This conspicuous consumption is a huge issue and it's not getting better anytime soon. If anything, innovation in prototyping and digital ordering is leading us further down the slope. The latest idea, launched at this season's fashion shows, is 'see now, buy now'. You don't have to wait for the newest designs to roll out to the shops. If you like what you see on the catwalks, you can order it and get it delivered there and then.
This, of course, puts enormous pressure on already maxed-out fashion factories, who are now expected to deliver just-in-time orders of new designs at an acceptable level of finish. What does this mean for the workers who are at the sharp end of the deal–who have to make the clothes in the first place?
The Fairtrade Foundation recently talked to garment worker and activist Nazma Akter, who has long fought for worker's rights in the harsh environment of Bangladeshi fashion factories. The whole interview is a must-read, but of particular interest are her views on the ever-increasing velocity of fast fashion. She says:
'Consumers have been encouraged, through a culture of “buy one get one free” deals to want ever-cheaper products and to want them now. But nothing in life comes for free. At the moment, women and workers are paying with their blood and sweat so consumers can enjoy cheap fashion. I don’t believe anyone really wants that. We all need to be able to eat well, have a decent life with access to education and healthcare. Let’s slow fashion down, and transform the industry to change people’s lives for the better.'
Sadly, many people simply can't see past the allure of instant gratification. Emma Watson, who has become something of a spokesperson for sustainability, recently launched a range of capsule clothing. That range was available on launch, and the publicity she gained from a big wave of press coverage ensured a quick sellout. This is exactly the problem that workers like Nazma have with western fashion, and it's certain Watson's suppliers would have been under intense pressure to deliver on time and budget. This is hardly a good example for a public figure who claims to care about worker's rights.
Our View: Nazma is a figure whose bravery and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds should be celebrated. She's absolutely right about how our greed for more stuff, right now, has cheapened and marginalised the people who work so hard to deliver the clothes we covet so badly, and need so little. Emma Watson, sadly, is sending the wrong message to her legions of fans. The last thing we need is another collection of celebrity-endorsed clothing that we can buy without thinking about it.