By Bella Wigley
Fast fashion has been widely criticised in recent years due to its lack of sustainability and unethical production processes, both socially and environmentally. And while you might be familiar with the guilt of shopping at Primark, these criticisms are often not extended to the higher end of the industry. But luxury brands shouldn’t be let off so easily. There has been media attention on luxury clothing brands lately, condemning them for the practice of burning or dumping unsold clothing at the end of the season. In a world that is becoming increasingly aware of environmental impact, these methods to ensure brand exclusivity seem outdated and, frankly, unacceptable. Yet, despite the media’s spotlighting of this damaging practice, it is far from outlawed.
One of the most notable companies to come under fire is Burberry, after it was revealed that they were responsible for burning over £28 million of excess clothing, accessories and perfume in 2017. This was in an effort to curb brand dilution. Since then, Burberry have made considerable effort to be more green; recycling and donating clothes and fabric where possible. This includes a scheme where unsold clothing is donated to unemployed women as a way to help them prepare for job interviews and the world of work.
Ultimately, this much needed change stemmed from the fact that people outside the industry were aware that these actions were taking place. Along with the access to facts, media attention, eco-campaigners and consequent customer awareness lead to the criticism which was a catalyst for Burberry’s more ethical business model. However, while this progress appears promising, there is a disheartening amount of brands that aren't following suit, and the practice of burning products is still commonplace. Just how commonplace remains a mystery, and it is this culture of secrets which lies at the heart of the fashion industry’s problem.
In 2019, Fashion Revolution’s transparency index revealed just how little the majority of well known labels know or are willing to share about their garment making process – on average brands scored a mere 21% for transparency on a points based system. Fashion Revolution try to hold these labels to account by asking how, where and who made our clothes - honesty about the garment process doesn’t just refer to the end of the line, the waste and impact on environment. There is a social responsibility too, across the whole production line. The events of 2013 highlighted this, when over a thousand garment factory workers were killed while working in unsafe conditions as a result of the Rana Plaza building collapse. When events like these happen, so awful and monumental, it should spark change. And yet, seven years later, the financial impact of the coronavirus on Bangladeshi workers, leaving over one million without jobs, shows that this problem of social negligence is still prevalent and happening today.
Though most of the labels associated with Bangladeshi sweat shops are high street, these incidents raise questions for the fashion industry across the whole spectrum, from fast fashion to luxury. Where are our clothes being made? Are the working conditions acceptable? How much waste is produced? These queries too often go unanswered. But, it is important that we don’t stop asking.
As consumers, we should be demanding that our favourite brands publish and make accessible information about their garment making process, from raw materials suppliers to processing facilities to what they do with their waste. This doesn’t necessarily ensure ethical production, but it is the first step in the right direction and allows for issues to be picked up and challenged. Without transparency, there is no room for change. It is inexcusable that there is still such a lack of clarity for consumers within the fashion industry. Both socially and environmentally it is high time that the fashion industry take some responsibility, and we can too - by asking them for it.