The dark side of fashion

I found myself in a heated discussion with my house-mate when she opened the door to a postman delivering a large parcel from Urban Outfitters with my name on, for the second time this week. She proceeded to tell me off, in a rather patronising tone, about the detrimental impacts my fast-fashion habits are having on the environment. Her passionate reaction inspired me to think about the effect this attitude is having on fashion brands in 2020.

This is something that has crossed my mind before when I watched “Fashion’s Dirty Secrets” in 2018, a documentary by my idol journalist Stacey Dooley, where she reveals the shocking environmental impact caused by fast-fashion. I remember being absolutely gobsmacked as she revealed how the once Aral sea, now dry desert land, has been completely ruined by the garment industry. Should we be concerned for our own parks and greenery?

Did you know that according to a 2019 study conducted by Oxfam, new clothes bought in the UK produce more carbon emissions per minute than driving a car around the world six times.

I took to Twitter to see what others were saying about this issue by searching #fastfashion. An array of angry tweets popped up on my laptop screen and I was shocked to see the sheer amount of discussion being created around the fast-fashion impacts on the environment. Surprisingly, about 90% of tweets with this hashtag were relating to the negative impacts on the environment, rather than celebrating the new season of clothes we have just entered, which I expected to see.

With more bloggers and social media users coming together to raise awareness of this issue, it left me thinking, is there a future for the favourite fast-fashion brands that we all know and love.

Having always been interested in the public relations behind fashion, I was keen to find out what PR teams are doing to combat this issue and maintain a good rep for the brands we love. I interviewed PR intern Ruby Mortimer, from Urban Outfitters London, to tell me whether she thinks there has been an increased pressure to promote an eco-friendly face of Urban Outfitters and how the PR team are doing their best to tackle this issue and maintain a good reputation.

“There has definitely been an increase of talk about how sustainable fashion is and how damaging fast fashion is, due to people becoming increasingly worried about the current ecological crisis. Groups like Extinction Rebellion I would say have definitely acted as a catalyst in reinstating how important it is for us to take immediate action to make changes to the way we purchase and what types of brands we purchase from. I think there’s a lot more information about how bad the fashion industry is now, which has helped discussions to start. Things like social media, documentaries and news articles have increased the negative discussions being made and have definitely became a threat to fast-fashion brands, so we have had to modify our marketing and PR stance.”

“Unlike other fast-fashion brands, Urban Outfitters have a heritage of being based on vintage clothes, so when the stores first opened in the US it originally supplied vintage clothes and remade clothing, so sustainability has always been a key part of UO. We have the ‘urban renewal’ range where all clothing from that line is made using old fabrics, some of the clothing is one of a kind too. This is something that UO is very proud of and we use this in our marketing and PR work. I know the Urban Outfitters are constantly trying to expand this range and supply a lot more vintage products instead of constantly creating new garments which is good and definitely gives us an advantage, over less sustainable brands, of maintaining a good reputation.”

I asked, with a fearful tone, what she thinks this means for the future of UO and how her public relations team are battling this new threat.

“I think that the main thing for urban is to make sure they are transparent and the way they communicate with their customers is clear and concise, and by doing so they can keep customers happy and they can know they can purchase from urban and not feel guilty in terms of the carbon footprint of that item of clothing. I think overall in PR it is really hard for all fashion brands, because all brands are scared of being accused of green-washing. Like I mentioned before, UO are definitely at an advantage because of their vintage heritage, and this is something the public relations team uses as a foundation for most marketing and advertising strategies to maintain a sustainable, eco-friendly reputation.”

Like Urban Outfitters ‘urban renewal’ brand, many other fashion brands are choosing to use vintage clothes as a way of keeping up with the pressure from worried eco-friendly fashionistas and I have seen a change in advertising stance, to focus more on vintage and sustainable clothing.

Since becoming more aware of how my actions are affecting the planet, I have made a conscious effort to change my fashion habits when possible. I now try to buy most of my clothes from vintage or charity stores so that the clothes that have been made years earlier are being recycled. However, breaking habits I have had since I was young enough to spell online shopping is difficult, and I sometimes find the generous Topshop and Zara sales just too tempting.  

Being someone who recycles, has cut down on plastic and meat intake, my fast-fashion habits are something that I am just not willing to say goodbye to, however cutting down when necessary is a step in the right direction. If we all try to limit our fast-fashion habits and #govintage where possible, we might all be able to make a difference to the planet and save our leafy parks.

Woodhouse Moor, Leeds

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