Every time I stroll down Oxford Street in London I can't help but noticing the endless stream of people carrying Primark bags.
They are just plain brown bags but for some reason they stand out. They tend to be large, full, and people often carry more than one. Being Primark so wonderfully cheap the shopping comes with no sense of guilt. We feel gratified, confident, even clever. "Look how much I got for 50 pounds", this is the thinking.
Being Italian and being a lover of fashion I am naturally horrified by this attitude and not only because the clothes in question are actually very poor quality, I truly cannot understand how these clothes can be so cheap. The thought of this troubles me. When we started Divesangha I was determined to understand the fashion industry. I researched, read articles, spoken to people who used to work in the industry and what I discovered was that there is a dark side to cheap fashion that truly takes all the fun out of shopping, let alone wearing those cheap clothes.
How is it possible to produce a T-shirt that is on sale at Primark for £2.50 (real price, June 2014), the cost of a cappuccino? Someone will have planted the cotton, harvested it, milled it into yarn, knitted it into jersey fabric, cut it & sown it into a T-shirt, steamed, it folded it, shipped it and arranged it in the shop ready for me to buy. I ask myself, how is that possible?
Then I read all those controversial articles in the press about exploiting factory workers in less developed countries, about building collapsing and killing over a thousand people (Bangladesh, 2013), about the lack of respect for basic human rights and I feel something is definitely not adding up. We might choose to hide our heads in the sand but this is not negative propaganda organised by some jealous competitors, it is real.
Is this our problem as consumers, should we be bothered by this at all? As consumers we make choices and we do know that those choices do count.
We might blame the industry but as consumers we also carry some responsibility.
As we demand lower prices, fashion retailers seek cheaper production and somewhere along that line someone in the world will be exploited. The reality of this is undeniable.
Yes, we've just come out of a very bad recession. In order to save us from “recession depression” we had to learn to enjoy cheap retail therapy. Ironically companies like Primark have indeed made millions whilst we were fighting the recession. We now have wardrobes full of unethically produced cheap clothes whilst they enjoy their cash and grow even larger.
The thing is, even beyond the unethical side of it, in the long run the availability of cheap fashion is going to affect us all. It will kill creativity and style.
Did you notice that high street clothes all look the same? It’s simple, they all copy one another. It's quicker, safer and of course cheaper. They can get production organised super quickly and all of a sudden all the shops sell similar styles. How boring.
On the other hand, far away from the large retailers, there are some great, little new clothing companies selling online. They have creative ideas and talent, but you might never get to know them or even worse you might not be adventurous enough to buy from them. Some of them chose to have their clothes produced ethically. Their prices will be higher and you won't be able to see or try their garments. Still if they were so brave to launch themselves into the fashion business they might very well deserve some trust. And you can always return what you don't like, this is the beauty of shopping online.
I do wonder what's going to happen to all those low quality, badly fitting Primark clothes that now fill our wardrobes. If they are not worth anything will they end up as landfill?
I came across a quote used often by Aldo Gucci that sums it all up:
“The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory".