Despite working in luxury fashion for years, I’m a huge advocate of affordable fashion. I love how stores like Topshop, New Look and H&M democratise fashion and trends; you don’t have to spend a lot to look a million bucks. Although I splurge on designer pieces from time to time, I still love the accessibility and affordability of the high street, I even wrote my dissertation on how high street stores use branding as a form of competitive advantage.
However, like many, I’ve become increasingly conscious of consumption and my shopping habits. Working in the industry for so long, I’ve realised that affordability comes at a price and I’m not completely comfortable with the human cost of my £10 bargains.
The first time my eyes were opened to the ugly side of fashion was in 2013 when the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Over 1,100 workers were killed and unions called it a “mass industrial homicide”. The tragedy highlighted the unsafe and illegal conditions that garment workers endure for pitiful pay. Bangladeshi garment workers are paid the lowest wage globally yet nearly 5 million people are employed in the industry. In the five years since, an alliance and an accord have been put together to try to protect workers. Nearly 100,000 violations were identified but reinforcing the regulations is very hit and miss.
Last year, it came to light that one of the factories that makes clothes for Zara hadn’t paid workers for months. It came to light as customers discovered notes desperate notes into the pockets of the clothes they had sewn. The factory also supplied clothes to Next and Mango but workers targeted Zara as the majority of clothing was for them. Zara owner Amancio Ortega is the 5th richest man in the world.
Though not exclusively an issue limited to the high street, fast fashion retailers perpetuate the issue with low prices and high turnover of stock, resulting in a constant demand and the prioritisation of profit above ethics. As a consumer and knowing what I know about the industry, I’m conscious of the choices I make and I’m now trying to avoid buying clothes unnecessarily. As Vivienne Westwood herself said “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.”.
I acknowledge that this isn’t easy, particularly as a fashion content creator. The pressure to always wear the newest, hottest piece is crazy. I touched upon the issue in a previous post where I discussed repeating outfits and the state of blogging. Instead of turning to high street stores, I’m trying to find independent brands who are less likely to exploit their garment workers.
Last year I wrote about Instagram being my favourite place to discover brands and that’s exactly where I discovered this top by British-based designer Olivia Rose. I can’t quite remember where I found her but I instantly fell in love with the piece, clicked through to her profile and hit the follow button. I then discovered that Olivia set up her label just last year and she handmakes each piece to order in limited quantities with fabrics sourced in the UK.
I simply had to buy one of her pieces. But instead of that instant gratification of an impulse purchase which quickly fades away, I patiently waited a couple of weeks for Olivia to cut, sew and ship my top along with a handwritten note. The excitement of opening that parcel hasn’t gone away, I adore my beautiful top and I’ve worn it to death already. I smile every time I slip it on, something I’ve never gotten from a Zara top. I’m already planning my next purchase, which I’m sure I’ll treasure too.
Photography by Adorngirl.