The revelation that major retailer Boohoo has used suppliers currently under investigation for malpractice has caused outrage in the fashion industry. The Leicester-based suppliers have reportedly forced employees to work throughout the lockdown period in unsafe conditions, for a pitiful £3.50 per hour.
The scandal has brought home the reality of fast fashion – something which too often is out of sight, out of mind. Put simply, it isn’t possible to sell clothing at the rock-bottom prices featured on websites like Boohoo’s without serious exploitation somewhere in the supply chain. Typically this problem occurs at a distance from the Western world, with much of the work sub-contracted to factories in low-cost countries, and is either overlooked or unknown.
While the social responsibility undoubtedly lies with the retailer, who profits enormously from these practices, the Boohoo-business model only works because Western demand for cheap clothing is sky-rocketing. Modern consumption is frequently based on the appeal of excessively low prices, fleeting Instagram trends, inescapable social pressures and the ease of Internet shopping. Practical need, or even a real appreciation for clothing, has very little to do with it.
Fast fashion ultimately exists because consumers are willing to relentlessly buy clothing purely because it’s new, popular and, crucially, cheap. Fashion trends are reliant upon both novelty and exclusivity – once a style has become commonly accepted and emulated, it falls by the wayside. By nature, the fashion industry has to churn out new trends to replace old ones, a fate reflected in our ever-changing wardrobes.
In other cultures, however, the social observance of fashion trends dictated by key industry players is far less apparent. In Daniel Millers Stuff, the renowned anthropologist explores the relationship to fashion in Trinidadian society which he sees as distinctly different to that of the West. Clothing is hugely important to Trinidadians – in some respects, more so than in Western culture where it’s historically been viewed as superficial and immoral. In Trinidad, the acquiring, wearing and valuing of garments is much more concerned with the developing of a unique personal style than simply consuming the latest trends.
‘As evident in the description of the local catwalk, what mostly concerned Trinidadians was not fashion – that is, the collective following of a trend, but style – that is, the individual construction of an aesthetic based not just on what you wear, but how you wear it.’
In this cultural setting, clothing is a true reflection of the self. Appearance is therefore incredibly important, but also very personal. In such cultures, it’s much less important that a garment is new or on-trend, as the onus is on the styling and embodiment of clothing in a way that’s authentic. It doesn’t matter where clothes come from, how many you own or what it all cost; what matters is how clothing is worn. Here lies a valuable lesson in sustainability for us all.
‘The individual has to re-combine elements in their own way. The source of these elements is unimportant…. It didn’t matter what clothes cost or even whether the clothes worn on the catwalk belonged to them or were borrowed for the occasion. This wasn’t about accumulation, but about transience.’
Here’s five handy tips for curating your own personal style – and helping the environment as you go:
Think about what inspires you – a certain era, a designer, a particular celebrity or even a friend– and start a mood board on something like Pinterest, Instagram or LikeToKnow.it. If you then see something similar on the high-street, you can still consider buying it confident in the knowledge that you’ll probably wear it for a long time. As always, try to buy second-hand if you can!
Start buying pre-loved clothing. Curating your own personal style means valuing a piece of clothing because you love it, not for its label or price tag. Platforms like Depop and eBay, as well as your local charity shops, are excellent places to shop for clothing. Avoiding brand-new purchases means less resources being used, and it extends the life of clothes already made.
Learn What Works for You
If you like, look at style guides to find out what silhouettes, colours, patterns and cuts are said to suit you. These guidelines are typically constructed based around your particular body shape, skin tone, age and environment. But remember, this is advice rather than a rule – and rules are there to be broken! If you want to wear something then go for it, regardless of what the ‘experts’ say.
Think Before You Buy
Once you have a clear vision of your style, you can shop mindfully and with purpose. Avoid making rash decisions, and really think about why you want to buy something. Is it because you’ll really enjoy wearing it, or simply because it’s new/trendy/cheap/available? If it falls into any of these categories, take a step back! If buying online, consider saving an item to a wishlist first. If you’re in a shop, take a picture in the changing room, go home and think about it. It’ll still be there tomorrow!
The way a person carries themselves, how they move and present themselves is a huge part of style, and it all comes from having confidence. Clothes can make you look good, but you make the clothes look good too. Keep your head high and stand tall, the rest will follow!