Last week was Fashion Revolution Week and after listening to some of the biggest voices in fashion activism over the past seven days, the topic that still sticks with me is money.
Aside from being a dignified and technical exercise, the conversations that take place during Fashion Revolution Week are captivating.
I would even go so far as to call this year’s event ‘juicy’ as the theme was ‘Money Fashion Power’.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to dive right into that toxic can of worms?
There is so much to unpack. But before we get into the subject of cash and capitalism 2.0 in a time of impending ecological collapse, let me give you a little synopsis of what Fashion Revolution Week actually is:
This annual event was launched after the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which left more than 1,000 people dead after a garment factory collapsed.
It was an insightful point for an industry normally seen through the lens of glitz and glamour.
The mass death and destruction led some (not all) major fashion retailers (which operated out of the building) to make a slew of pledges to do better, including signing a security agreement.
Progress has been made in terms of awareness of environmental, social and governance issues in the fashion industry. But nine years later, it still feels like there’s a lot to talk about. The industry still desperately needs to find a better way to gain greater control over its supply chain, especially those brands operating at scale and utilizing third-party facilities.
The solution sounds relatively simple: measure, document and declare the impact that production has on nature (from soil health to carbon emissions) and on the workers who help make the clothes (from fair pay to working conditions) . A new EU directive proposes cracking down on fashion supply chains, but as this is not yet required by law, few companies are willing to proceed with transparency.
A litany of activists say the current fashion business model, centered on profit over people, continues to perpetuate the risks that contributed to disasters like Rana Plaza, which is why nearly a decade later, it’s still overly relevant, in 2022 about money and power to speak.
my last Irish Independent Column asked why Chinese e-tailer Shein is booming at a time when the planet is on the brink of collapse. It sparked a very lively discussion on my social media — specifically on the topic of money. One of the key points people cited about the success of Shein and others like Zara and H&M was value for money. The average Shein item costs just over €9, which is more than tempting for those looking to keep up with trends, even at the expense of quality and durability.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Getting a shirt for a fiver or a pair of jeans for a ten is not normal. But how do we as consumers ever get back from that? If you got something that cheap, will you ever want to pay more for a more ethical or sustainable alternative?
Sustainable brands are repeatedly described as too expensive and unattainable. However, during Fashion Revolution Week, someone characterized the cost of sustainable fashion versus the cheapness of fast fashion in a way that made me stop and pay attention.
Noor Veenhoven, co-founder of Project Cece, a marketplace for sustainable clothing, said: “I wouldn’t say that sustainable fashion has a price problem, I would say that fast fashion has a price problem. Consumers have a distorted view of pricing through no fault of our own.”
Boom. That’s it. Not (all) sustainable fashion is too expensive, but fast fashion is too cheap.
And that’s before you get into the level of consumption that drives the latter. As American author Cora Harrington pointed out on Twitter: “People say, ‘I can’t afford to buy the same amount of clothing from sustainable brands’. But the thing is, sustainability in practice doesn’t mean consuming the same amount as before. I would argue that you shouldn’t buy 20 sustainable outfits at once either. Overconsumption is overconsumption.”
Harrington, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict blog, also made an interesting (if unconfirmed) point about the socioeconomic background of the average Shein customer. “That one occasional purchase from someone who can’t afford anything else isn’t keeping Shein in business. It’s repeat, high-value customers that keep fashion brands in business, not poor people buying a little here and there.”
For all the ongoing chatter about who really has the power to turn the tide on the scourge of ultra-fast fashion, one takeaway from Fashion Revolution Week is that consumers have the power, but their behavior is just one of a myriad of possibilities to drive change. And yes, money can be a barrier to entry for people wanting to live more sustainably, but that changes if we look at value from a different perspective.
Reframe how you view “cost” and logic dictates how much and how often you are willing to spend follows.
And it’s worth repeating: unsustainable fashion is unusually expensive, but fast fashion is unusually cheap.
Anne-Marie Tomchak is a journalist and entrepreneur. You can follow her on social media @amtomchak
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/when-it-comes-to-fast-fashion-we-know-the-price-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing-41586948.html When it comes to fast fashion, we know the price of everything and the value of nothing