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Essay prize winner Amy Brook shares her thoughts on the shift towards sustainable fashion, and whether this trend is here to stay.
In a summer dominated by extreme heat, extortionate living costs and widespread industrial action, I did what any other self-respecting person with the privilege of doing so would: I watched Love Island instead.
Maybe my obsession with the show borders on problematic, in the extent it filters my thoughts on the world – Molly Mae’s infamous “24 hours” comment earlier this year triggered a conversation on the ethical duties of the “influencer” which lasted for hours. Even if you (quite rightly) find many issues with the show, you can’t deny that Love Island has a strange way of (unintentionally) starting important conversations among the younger generations.
The decision, then, to move away from a partnerships with fast-fashion brand I Saw it First to a deal with eBay seems to reflect a shift in customer attitudes towards sustainable fashion (the platform saw a 700% increase in traffic following the launch). A recent survey showed 75% of those polled were concerned about the sustainability of their wardrobe, with Love Island’s predominantly female audience statistically more likely to have this awareness. Customers are also sceptical towards what they deem as ‘greenwashing’ – indeed, using Twitter again as my trusted source on public opinion, many have critiqued the hypocrisy of fast-fashion heavyweight Pretty Little Thing launching a second-hand marketplace platform.
Despite this awareness of the environmental and social harms associated with fast fashion, consumers experience a sense of ‘dissonance’, by still supporting giants such as Shein – a brand which makes up almost a third of the US clothing market, unveiling around 700-1000 new clothing items per day on its website according to its CEO. It’s a similar psychological phenomenon which explains why some of us find cows and sheep adorable, all the while being very partial to a burger. Fast fashion disconnects the consumer from its ethical impact, its endless array of choices appealing to a need for instant gratification. Even with more sustainably manufactured options, the risk of overconsumption is not completely eradicated.
How do we solve this, then? By using these behavioural insights to create new, sustainable fashions that appeal in ways that fast fashion cannot. Although mass production leads to lower price points, that also results in a sense of ‘disenchantment’ with the mass produced product – how many times have you heard of someone being embarrassed to be wearing the same top/dress/etc as someone else? One solution currently being researched is the possibility for customization, replicating the sense of specialness offered by luxury brands.
I thought about ending this with a quote from Walter Benjamin, suggesting how we should view precious pieces of clothing as evoking a similar reaction to a piece of art, but that would be too disgustingly insufferable even for myself. Instead, I’ll say that truly sustainable fashion needs manufacturers to replicate what makes luxury fashion feel so appealing to the consumer, as well as the scientific approach of creating more environmentally-friendly materials.
Even if the psychology behind buying a new £15 dress for a night out, or passively scrolling through a Love Island star’s sponsored posts, seems trivial, understanding this could lead to future where fashion can be both ethical and – crucially – fashionable.