You can’t call yourself anti-racist if you’re still buying fast fashion

The industry is built on exploitation

We all know online shopping is bad for the environment, and we probably shouldn’t be doing it during lockdown, but lots of us are still doing it anyway. I hate to break it to you, but you just really can’t call yourself anti-racist if you’re still spending your entire student loan on £6 dresses, and getting boob tubes in every colour under the sun.

How many times have you been scrolling through clothing websites and seen a T-shirt with an “I’m a feminist” slogan on it? That top could have been made by a woman of colour who has been trafficked, sexually abused and forced to work in horrendous conditions.

Look, this argument isn’t a new one: We all know how clothes are made, but many of us just choose to ignore it. Many fashion brands are also guilty of cultural appropriation and blackfishing, which some people consider as modern day blackface as it capitalises off the “exotic” looks of historically oppressed minorities.

Here are all the reasons why you can’t call yourself anti-racist if you’re still supporting the fast fashion industry:

Fast fashion relies on discrimination and racial oppression

Fast fashion has made some of the richest people in the world, but the workers making your clothes are exploited and have nowhere near the same privileges that you do. According to Fashion Revolution, only two per cent of fashion workers around the world are paid a “liveable wage“. An Oxfam report found a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands will earn in four days what a Bangladeshi garment worker will in her whole lifetime.

One in six of the world’s workers are employed by the fashion industry, many in countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines and work in horrible conditions. One in four Bangladeshi garment workers report some form of abuse at work; there isn’t enough sanitation; women are denied maternity leave or forced to go on the pill. In the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, a clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed after workers had expressed concern over it being hazardous, leaving 1,100 people dead and 2,500 injured.

Fashion Revolution say the fashion industry is one of the biggest drivers of modern slavery in the world. This includes forced labour, human trafficking, and child slavery. A 2016 study found 77 per cent of UK retailers believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery in their supply chain.

This is happening in the UK too. A 2018 investigation by the Financial Times found clothing factory workers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 per hour, with £5 seen as the “top wage”. Many of these are migrant workers from Asia and eastern Europe. The FT says at least half of Boohoo and Missguided’s clothes are made in the UK, often in Leicester, although the companies purchase stock from the factories rather than owning them directly.

Missguided joined the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, unions and NGOs that promotes workers rights. Other ETI members include ASOS, New Look and Primark. Boohoo is not a member of the ETI but told the FT its ethical trade policy was “based on the ETI base code”.

Boohoo told The Tab: “Since the report was issued two years ago, we have worked tirelessly to improve our auditing and compliance systems.” They use specialists to make sure all suppliers comply with their “strict code of conduct”, and will terminate contracts with suppliers found to be going against this. They said: “We will not work with anyone who cannot provide evidence of compliance with national minimum wage requirements.”

Missguided were contacted for comment. Their website has an modern slavery statement, which says: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to modern slavery and this is unacceptable in any form within our business and supply chain. To combat this is an important part of our approach to business and human rights.” They are continuing to map workers and suppliers throughout their supply chain.

Fashion brands profit from black culture

Forbes says fashion brands are “treading the line between appreciation and appropriation”, profiting from black culture such as in streetwear, braided hairstyles and beauty ideals. Fashion influencers and celebrities like Ariana Grande and have been accused of “blackfishing”, and it seems like the Kardashians can’t even go a few months without having another tone-deaf scandal.

Last week, global brands were called out for their messages about Black Lives Matter, and many haven’t given any public support to the movement. PrettyLittleThing posted an illustration, featuring a black hand and a white hand holding each other – but the black hand was jet black, including the fingernails. The post was removed after people posted about it online, and PLT tweeted their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In The Style announced a charity T-shirt, with proceeds going to the George Floyd Memorial Fund. People were quick to point out the company hardly ever uses black models on their site and social media pages. In The Style issued an apology, removed the T-shirt and said how they had already raised £10,000 from the original T-Shirt sales and will be doubling that donation to the George Floyd Foundation.

But they are also often racist in their marketing

Many brands rarely use black models on their websites and social media pages, or even feature white models accused of blackfishing.

Last year, Oh Polly created an Instagram page called “Oh Polly Inclusive”, which people quickly noticed featured women of colour and plus-sized women, compared to their main Insta feed which people accused of featuring “blackfish girls”. The fact Oh Polly had to make a separate page in order to share the photos of dark-skinned or plus-sized girls implied by its existence these girls somehow didn’t belong on the brand’s main feed.

People also pointed out the bio said “zero per cent tolerence”, which literally means they are intolerant and presumably was not what the brand meant.

Oh Polly replied to an Instagram comment that criticised this, saying: “This is about celebrating a wider range of people that are not necessarily professional models or popular influencers”. They later apologised, said it was a “a serious error of judgement” and took the page down.

How can I do better?

Good On You have loads of information, and an app that rates fashion brands by how ethical they are – apparently even Emma Watson uses it! Fashion Revolution also have lots of resources where you can learn more, as well as email templates you can send to brands. Fair Wear have over 140 member brands who are committed to making clothes fairly and ethically.

If you don’t want to buy new clothes, Depop is a great place for second-hand clothes – apparently it’s had a 90 per cent increase in traffic since April and the start of lockdown.

Here is a list of black-owned fashion brands you can buy from, and here is a list of BAME fashion influencers you can follow on Instagram.

How to donate and support the Black Lives Matter movement:

Sign the Justice for George Floyd petition here.

To donate to the official George Floyd Memorial Fund to support his family with funeral costs click here.

To sign the Black Lives Matter “Defund the Police” petition sign here.

To donate to the Bail Out Project click here.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

If you’re still buying clothes online during lockdown you need to sort yourself out

These brands are getting called out for their messages about Black Lives Matter

I was sent home from work because of my afro. The UK is definitely still racist