Opinion, Uncategorised

24th February 2021

Lockdown Fashion: Fast and Slow

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of the Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

All dressed up and nowhere to go?

Given that we are deep into lockdown 3.0, online meetings and social events (God forbid another zoom quiz), are back on the agenda. Something else that’s prominent in our daily locked-down lives is scrolling. Tiktok, Instagram, and twitter have become routine (more so than usual might I add). Let’s have a gander on Asos, Depop, and SHEIN while we’re at it. What was that? You have 5 baskets full, 3 parcels on the way and 2 returns slips pending? And just like that, with a clickety-click you’ve got yourself another going out-out top, a pair of jeans, and for Christ’s sake ANOTHER mini bag? Now night clubs seem to be a thing of the past, we seem to have ourselves yet another fit for the daily walk. And maybe some lucky bystanders in Lidl can experience the high fashion that is known as y2k?

So that might be an exaggeration, but it is not that far from the truth. Style consciousness in a pandemic extends as far as the zoom call can see (that’s a yes to pyjama bottoms). However, the ‘treat yo-self’ narrative seems to be getting the better of some of us, especially in such unprecedented times. This financial consumption is problematic – fast-fashion monstrosities are somewhat obvious, but the underbelly of slow-fashion even less so.

Some Lockdown Statistics

ASOS, a major online fast-fashion retailer is one of the few that have benefitted from lockdown. Shares in the company have doubled during last year, with a market capitalisation of £5.4bn. According to the Evening Express, they have reported a quadrupled full-year profit to £142.1 million, due to the pandemic. Sales have risen by 19 per cent to 3.3 billion serving over 23 million customers, an increase of 3.1 million, as reported by the Independent UK. Although this is just one store, it is a microcosm of the virtual mall for those seeking retail therapy in our pandemic-ridden society.

Fast-fashion Damage

At this point, I’m sure we’re all aware of the devastating effects of fast fashion. By definition, it is ‘inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.’ Listed below are examples of the shocking costs of the industry:

  • Second largest consumer of water worldwide – 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions – more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
  • A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all micro-plastics in the ocean came from synthetic textiles like polyester.
  • In some factories, labour standards are so low that despite apparel being the largest employer of women globally, less than 2% of them earn a living wage (according to The Huffington Post.)

Surely it would seem an unanimous decision to not purchase fast fashion. But unsurprisingly, it is not as simple as that. Low prices are attractive and the clothing itself is trending, fresh, and exciting.

Slow-Fashion Optimism

Slow fashion – coined by Kate Fletcher, a professor of Sustainability, Design, and Fashion– is a retaliation against fast fashion. It is a movement dedicated to ethical and sustainable production of clothing, thus the green consumption of fashion.

Sustainable fashion refers to clothes designed, manufactured, and distributed using environmentally friendly methods. Ethical fashion denotes clothing production that prioritize social welfare, worker rights, and in many cases, animal rights. There are a few ways to go about slow fashion. Some examples are:

  • Swaps – pre-existing clothing, different owner.
  • Vegan fashion – no animal products used.
  • Local fashion – supporting local businesses means less money goes to large corporations. It instead goes into the pockets of bespoke brands and individuals.
  • Minimalism – buying less=less carbon footprint. Simples.
  • Second hand – online sites like Depop, eBay, and Vinted are prominent today (especially when charity shops and car-boot/kilo sale events are limited due to coronavirus)

The Depop Generation

Since Depop’s explosion and Gen Z’s eager eye for affordable streetwear, the cost of second-hand clothing has increased two-fold. People with more money and time hunt for vintage or y2k pieces in charity shops and second-hand sales only to sell them for 3 times the price on Depop – an Instagram-meets-eBay hybrid.

Depop fashion
Depop fashion: a subculture.

Sometimes the clothes are up-cycled into something new and trendy, other times they are already in good vintage and branded condition that alteration is unnecessary. In turn, charity shops have caught on, and have matched their prices, aware of the thrifty entrepreneurialism that inhabits urban areas. This has led to prices on Depop to increase rapidly, too – it’s a never-ending cycle. Now, I myself am guilty of this behaviour, alongside many other students and young people looking for extra cash. But what is the real damage of this seemingly innocent process? Two words – fashion gentrification.

This gradual phenomenon has benefited bargain hunters alike but has also pushed people in lower income brackets with less time and money on their hands to shop at fast fashion giants such as Primark and H&M. It seems ridiculous that you would be saving money by shopping first-hand and not second. Gentrification is ‘the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in’ or ‘the process of making something more refined.’ Essentially, working class culture has become appropriated and modified by those in a more privileged background.

Fashion is Inherently Classist

You’d be ignorant to think that the clothes you wear is not political. In some way, the textiles we adorn our bodies with are a reaction to something – the male gaze, perhaps? Gender and sexuality expression? Not trying to be like ‘other girls’? We get it. Something that overrides the lot is class divide. For centuries Fashion has been the determiner of people’s position on the social hierarchy. What used to be intricate gowns for higher society is now Versace blazers and Louboutin red-bottoms. However, a new wave of prejudice is the superiority complex that ostracises those who do not buy sustainably, ethically, or in the best interest of anything that isn’t themselves, the consumer.

Choosing to buy sustainably and ethically (in any aspect of your life) is a privilege. Not everyone has the time and money to be aware of the damage done by our spending choices, let alone act on this self-awareness. It is expensive, niche, and not as accessible as large corporations. Whether second-hand or buying from ethical/sustainable brands, the slow fashion market is not akin to being affordable or accessible. On the other hand, fast fashion brands are multi-million businesses for a reason: profit margins are high due to cheap labour costs and thus advertising and output is maximised. They literally benefit from their unethical and unsustainable customs.

Consumer Blaming

This leads me onto my next point: By putting the fault on the consumer, we individualise the issues caused by the corporation. We have become the ultimate scape goat, and governments and companies who create the most damage shift the blame onto those who don’t have the privilege of affording sustainable and ethical alternatives. According to The Guardian, 100 companies contribute to 71% of climate change. This narrative is damaging, as companies and people in power are not challenged for their unsustainable and unethical ways.

Textile factory workers in bad working conditions

My Take

The best way to combat issues surrounding the environment, workers’ rights and animal welfare is to just. Buy. Less. Easier said than done, but when we don’t give in to the fickle pleasures of retail therapy, we are one step away from being an active cog in the wheel contributing to the fashion industry. Technically, we shouldn’t be buying many clothes any way. We are in lockdown – no people to meet, no places to be; no outfits needed. It’s sad but true. Why not use lockdown to save coin (for that holiday that will definitely-maybe happen in about 5 years time)?

Plan B – buy slow IF you can – remember it is a privilege to do so. No judgement, no superiority, but for the best interest of sustainable and ethical consumption. If that is not an option, buy fast; if you’re not in the position to blow £120 on a Reformation dress for that Zoom 21st, then it’s not your concern. The blame is not on you. It is on the companies that exploit the environment, their workers, and their consumer’s best money-saving interests.

Another way to help with the damaging effects of the fashion industry is by putting pressure on the governments and corporations responsible through activism – vote accordingly, spread the word, go to protests (one day), and sign petitions. Do what you can. Small changes, choices, and voices are what will help the narrative change. Slow fashion is a privilege, the consumer is not guilty. And for the love of your bank account – do not click check out! Your post-lockdown self with thank you later😊