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Fast Fashion: Five things to think about before you start shopping

How much thought do you give to the clothes you buy? The consequences of fast fashion and the boom in online ordering have been thrown into the spotlight again after recent news of poor working conditions at a UK factory in Leicester. So could now be the time to change our shopping habits for good?

Woman’s Hour spoke to two women who are forces for change in the fashion industry right now; Professor Dilys Williams founded the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, and Aja Barber is a style consultant whose work focuses on sustainability and ethics. Here are five things to think about before filling that online basket or heading to the shops…

Now is the time to take a stand

“Fashion is maybe the best and worst in society,” says Dilys Williams. “[It’s] such an important part of our self expression, it does create fulfilling work for huge numbers of people, but at the same time this exploitation is historical.

“Modern day slavery is prevalent in the fashion industry and there has been a lot of work for a long time to change it. But I think right now, this unprecedented pause means we have an unprecedented opportunity to re-evaluate how we represent ourselves, the things that we stand up for and what is important to us.”

Cheap doesn’t mean good value

“We need to bust the myth that cheap is good value,” says Dilys. “We see the waste as people buy a £3 top, then they buy another and another. We think we're getting a good deal, but actually if we bought less and better we could create ways in which people could be paid properly and we could feel better about what we're wearing.

“The second hand market is incredibly buoyant and is a great way to have fun as well. It's hard because we're all tuned into novelty. We all respond to the imagery in front of us and fashion is fun. It's got to be about enjoyment, but it's about diversifying that enjoyment and also eliminating the stuff that isn't good. There's plenty of great fashion out there.”

Everyone needs to get on board

“We need all parts moving,” says Aja Barber. “We need consumers to start thinking about these things, we need the government to intervene with regulation. It’s a multi-level conversation, I don’t feel like you can put the responsibility on one direction or another.

“I am a plus size person and I know that the conversation about plus size clothing is a nuanced one. We talk about sustainable and ethical fashion, that is definitely the future, but if sustainable ethical designers aren't being inclusive, who gets to participate in buying the ethical and sustainable option? I really rally for the fashion industry to build a future that’s truly inclusive, because until we're really dressing everybody and including everybody then we can't expect to progress forward and bring everybody along.”

Dillys adds: “It's not just about doing ‘new’ things. It’s about enforcing the things that are already legislation. [The government’s] very good at looking at things like the hostile environment, as far as people illegally living in the UK, but they are not doing enough around people who have illegal employment practices. It is right there in front of us.”

We need to hold powerful brands accountable

“The garment workers of the world have been left holding the bag during Covid-19,” says Aja, who champions the work of Remake’s current #PayUp campaign.

“When the pandemic started and the world began going into lockdown, brands were basically going, ‘we're closed, so we're not going to pay for that order.’ And these are multi-billion dollar brands, who are essentially leaving some of the world's poorest workers unpaid. If we already have the vast majority of makers living on starvation wages and you take away the wages, what have you got left? You have starvation... These brands do have power and they end up hurting and harming people.”

Find out the backstory

“Some of the wealthiest people in the world are men who own fashion companies and some of the poorest people in the world are the women making clothes for us,” says Dilys.

“If you look online at campaigns like Fashion Revolution, Labour Behind the Label, it’s not difficult to find out what the story is. It doesn't take long and it is incredibly revealing.”

Aja adds: “Now, in our society we're having a really big shift where people are starting to look at where money flows. Looking at the people that own the big, fast fashion brands and realising that they're billionaires - billionaires from a system that largely exploits a large amount of the makers - and that's something that we need to start holding people accountable for.”

Listen to Dilys Williams and Aja Barber talk to Woman’s Hour on @bbcsounds, or catch up on every episode of Woman’s Hour. Follow us and join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram.