"It's not easy being green," Kermit the frog was wont to sing – but many a chancing merchant seeking to flog cheap clothes to sensitive-skinned snowflakes would disagree. For years commerce has appealed to peoples' desire to feel "special", without having to bother to actually achieve anything (which might take a bit of time and effort), by kidding them that the money being prised from their hot little hand isn't just a basic transaction but a celebration of the buyer's singularity. (The trend for personalisation of products, whereby you can stare at your own face on a mug in the morning and fall asleep on a pillow printed with it at night has long amused me).
Prada was among the brands found to be using cheap labour in Eastern Europe by the Clean Clothes Campaign in 2014.Credit:First View/Cover Images
However, now you can go further than mere specialness when out on a tragic bit of retail therapy (rather than do something which might really boost your self-esteem). With the advent of climate-panic and the understandable desire not to be strung up by Greta Thunberg and her barmy army, every bargain basement has refurbished itself in shades of green; you can buy righteousness and kid yourself that, as you shell out for yet one more pointless thing to plug the void, you're actually saving the planet.
The impact on the environment of the fashion industry – which depends on and defines itself by the buying of new garments with each new season – is calamitous; knowing this, and not wanting to lose Generation Woke, it has attempted to cover its back with a lot of flim-flam about "sustainability".
Model Amber Valletta
The model Amber Valletta was recently feted for attending the Copenhagen Fashion Summit (an annual event on sustainability in fashion) and is a mentor to the Council of Fashion Designers of America's "sustainable fashion initiative", while the designer Paper "supports the fight against ocean plastic pollution with sustainable swimwear". Recently even Boohoo, the online store where you can buy a dress for $10, tried to boast its environmental credentials with a range of clothes made from recycled material, following similar initiatives from Zara, H&M and Asos. Sadly the company was accused of "greenwash" even though it had announced that its For The Future range was made using recycled polyester which had been "directed away from landfill"; apparently, though the clothing may be made from 95 per cent recycled material, the remaining 5 per cent of elastin means that the items themselves cannot in turn be recycled.
Just as no one wants penguins to mistake six-pack rings for attractive neckwear, no one wants toddlers in the developing world to fritter their youth away in sweatshops. Being sceptical about matters green doesn't make one evil. But I'm not convinced by the "buy less, buy better" creed; a few years back the Clean Clothes Campaign report fingered Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, among others, for using cheap labour in Eastern Europe, often paying one-third of the minimum living wage. The companies in question said wages were negotiated by suppliers, but it's a little off when a Moldovan worker is being paid the same to sew for Primark or Prada.
Surprised? I'm not. Fashion, more than any other business, depends on built-in obsolescence and the casting off of perfectly wearable clothes at regular intervals – how can it ever be sustainable?
Fashion by its very nature is only true to itself when it works completely outside the moral framework of society. That's why it's weird to complain about models being young, thin or white – you want an even larger demographic of women to be objectified, do you? To expect fashion to be moral is as silly as expecting the stock market to be moral – it's the nature of the beast.
I would say this as a charity-shop worker, but there is only one way not to add to the planet's misery in this arena and that is – with the exception of shoes and underwear – just don't buy new clothes. There's a reason even online clothes-retailers are suffering, while one in eight shops now stands empty; people have seen that "retail therapy" solves nothing but creates more problems, from personal debt to ceaseless landfill fodder. All new clothes are the Emperor's New Clothes now – and the only green that fashion will ever really care about is the colour of money.
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