Could Reality TV Show Strike Blow For Fashion Sustainability?

The issue of fast fashion and its impact on the environment has been a matter of growing concern. Awareness has been raised by a number of environmentalists, not least the infamous Greta Thunberg, who criticised the industry’s lack of sustainability in an interview with Vogue Scandinavia in 2021.

Considering that Greta is one of those polarising figures considered either great or grating - and seldom anything in between - some may have been inspired to seek more sustainably-produced clothing and avoid retailers who promote fast fashion. Others will have simply ignored her.

The extent to which attitudes may or may not be shifting is relevant for those seeking hospitality apparel for their hotel or restaurant staff. Not only could this be seen by an employer as a matter of corporate social responsibility; if they are seen to be doing the right thing, that may attract some staff to come and work for them and engender greater loyalty.

If Greta cannot persuade everyone, then perhaps some in the UK will be influenced by the reality TV programme Love Island. Admittedly, this show is also polarising; people either have their eyes glued to it, or would rather pour glue in their eyes than watch it.

Nonetheless, the show tends to appeal to younger people and this year the producers have deliberately made a point of eschewing fast fashion in favour of clothing contestants - albeit scantily - in second hand clothes. Rather than being sponsored by fashion brands, the show is backed by eBay this year as producers state they want it to be "a more eco-friendly production”.

Of course, this has produced plenty of media comment, although there are some that are deeply sceptical that the move by the show will really do much to shift consumer actions. After all, past winners like Millie Court and Mollie-Mae Hague have gone on to sign promotional deals with fast fashion brands.

However, that fact may simply be a reflection of the past and not the present. Promoting fast fashion might be a tricky thing for the 2022 winner to do.

Whether there will be a connection between Love Island and developing consumer tastes simply remains to be seen, not least because whoever emerges victorious might be well advised to find another way of monetising their triumph. Even so, there may at least be some hope that the programme will influence those who are not so deeply green as to hang on Greta’s every word.

There are certainly some prophets who are willing to claim that fast fashion is now on its way out, at least in the UK. The recent collapse of the Missguided brand has been seen as the canary in the mine as generation Z gradually turns its back on the sector.

It is not just green issues that have come to the fore. Allegations of sweatshop working practices, failures to pay the minimum wage and suppliers not receiving due payments have hit not just Missguided, but also the likes of Boohoo.

Faced with ethical concerns on many levels, fast fashion may be seen as increasingly unacceptable for more reasons than the clothes worn on Love Island. That would provide an important signal for those whose job is to procure uniforms for use in the hospitality sector.

June 15, 2022 — Jacob Blakey