With Boxing Day comes the annual sales and millions of Britons descend on the shops in hope of securing a "bargain". While these items may seem like a good purchase at the time, we explore the darker side of them and the damage they cause to the lives of those who make them.
On Boxing Day, I watched the news with a certain amount of disgust: a disgust that returns every year on December 26th when the Boxing Day sales are reported. Now, it would be very easy to slip into a diatribe over why our consumerist culture should not be the headline news story when Brexit is going on and there are children being evacuated from Damascus. However, I shall stay away from the controversial subject of the news and instead tackle consumerism itself.
I do not deny loving fashion and buying and receiving items of clothing and accessories. But for me, fashion is an art form; it is there to be marvelled at as we appreciate the beauty in every seam and every sequin. What fashion is not are the mounds of cheap fabrics that are pilled on to tables in shops all over the country every December. It is not the middle-aged woman staggering under the weight of her twenty shopping bags filled with her “bargains.” It is not the twenty-three year old mother who proudly told the interviewer in Southampton that these sales were just the “leftover rubbish from the Black Friday sales” but that she had bought plenty anyway.
Instead of fashion this is the damaging trend of consumerism that has the power to make us hypocrites, to pollute, and indeed, even to kill. When studying Fashion Communication two years ago, a friend and I made a promise to stop buying cheap clothing and to properly investigate where the pieces we dressed our bodies in came from. This decision came after watching a documentary entitled The True Cost. After watching the destruction caused by the fashion industry to the environment and to the lives of the people who create these cheap garments, we felt sick with dismay.
All those cheap cotton t-shirts that were bought on December 26th and those “bargain” shoes another interviewed women bought for £5 are not in fact bargains. They cost the blood, sweat and tears of the worker in some far off country who is not paid a fair wage, who has no insurance, who has never even heard of sick pay. As the tears of these workers wash over the bargain shoes, the dyes used to colour the fabrics wash into rivers, killing wildlife and polluting the water people rely on to drink.
Since making that decision two years ago to avoid cheap clothes of whose origins I knew nothing, I have spent more money on the new pieces I own but I have also bought less. Everything I buy is bought to last; I check the needlework to ensure its durability, I buy timeless styles and I buy colours that will not go out of trend tomorrow. Yes, it is very easy for me to sit behind a computer and to pontificate on other people’s ignorance of such matters or their complete disinterest. Yet, every change the world has ever known began with a small gesture or plea. And so let this be my plea: always think quality over quantity. A beautifully and ethically made pair of leather shoes will last you for many years while the cheap imitation will only last a season and will hurt others in the process. One person’s boycott of these sweatshop-made clothes will make little difference but together we can enact change. Several lone voices soon become a shout and a shout can and will change conditions for these workers in poverty. Next December 26th, or indeed, whenever the next big sale is, don’t be the woman who buys the cheap stuff just because it’s cheap; be the person who cares about others and knows where the fabric they put against their skin comes from.