When Gok’s Fashion Fix first started Gok came up with 4 outfits, which each had to cost less than £100; while the designer girls could spend as much as they wanted. I didn’t always like what he came up with, but he was great at showing how outfits can be customised using a bit of imagination.
Three years on, the slogan is still “no matter what your budget is, everyone can afford to look good”. But now Gok can spend up to £400 per outfit. I don’t consider myself to be poor, but I certainly couldn’t afford to spend £400 on an outfit: in fact, I probably don’t even spend £100. I’m quite sure I’m not alone either, judging by the number of people pouring into Primark, Peacocks and the like on a daily basis.
The whole programme really is a dichotomy. Gok says you don’t need to buy lots and creates ‘capsule wardrobes’ for lucky fans, but at the same time it probably does a lot to feed the fast fashion industry too.
We seem to have reached a point in time where the number one pastime is shopping. I’m concentrating mostly on clothes here, but the same is true for electronic goods, houseware, etc. There are loads of magazines around now with fashion sections, and most come out on a monthly basis. Years ago, clothes would stock clothes for seasons. With the popularity of magazines and consumer demand, shops started changing their stock more regularly. Now there are fashion magazines that come out on a weekly basis, so there seems to be even more stock. Rather than changing the stock more regularly, shops seem to be providing more choice.
Ordinarily I would consider more choice to be a good thing, but we also have to consider the waste. Firstly the materials have to be created, whether its cotton grown in fields, leather from cows, or polyester. You could argue that all this work provides jobs in parts of the world where it’s needed, but they also take up valuable land and water, use pesticides and chemicals, and have to be transported. Then when the clothes are being made, some material will be wasted as it’s cut. This is perfectly normal, but obviously as the amount of clothes being produced increases, so does the off-cuts. Next, the shops provide much more than they ever sell. And lastly, people spend so little on the clothes they buy that it doesn’t matter when the fashion changes: they can just throw last season’s clothes out. Very little is built to last.
I own a lot of clothes. Unlike most people, I wear the majority of those clothes on a regular basis. I also buy a lot from charity shops.
I suppose my point is that we need to learn to buy less clothes, and pay a bit more for them. But it’s a global thing: we have celebrities shopping on a regular basis, shown in the paparazzi’s favourite magazines. They appear in new outfits at countless events, and are interviewed about their style, where they tell us they have dressing rooms, 50 pairs of jeans and over 100 pairs of shoes. That’s where cheap highstreet shops come in: allowing the less well off the chance to keep up, albeit in polyester rather than silk or satin.
So if we had to spend a bit more on each item of clothing, we would have to buy less, and therefore would shop less. Then maybe the population would develop some more meaningful pastimes. And then maybe we would all care about more than how we look.
Labour Behind the Label and the Clean Clothes Campaign produce an annual report on the efforts of high street shops to improve conditions for their workers. It’s very easy to understand, and can hold some surprises. For example, New Look and Primark are in the top category, doing work to increase wages; while Debenhams and John Lewis are doing ‘no work to speak of’.