There was a story this week that again highlighted the wages of those who make our clothes and the shocking comparison compared to the price that they are sold at. It’s a story that keeps being told but from what I can tell nothing is being done. The recent revelations that Beyonce’s Ivy Park range for Topshop are only paying the Sri Lankan seamstress £4.30 a day is just one of many that have come out in recent years. Every few months a new revelation comes out about the price of fast fashion and everyone says how shocking it is, but does it actually make anyone stop going into H&M or Topshop to buy the latest item that they must have?
Now do not get me wrong, I love shopping, I love clothes, I love that something as simple as t-shirt or a dress can completely change your mood or identity for the day. Clothes have an incredible ability of telling a story or creating a character. I do however like to think that I am someone who thinks before I buy. I dislike the whole fast fashion thing, buying clothes wearing them for a month or so and then they never see the light of day again! I am a hoarder of old clothes, I get attached to things, they have a story – like the scarf that I have had for 10 years, it has been travelling with me for all that time, its been around my neck, over my head while riding a camel, used as a makeshift pillow on an overnight train in Uzbekistan, even a picnic blanket on a beach – I love it. Yes its got some loose threads, a little hole in it but it’s still doing its job and looks great. I moved house 6 months a go and my sister was aghast at some of the items I was packing, one of which, a summer top I got in Topshop 12 years ago – yes 12 years ago! Ok, its pretty threadbare and its one of those things I only whip out when in very hot countries but it’s still wearable, I like it, so why not! It’s what I do, I get attached. I take my time when buying things, I have to give myself a reason to buy it otherwise I would be living with a very large credit card bill.
Yes, on occasion I do impulse buy usually for something shiny and completely in appropriate like my gorgeous gold pumps that destroy my feet every time I wear them. I still have them, they sit in my wardrobe unused but so pretty. However, it is the fast fashion, the people leaving Primark with huge bags crammed with items that will only get worn once or twice before they hit the bottom of the wardrobe, the bin or the local charity shop. It’s this mentality of buying cheap clothes because they are cheap so you can just wear it once and not think about it.
Something needs to change. But what? and How?
There is all this talk of buying fair trade brands, buying from up and coming fashion designers selling their wares like on website Birdsong, but how practical is this? I would love to be able to say I only buy fair trade clothes, that they are made by fairly paid workers, or from local designers but in reality this just isn’t an affordable plan. If you look at a brand like People Tree, they offer Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable fashion. Their clothes are lovely, I only wish I could afford to shop with them all the time, however I just cannot justify £40 for a grey t-shirt when I could get the same item from H&M for £10-12. Yes it’s not fair trade and the person who made it was paid very badly but living in London, paying the extortionate rent I do, I have limited free money. This is the story for many people. I am sure like me, many people would like to go into a shop buy a t-shirt or dress knowing that what they were buying wasn’t made in a sweatshop where people are loosing fingers, and other ailments from the job they are doing.
I am sure many people would say, stop moaning, buy less clothing, and save up for those fair trade items. Yes I could, but I do not actually shop that often. I save up for a couple of months so that I can go and buy a couple of nice items but even then always buying fair trade isn’t an affordable or accessible option. If it’s not an option for me then it’s certainly not going to be an option for those on lower wages or living on the poverty line, those people who have to shop in Primark because they have no other option.
I cannot offer a solution here, but do feel it should be something we talk about more rather than just when a story breaks about the latest celebrity clothing line. This is a much bigger discussion as well – the governments of those countries that are running the factories – China, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, to name a few, need to lead this discussion. They need to be championing their people. It’s obviously a pie in the sky dream, hoping these developing countries could step forward together and say no! We want fair wages, set those wages and make the fashion industry pay attention. Also fashion here in the western world needs to face up to this, cut a few pounds off the profit, set an example. If you end up charging another £1 or two for something at the end of the day people are still going to buy it especially if they can say ‘ yes its fair trade’ it makes people feel good. Hell, we live in a world where people will pay £5 for an artisan loaf of bread, they can spend a couple more pounds on a t-shirt!
I do not want to be a preacher, I am as bad as the next person. Like I said I cannot offer a solution, I certainly do not know what it is, but I would like the world to talk about it more. I am certainly going to try harder and think about what I am buying and where it has come from, I hope you will as well dear reader.