Is fast fashion the cause of all our problems? Or the saviour?

A couple of articles have popped up in the popular press this week. Firstly in the Guardian Lucy Siegle wrote, ‘Why fast fashion is slow death for the planet’ as an intro to her new book, ‘To Die For’. Then a couple of days later the Ecologist wrote, ‘Greening the High Street: Marketing trick or real deal?’ They are both informative, general articles worth reading, and they got me thinking about ethical fashion from a wider perspective.

So is fast fashion slow death for the planet? I think so. In fact, I got thinking about just what fast fashion has done for us. It made us greedy, wasteful and frivolous. It made us demand more at less cost. The choice on the High Street is boggling and at the same time compelling. It made us reach for the credit cards, pushing us into debt. At the same time as we were buying more, we were making less. The manufacture of most of the garments we were buying on the High Street was done overseas. Although this has been happening with clothes for decades, other products and services have more recently been outsourced overseas leading to job losses. So increased debt + job losses = the recession. Did fast fashion play a major part in the recession? The turnover of goods was not sustainable.

Of course, although we don’t make many garments in the UK anymore, a huge amount of people are employed in retail, so in this way the fashion industry provides many jobs. And the choice our High Street offers has world wide appeal. But as Lucy Siegle tweeted last Sunday, ‘Fast fashion action responsible for a number of Sunday Times Rich List entries today. Garment workers still can’t afford to eat’. Your new dress might make you happy, but for how long? As much as I love Topshop, I think fast fashion has done us much more harm than good.

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Bring Back UK Manufacturing

On the One Show tonight they did a piece about UK manufacturing and how a number of firms were moving production back from overseas. They covered a Yorkshire textile mill and explained how there just isn’t the staff to keep up with the production they need. It is certainly true that more mid market brands are choosing to manufacture here, because of issues with quality and time delays. The ‘Made in Britain’ label also has a lot of weight in our ultra modern era where provenance is key. Yes its still cheaper to produce in the Far East, but the trend for heritage has improved the position of the UK industry greatly. The Made in Britain label is particularly popular in Japan and the US.

Many UK manufacturers have reported around 30% growth in orders over the last year and see that growth continuing through this year. This must be fantastic news for our economy?! Unfortunately it is not the first time that I’ve heard concern over the state of our workforce. manufacturing skills have died out and people just don’t won’t to do those jobs. I think this is such a great opportunity for us to help ourselves out of the recession, perhaps the Government can step in to support training and apprenticeships. Watch this space I guess, I certainly plan to do some more investigations.

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Social Labelling Conference

Last week I went to an ethical fashion conference held at Northumbria University. It was focused on social labelling which is very relevent to my MPhil thesis question, ‘How to communicate the environmental and social impacts of producing a cotton t-shirt to the consumer at point of sale’. There were representatives there from FAIRTRADE, People Tree, Workers Rights Consortium and many more, but what was really interesting was to find PhD students studying such similiar topics to me! It becomes easy to think that I’m the only one doing research in my field, but that is of course not true, especially as it is such a current issue. Having said that, we were all approaching it in different ways.

I picked up on a lot of new information and will have to spend time going back through my literature review to add these details. What really struck me is the amount of work going on to help the conditions for workers globally, and the number of barriers that they face. I also realised that if I want to start my own label in the future, there is a lot of support out there to help me find an ethical way of manufacturing products. I’ll update the blog as I go through my notes and the conference papers.

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