fast fashion and its consequences does lie with the companies, and there will be no substantial change until corporations accept that responsibility. But that doesn’t mean as consumers we should just go along with the current reality as the acceptable norm.
PLT, Boohoo and their fast fashion competitors are only able to get away with their shady practices because they know they can profit from it. Low-priced clothes can be essential for those who can’t afford to splash the cash on a new ethical wardrobe every year, but for many customers of these brands there are opportunities to make a change.
Just because the companies have the most work to do, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be doing our bit. The more noise that is made amongst their target audience, the more likely it is that these companies will start to take notice and make a change, if only because their current way of business is affecting their profits.
The best way to make a change when it comes to consumerism is to shout loud enough to cause a nuisance, and fight with the one thing fast fashion cares about the most: your money.