Deal or no deal?: Black Friday and the perils of consumerism
With awareness about the true costs of fast fashion growing, Ella Buckley examines the environmental and humanitarian impacts of our cultural obsession with getting the best deal.
This Black Friday, online fast fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing announced that ‘Free is the Magic Number’ as they had offers of up to 100%. That’s right, absolutely free. The online brand, owned by Boohoo, were ‘selling’ one free item with each order. Other items on their website cost mere pennies, one UK teenager purchasing over £1,000 worth of clothing for just £15. Originally an American tradition, Black Friday has clearly made itself well at home in the UK, with brands competing to put on the best deals and people showing off their hauls on social media as much a part of the holiday season as frosty weather and mulled wine. But what is the true cost of items so cheap, £1.99 shipping is more expensive than the clothing purchased?
In recent years, the traditional furore and excitement around Black Friday deals has been dampened by increasing scepticism of this sort of rampant consumerism and the ethical implications of fast fashion. Online shopping with retails such as Pretty Little Thing bombarding you with insane offers makes it increasingly more difficult to not place more items in your basket due to the sheer amount of money you save. However, in order to get one of their free items, you have to buy something else, which only adds fuel to the flame of mindless consumption. For the company, it’s a tactical money making scheme as they encourage unnecessary purchases whilst being able to shift old stock at a discount. Their pockets get fuller, whilst you feel as if you’ve burnt a smaller hole in yours. But this is not without a much larger price in regards to the exploitation of workers and the destruction of our environment.
The minimal cost of these items means they are treated as if they are worthless
Though they give 100% for their consumers, Pretty Little Thing gives the exact opposite to their workers. Boohoo (the parent brand) were found to pay their workers only £3.50 an hour, which is significantly below the minimum wage. This results in workers having to work long hours, with reports of workers doing up to and over 50 hours with no benefits such as overtime or sick pay. Pretty Little Thing has no transparency as to the working conditions or the pay of their workers, and their hesitation to reveal this information shows the little regard they have for their employees who make the clothes we wear.
This disregard is reflected in our treatment of the cheap items of clothing that we purchase. The minimal cost of these items means they are treated as if they are worthless by some, as disposable as single use coffee cups or plastic bags and just as damaging to the environment. Our throwaway culture now sees more items being worn less frequently due to their poor quality, which are then either donated to charity shops or recycled. Unfortunately, charity shops and clothes recycling centres are not the solution: the majority of donated items will end up in landfill for the next hundreds of years, well past our lifetime. Many pieces of clothing are then exported to other countries, making our consumption problem the pollutants of others.
So what is the solution to end this vicious cycle of worker exploitation and our devaluing of items in our wardrobes due to excessive purchasing? Firstly, we need to re-establish the value of items of clothing that we want to look after and wear for longer. This comes down to buying better quality clothes and breaking our relationship with the fast fashion industry. Whilst we still need affordable options for clothing, these should not be at the cost of workers who are paid a pittance and receive little to no care from the large corporate companies that they have to work for.
There needs to be a significant re-evaluation in how we shop and where we shop
Instead of having a large wardrobe, buy less, but buy better. Be more conscious about where you spend your money and what you spend it on. Instead of mindless purchases of cheap tat that we only wear once or twice, invest in pieces that are made well and will last the test of time. Having one good quality item is much better than having multiple poorly made pieces. Likewise, instead of throwing these items away after a break or tear, learning the basics of sewing and mending will further prolong the life of your well-loved items.
Another option is buying second-hand. If you love deals, buying clothing from another person’s wardrobe is a lot cheaper and better for the environment. Charity shops and online second-hand markets such as Facebook Marketplace, Depop and Ebay allow you to spend money on items you want without the impact of new purchases. This is also a solution if selling your own items to ensure they are sent to a new home to be reworn.
Ultimately, there needs to be a significant re-evaluation in how we shop and where we shop. There is no such thing as a free item, as much as we may think we are receiving an excellent deal. In reality, we are only contributing further to the polluting of our planet and the mistreatment of employees. So, before you are next enticed by an astronomical offer, think about who is really paying the price for your reduced costs.