Culture Clash: How Have Our Fashion Habits Become So Unethical?

It seems that now more than ever, ethics and sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor whilst shopping. With this in mind, this blog will look at how the culture of being more environmentally and ethically aware is clashing with the throw-away, instantaneous and looks-focussed culture of fashion, and the influence of social media. This blog has been inspired by some particularly alarming statistics surrounding fashion consumers’ mindsets, from environmentally conscious charity Hubbub.

In 2017, Hubbub found that “1 in 6 young people (18-25 year olds) don’t feel they can wear an outfit again once it’s been on social media”. Despite this data being collected three years ago, I feel this statistic continues to represent the consumer mindset of this age bracket- how often will you buy a new outfit for a particular event that you know will be posted all over social media but rarely, if ever, wear that outfit again? I find this statistic quite shocking, and it has caused me to reflect on my own ethical conscious as a fashion consumer. I would like to think I am very aware of choosing brands that make lasting clothes and avoid fast-fashion brands. However, it is clear to see how easy it is to be influenced by fast fashion brands- especially as their business model relies hugely on utilising social media (the 15-24 age demographic were the highest share of Instagram users in 2018). Being online-based cuts costs due to low overheads, which further appeals to the often-low budgets of the 18-25 demographic, further increasing the popularity and dominance of fast fashion. Fashion brands with a heavy presence on Instagram, such as Pretty Little Thing and In The Style, can therefore create an inclusive culture for followers, and the instant and fast-evolving nature of trends on social media further enhance their need and desire to produce and turnover stock on a very quick basis.

Image Courtesy of Moni.

There appears to be two very opposing trends in relation to consumers’ relationship with clothes shopping. Depop, an online, social app where users can buy and sell second-hand items as well as follow venders, has helped contribute to a significant rise in popularity of second hand and vintage clothing. This contradicts the fast-fashion and throw-away culture, as, from June 2019, “one-third of all 16 to 24-year-olds (in the UK are) registered on Depop” . This shows a shift in the consumer mindset going from buying mass produced, brand new products on a regular basis to buying and selling used garments. This does not mean that buying through Depop or other second-hand channels is totally sustainable, as Depop itself bring its own ethical issues, but it is a step forward in tackling the problem with unsustainable and unethical fashion.

This trend in consumerism for this demographic, does challenge the opposing trend of buying unethically produced, poor quality garments regularly. It could be suggested that social media is a significant factor in the rise and popularity of fast fashion brands, as it is only natural for consumers to want to jump on trends as soon as they surface. This is massively enhanced by the global influence of social media, especially Instagram, as evidenced by the 2018 survey by Sumo, which found “58% of respondents said that social media directly influences their purchasing decisions”.

Data Source: Oxfam

Figures, such as the statement above from Oxfam, are astounding and make me feel as though more could be done to promote the benefits of second-hand shopping and buying from brands with an ethical conscious. On top of this, I believe that fast fashion brands should reassess their corporate social responsibility, and their own business model, if they want to make a positive, lasting impact in the fashion industry for a long time- as it is evident consumers are becoming more and more conscious of their environmental and social impact. Therefore, unethical fashion brands must act swiftly to appeal to consumers’ environmental and social concerns, or they will be superseded by current and future ethically and socially responsible brands.

Thank you for reading this week’s blog- it would be great to hear your thoughts about ethical shopping and your opinion on fast fashion. How influential do you think ethics and sustainability is on your personal shopping habits?

One comment

  1. […] The idea of looking into greenwashing this week was first inspired by Primark, who announced on Monday they would be releasing paper carrier bags which could be reused into wrapping paper. The bags are designed with a perforated edging which will remove the handles and bottom of the bag, so that the middle can be used as wrapping paper (as pictured above). Whilst this is a unique idea, particularly as carrier bags are the least glamourous element of a shopping trip, and definitely a step in the right direction for an influential organisation like Primark, I do not fully agree with this. It could be argued that Primark’s attempt at marketing themselves as environmentally conscious is at the very least contradictory, but it could be seen as greenwashing. Primark has long been associated with ethical issues, especially in relation to unsafe and exploitative labour and their negative impact on the climate. This stands alone from the ethical issues associated with the fast fashion industry, which I looked at in one of my previous blog posts. […]

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