Monday, 25 May 2020

In This Fashion Crisis, Do We Have To Choose Between People Or The Planet?

I have noticed a growing number of people questioning what the right decision is when it comes to purchasing fashion in the current cornavirus situation and onwards into the future.

More people than ever have been researching sustainable fashion, and for those fortunate people who have been able to adapt to a slower pace of life, many have had time to reconsider their consumerist values that are embedded in society.
Brands are starting to announce plans for huge sales when they finally reopen to shift stock.
Initiatives such as Lost Stock are selling discounted boxes of high street clothes to support garment worker's wages.

The dilemma is this: even with ethical and sustainable issues surrounding brands, is it more ethical to buy these clothes to prevent them going to landfill and support garment worker's wages?

In the short term, do we have to choose between ethics and sustainability? People or planet?

I don't think there is a yes or no answer, but here are a few things that you should personally consider and weigh up...

Who stands to benefit?

Who is going to benefit if and when you buy a jumper from a fast fashion brand?
If your genuine concern lies with the wellbeing of a garment worker and their family, are you sure that the brand's profits will be used to support them?  
Is the brand that you plan to shop at one of the very brands who haven't yet guaranteed that their workers will be paid for the clothes that they have already produced? Do they actually have their worker's best interests and wellbeing at heart? 

The Pay Up campaign has been calling on big brands to pay their workers, who will be some of the worst effected in the wake of the crisis. As of the 20th of May, brand's which have agreed to pay up include Adidas, Marks & Spencer and North Face. Brand's currently oweing millions to factories and garment workers for clothes they have already made include Topshop (Arcadia), Primark, Urban Outfitters and Asda. Isn't that shocking? 

But how can we be part of the solution? There are other options to shopping in the sales which are garanteed to help garment workers... 

Donate To Garment Workers

If you are in a situation where you are able to, great charities which are supporting workers throughout this crisis include AWJA Foundation, The Garment Worker Centre and GoodWeave International
Clean Clothes Campaign, Fashion Revolution and Labour Behind The Label are brilliant organisations which are working to secure workers rights and campaign for a fairer fashion industry.

Support small and ethical brands

Even before the impact of the crisis on garment workers across the world, there was still the issue of underpaid workers. Before brands refused to pay for the clothes that had already been made, the workers were still paid a pittance.  By supporting ethical and sustainable brands you are contributing to fair living wages. Brands will follow where the money is and if our money is going into ethical products then brands will most likely see that demand and act.

It is also incredibly important to support small businesses in a time like this- something that I am sure you already know. Profits for big brands such as Amazon have increased. It can be as simple as making small changes to where you choose to buy from - such as seeing if your local bookshop is offering home deliveries.
Supporting small brands doesn't always mean spending money either. It can be as simple as sharing or liking a post. The cost is often very little but the impact is great!
Shop from brands who have committed to pay their workers, over those who haven't

While we might not always be in a position to control the scope of our choices, we always have a choice. If you are in need of clothes and are not looking to spend much money, could you maybe do a quick search and find out which of your favourite brands have already agreed to pay up? Which brands are actually taking action (and without greenwashing)? As Lucy Greenwood of Lucy & Yak said "they want our money, don't give it to them unless they are making positive changes".

Lost Stock 

Potentially a brilliant and positive short term solution and a much more justifiable way to shop than the upcoming sales, Lost Stock are an initiative creating discounted £35 boxes of clothes, the money from which will be able to support a garment worker for a week. I am hesitant to criticise this initiative as I think that it is incredibly important that garment workers are supported. It is also a clever way to shift stock and encourage people to support workers as they shop. 
However, as Venetia La Manna, environmental activist said in a recent Instagram post, why should it "fall on us as consumers to buy clothes that we don't need, in order to support garment workers?".
Why should we be forced to choose between values of sustainability and ethics?
It is ultimately the brands who have cancelled orders who have put garment workers in this position. Venetia goes on to say "ultimately, the cancelled orders have served to highlight the systematic problem within the fashion industry and capitalism".
I think about it a bit like this-
Should we have to donate to the NHS like it is a charity? No, it should be properly funded, but that doesn't make people any less likely to do amazing things to help it. 
We should support it, but we should equally remember that our heath workers do need fair pay and the NHS does need funding. 
We should support garment workers but we also need to remember that it is the brand's role to protect it's workers, pay them a fair living wage and support them. So we need to equally try to support garment workers and challenge brands. 
With just the former and not the latter we find ourselves with only a hollow, short-term solution.

Another thing is that the stock already exists. Garment workers have spent time and skill on these clothes, and without being a reason to justify our mindless shopping, dismissing Lost Stock would be to ignore the alternative of huge volumes of unworn stock in landfill.
Ultimately Lost Stock is having a positive impact and we need to focus on the positive in this current climate. 
This being said, let us not forget the impact that excessive shopping has on the planet. In the long term it is ethical to think of sustainability. 

What do you think? I hope that you are safe and well.

Beccy x


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