The other day we went to Bristol and, despite a good scour around the charity shops, we did end up at the HUGE Primark store in the city centre. If anything epitomises fast and cheap fashion it is this store. I remember the chain in my student days being known for its naffness yet it has become a great success story. Today it has announced it is going to be opening stores in the US.
Visiting Primark is like being a kid in a sweet shop. Multicoloured, fun designs grab your attention as soon as you walk in and with dresses costing as little as £5 these are very affordable sweeties. It is true that you get what you pay for but as ‘fast fashion’ pervades the High Street what does it matter if these are throw away garments?
I confess to having bought a few cheap items from here, particularly when it comes to clothing my girls. The quality has varied (shorts worn every day last summer are still wearing well, but a onesie bought at Christmas has already had to be resewn on the seam). I also struggle with the cheapness and fastness of it all. How can children’s jeans cost £5 a pair? Does it really take just six weeks to design and produce a new line of clothing, and how long does this last for?
Yet Primark has shown there is a huge demand for its cheap clothing and, as cash-strapped consumers, it’s hard not to feel pleased with the change left in our pockets after a visit to the store. I did buy two pairs of children’s jeans in the store last week (costing a grand total of £10, cheaper than our family lunch at Subway).
Tomorrow (24th April) sees the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1,133 garment workers died in the complex where businesses produced clothing for western companies. Lucy Siegle from the Guardian has written some interesting articles on Rana Plaza and fast fashion here. While Primark has already paid compensation to victims and families other brands have not. The Bristol-based organisation, Labour Behind the Label, has an online petition asking other companies to follow suit. Tomorrow also sees the launch of Fashion Revolution Day encouraging us as consumers to find out who made our clothes, who is involved in the supply chain and what their working conditions are like. Jen from mymakedoandmendyear will be wearing her clothes inside out for the whole day.
I will also be looking at how I can remove myself from the ‘fast fashion’ consumer chain which means I am sucked into buying £5 trousers for my children because I believe it is a bargain. I believe this sort of fashion is unsustainable and a false economy – both for our planet and its resources, certainly for the workers and in the long run for the consumer who has to buy many pairs of £5 jeans to make them last.