There appear to be two conflicting trends in successful fashion retailing at the moment and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Ultra cheap ranges from Asda and Primark are flying off the shelves but at the same time organic, eco-friendly products have seen a big surge in popularity. Can both sectors of the fashion industry continue to prosper or are they ultimately mutually exclusive?
Whilst the economic downturn has driven many people into the arms of the budget retailers, increasing awareness of environmental issues has led many consumers to make ethical choices about the clothes they wear. Many brands wear their organic credentials as a badge of honour and it is gaining them a good client base amongst those who can afford to be choosy. The problem is that many people believe they do not have the choice but I am beginning to wonder if there really is a choice at all.
Non-organic textile production is extremely damaging to both people and the environment. The toxic chemicals in pesticides and dyes pollute the environment and are detrimental to the health of the workers. Many modern industrial processes use huge volumes of water too and then there is the issue of low paid workers in the factories producing the garments. At the end of the day if the world carries on like this we are going to have serious problems in the near future even producing crops with the soils degraded and the lack of water. We are surely also on the verge of a massive health scandal with many textile workers already suffering from respiratory problems and cancer as a result of working with the chemicals used to dye and sandblast our garments.
Driven by Obsession
The harmful production methods are driven by the thirst for cheap fashion in the developed world and our obsession with being trendy. The fashion industry ensures that new styles and colours are must have items every few months and perhaps it is time for us all to change our habits. We need to view clothing purchases as investments not things to be worn a couple of times and then discarded.
Does it really matter if something is last year’s style? If we are going to right the wrongs, those on a limited budget should spend their money on a few wisely chosen pieces rather than a basket full of cheap rubbish that they will end up throwing away. I am one of those people and I have long ago ceased worrying about wearing the latest in thing mainly because it will be out again before I could ever get my money’s worth out of it. Everyone can afford ethical clothing if they simply accept that they can’t buy so much of it.
The surge in demand for eco-friendly fashion does at least show that some people have woken up and decided to make a stand by supporting ethical production. Many brands are now not just using organic textiles they are using the fact to promote their products. Some, like Seasalt in Cornwall, started the practice years ago and have had great success with their organic cotton stripey tops and t shirts. Now we are seeing a succession of Scandinavian brands like Katvig, Nudie Jeans and Righteous Fashion doing the same thing and demonstrating that you don’t have to sacrifice style to be ethical.
The Real Cost
Some people will always look for the cheapest deals not understanding that in terms of quality, longevity and ethics they are paying a very high price indeed. I guess for the time being cheap fashion will still dominate the high street but things are changing fast and fashion could be in a very different place in the not too distant future.
Sally Stacey is a professional writer who also owns a bridal shop and was on the board of a London based distribution company for 16 years. A frequent traveller for both leisure and business, Sally is always looking for a new adventure to write about.