Earlier this year, fast-fashion giant Boohoo came under fire for allegations that some of its suppliers in Leicester are paying their workers less than UK minimum wage, alongside having poor standards of health and safety.
While its share prices initially plummeted, a report in the Evening Standard published in August suggested that the scandal is “likely to take as little as 5% off its sales” due to its ongoing influencer marketing and online presence.
August saw the launch of Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester, a docu-series program giving viewers an insight into the fast-fashion giant Missguided. While the show attempts to address the criticisms brought forward by the Boohoo scandal, it consistently glorifies Missguided’s business model, with the slogans “bigger, better, quicker, faster” and “the empire of fast fashion” repeating in every episode’s opening. The sheer brashness of these quotes a month on from the Boohoo scandal suggests that, despite the public outrage, not much has changed.
Although the Boohoo scandal received large amounts of attention across social media, it is not the first time that fast-fashion has resulted in negative headlines. In 2013 we saw the Rana Plaza Disaster, where a garment factory collapsed, injuring 2,500 and killing over 1,100 people. The building contained clothing made for major brands such as Primark, Matalan, and Mango. While the Boohoo scandal may make the problem seem closer to home, the reality remains that it is developing countries that face the brunt of the damage, with a 2018 study suggesting that 90% of all garments produced are made in low and middle-income countries. Waiting for the problems that fast-fashion creates to feel euro-centric is disastrous, and puts thousands of lives at risk.
What will it take, then, for consumers to switch to more sustainable clothing habits? For one, perhaps it is important to take some of the onus off the consumer. The fast fashion industry has pumped huge amounts of money into marketing and maintains partnerships with broadcast giants and notable influencers, making the issue distinctly less visible. Furthermore, greenwashing campaigns have become a central part of this marketing, and several brands, including Reformation and Everlane, have been accused of this, making it difficult for consumers to make ethical choices. Fashion Revolution’s yearly transparency index gave 250 brands an average score of 23%, so making the right choice isn’t necessarily easy.
Still, a mindset shift might be necessary. A report from earlier this year suggested that many consumers are unwilling to make economic decisions based around sustainability, with only 33% of Gen-Z consumers and 12% of baby boomers surveyed willing to spend more money for sustainable items.
This report, however, does not account for the massive rise of second-hand fashion. Buying clothes in charity shops has become a cultural norm for many young people who may not otherwise be able to afford the high price points of sustainably produced clothing. The second-hand selling app Depop has seen enormous amounts of growth since its launch in 2011, and as of last year 140,000 garments were being uploaded to the app every day.
The pandemic may have also slowed the turnover of fast fashion. An article in the New York Times suggests that the traditional ‘seasons’ that fashion operates within are being eroded as we all adapt to online living, leading several high-end brands to reconsider their models, such as Gucci, who are reducing their number of yearly shows from five to two. As we all adapt to life at home, will the constant consumption that fast fashion encourages have any place anymore?