Sustainable fashion expert Yen Goo argues how the sector needs to change in the wake of the Boohoo slavery scandal.
Yen Goo is the owner and founder of Paguro Upcycle, a retail platform for gifts and accessories made from upcycled and recycled materials. Here, Yen outlines her view of fast fashion, along with three steps to ensure lasting change in the industry.
With stores around the UK slowly starting to reopen, and retailers like Boohoo under scrutiny after its supply chain was found to pay workers far below the national minimum wage, society has re-evaluated what truly matters during the pandemic.
There is no longer room for brands to not being doing the right thing. Millions are beginning to shop less, but people are also equating fast fashion with a lack of social distancing, albeit not all of them.
The fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Research by the Fashion Retail Academy has revealed that the number of sustainable shoppers in the UK has increased by a third in 12 months.
Extending an item's wear life by nine months reduces carbon, water and waste footprints by around 20-30 per cent per garment, according to the Waste Resources Action Programme.
What steps can we take to reduce the dominance of fast fashion in the retail sector and encourage people to keep items for longer?
1 - Change advertising to promote quality, not outfits for every night of the week
According to a recent survey, the pandemic has turned Europe into savers almost overnight, with savings deposits in the UK up by £13bn (€14.4bn) in March alone.
This reset is a chance for people to create a greener world. People are generally saving more during lockdown as uncertainty over jobs has left them more money conscious. If you’re more mindful about where your money is going, it’s a chance to get one step closer to fixing fashion’s sustainability issue.
We know that fast fashion is unlikely to go anywhere soon, but this may be a chance to use creativity and thought to enhance sustainable fashion’s image.
Do you actually need that item just for one night out, or is it better to save a little extra for an outfit which will last you for years? I expect we will see a shift in marketing, catering to the quality and not the immediacy of our clothes.
2 - Action needs to continue once it’s out of the headlines
Following the news that 75 per cent of all clothing produced in Leicester’s sweatshops has been commissioned by the Boohoo group, along with the city’s return to lockdown after a rise in cases inked to the factories, the pandemic is forcing the industry to change.
The coronavirus crisis is shining a spotlight on worker’s rights, and the risks these sweatshops pose are closer to the British public than ever before. The pandemic affects everyone, and the fast fashion epidemic only aids this.
Some fashion businesses have been called out for not paying living wages to their staff, while others have been named and shamed for making huge profits from the exploitation of Black and brown women.
This behaviour is being called out, and people are urging these brands to change.
But while fast fashion has the chance to move towards more ethical practices, and brands like H&M appear to be actively moving towards sustainability, customers have the chance to think about where they’re buying from. Does it match up with their ethics?
Many influencers have come forward to say they don’t feel comfortable working with Boohoo anymore, but this can’t be a one-off situation: action needs to continue once these practices and stories are out of the headlines.
3 - Influencers need to play their part
The decrease in holidays, nights out, concerts, weddings and even shows like Love Island, (which openly encourage fast fashion practices) means that the new-outfit-per-event culture has quietened.
There’s less pressure for people to feel the need to buy new clothes constantly, simply because there’s less opportunity for them to wear it.
One of the biggest pressures on fast fashion is influencers, with shoppers believing social media personalities are partly behind the rise in this type of clothing. During lockdown, influencers weren’t able to go to exotic locations for photoshoots with new summer clothes, and many businesses have had to cut back on influencer budgets.
For many, being able to ‘swipe up’ and purchase an item of clothing worn by someone they follow comes naturally. Influencers have huge platforms, and social-first strategies aren’t going to go away. But influencers, with all the power they have, need to play their part in reducing the number of fast fashion brands they promote.
Some have already begun this change, with Vas Morgan calling out Boohoo, and many micro influencers no longer tagging items of clothing from brands they deem unethical.
With the likes of Primark and other fast fashion retail stores opening, all I can do is call on consumers to realise what truly matters. We all like getting new things, but isn’t it better to save up for quality items that have been produced with workers’ rights in mind?