BE SAFE; BUY LOCAL – ethical garments as the coronavirus lockdown eases
On Monday 15th of June 2020, Primark re-opened its 153 English stores, bouncing back from a lockdown that saw its revenue fall from £650 million a month to nothing overnight. As fast fashion ethics goes, the only thing slow about Primark at the moment is its queues.
Images appeared on social media showing bustling crowds outside Primark nationwide. At the start of the week, eager shoppers waited in line for hours, prompting stores to open early in the morning and close late at night.
The Irish highstreet giant epitomises fast fashion. Sewn-up fabrics at cut-throat prices require sprawling networks of exploitative labour practices. It’s enough to induce the kind of environmental blues which Lucy Gavaghan addresses in her recent blog post.
Garment Manufacture in India and Bangladesh
With industry mainstays like these, environmental and ethical recklessness go hand in hand in hand. Studies show that more than 3 million people work in the garment industry in Bangladesh alone, creating clothes for firms like Primark at wages starting from £25 a month.
Western retailers exploit and perpetuate poverty in the global South. Countries like India become increasingly “reliant on the sweatshop model” according to waronwant.org. During a global pandemic, “sweatshop” environments financially enforce critical health risks. British shoppers can now subject themselves to infection risks in busy shop crowds. But what can the fashion industry and the individual consumer do to be safer? What can we do to be more ethical, and more environmentally conscious? How can we avoid paying to support systems like this?
The Industry Fights Fast Fashion
2019, dubbed “the year of sustainability” in fashion, already boasted a crop of exciting sustainable brands. Ali discussed this at length around London Fashion Week, in a post about Po-Zu’s sustainable fashion creations. Po-Zu have also recently created a line of comfortable and guilt-free face masks.
However, traditional fashion events bring an innate incompatibility with greenness- they require designers, models and fashion faces from around the world to convene in one place. This is also a problem in the face of a global pandemic. The lockdown provides a technological alternative, which Tokyo, Shanghai, and Moscow have already jumped on and cat-walked all over: digital fashion weeks.
According to Edited.com, 2.5 million fashion fans flocked to the Shanghai Fashion Week stream in its first 3 hours broadcasting. Similarly, at the Moscow Fashion week, Mercedes-Benz partnered with TikTok to provide sponsored clips and interviews. The era of digital fashion weeks is here. Already, it’s a success.
Lost Stock finds favour
At the onset of lockdown, a swathe highstreet brands cancelled their orders. This left factories around the world full of surplus stock. Workers were sent home, and unwanted clothes piled up in warehouses. In service and retail industries, manufacturers are burning or binning wasted product. However, in the fashion world, a new app is stepping in to solve the problem. With Lost Stock, you can purchase excess garments cheaply and ethically. At £35 plus £3.99 postage, Lost Stock boxes ship three tops worth a retail price of £70, cutting out the middleman and sending the funds straight to the factories.
The app asks for your size and gender, then send a box of tops, as trousers require exact measurements. From every purchase, around 40% of the price supports Bangladeshi factory workers through a local non-profit organisation. Lost Box’s goal monthly goal of 10,000 boxes helps vulnerable employees and delivers bargains to consumers. It also protects the planet by cutting down on waste.
Slowing Fast Fashion and Coronavirus
This year, health and haute couture don’t have to diverge. Many firms already create ethical masks which are made from fabric to curb the pandemic, and some even donate to charities with every sale.Armed Angels, an American firm manufacturing in Germany, makes stylish masks. They source 100% organic cotton, and they also donate €2 to Medecins Sans Frontieres from every purchase. A whole host of firms like this pop as every week of “new normal” passes by. However, companies such as Armed Angels that ship internationally. This raises another issue: transport emissions.
Independent Fashion Action
If I buy a mask online from the States or Australia, I’m buying air-miles to get the product here, and I’m paying to eject carbon into the atmosphere. In fact, the United Nations Association 4 Sustainable Fashion reveals that the garment industry creates 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions every year. To reduce your fashion footprint, be local, buy local, and buy independent. Get a customised and reusable mask from a friend or find a local designer on Instagram, Etsy, or Depop. You could also even make one yourself. Mask making is simple enough if you have some old clothes or some spare fabric. The same goes for home-making handwash soap. That, however, is a story for another post.
Despite the government’s ever-confusing advice, the WHO and CDC advocate the use of fabric masks to flatten the curve and slow the spread of Covid-19. If you are especially vulnerable or you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, you need a N95 medical mask. In any other case, you can buy or make a funky fabric mask. The closer to you the material originates, the better for the environment. In turn, the fewer people your choices exploit. The fashion revolution starts in your friend’s workshop, or better yet, your living room!Incredibusy Writer Zach Mayford’s Socials: