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By Flora Hardy and Ellie Tudor, Senior Account Managers

Fast fashion is a moral dilemma. We all know we should be buying fewer and buying better but it turns out the perfect ‘capsule wardrobe’ most of us aspire to is pretty unattainable amidst a cost-of-living crisis. There is also the question of ethics; this is not going away any time soon, and rightly so. A recent article published in the Financial Times drew attention to huge protests taking place in Bangladesh over wages and factory closures and highlighted how big, western fashion brands are not paying fair prices.

So as the idea of Carrie’s walk-in lives on in our dreams, Flora and Ellie take a look at which fashion brands are getting it right and which are coming up short, when it comes to sustainability in the current climate.

So, what’s Flora’s take on Barbie?

As we emerge from the pink haze Barbie left in her viral wake, it’s hard to think of a fashion brand that hasn’t jumped on the #Barbie bandwagon, or rather hot pink convertible.

Among the millions of TikTok videos breaking the internet however, it was hard to overlook this image that circulated LinkedIn; a waste truck removing the remnants of Zara’s Barbie pop-up on Oxford St.

Despite the fashion industry’s growing sustainability agenda, surprisingly little has been said about Barbie’s encouragement of disposable fashion, or the mass waste created from the brand pop-ups and activations that ensue.

Barbie merchandise, from hundreds of labels who regularly congratulate their own sustainable ambition, is already being flogged on second hand fashion sites like Vinted and Depop. Some listings may be from those looking to profit from the hype, but a lot of them have clearly been worn once for that shot next to the billboard. While it’s great to see clothes being recycled, will we really be wearing Barbie rhinestone bikinis in years to come? (Or even now?!)

One brand cutting through the hysteria and staying true to their sustainable credentials is online thrift shop ThredUp. The American brand teamed up with Oscar winning Barbie costume designer Jacqueline Durran, to launch a collection of second-hand Barbie inspired outfits.

Jacqueline curated the collection of 250 pieces, and an AI-powered tool will restock the collection with similar pieces as fans scoop up the looks. The partnership is part of their strategy to use cultural moments to introduce more people to the practices of slow fashion. In 2021, the brand successfully collaborated with costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago to source designer pieces for Sex and the City reboot; And Just Like That.

ThredUp has used a mainstream trend to create a thoughtful campaign, and a genuinely exclusive product, that has effectively driven brand awareness (well across the pond!) and increased consumer engagement. There is much to be learnt from ThredUp on successful trend-jacking and learning how to join the conversation only when its authentic and relevant to the brand.

And at the other end of the spectrum, Ellie looks at Shein.

With its rapid growth and massive popularity amongst Gen Z, combined with its influencer marketing efforts, Shein has become a driving force in the fast-fashion industry. Earlier in the year, TIME reported that the company had made $100 billion in sales in 2022, up from $10 billion in 2020.

However, Shein, like many other fast fashion brands, regularly faces backlash from consumers.

Its business model, which is centred around producing low-cost, trend-driven clothing, is often called out for contributing to overconsumption and waste within the fashion industry.

Earlier in the year, the brand hit the news for all the wrong reasons, when it invited a number of influencers to tour one of its factories in Guangzhou, China.

The trip did not go down well with media, with the likes of Forbes and The Sun covering the backlash the brand and influencers received. Dexerto even coined the visit ‘tone deaf’.

With my PR hat on, this campaign made me ask the question: how was this backlash not anticipated? If anything, pre-empting backlash is just as important, if not more so, than dealing with the crisis itself. How was this overlooked? Just to add real insult to injury, following the trip and the criticism received, influencer Dani, has now withdrawn her support for Shein and announced she “terminated” her relationship with the company.

As a consumer, it made me question influencer ethics. When I see someone promoting a brand, I expect authenticity, not just a pay check-driven endorsement. And this campaign seemed to fall short of delivering that genuine connection.

Additionally, as consumers, why do we feel the need to constantly keep up with ever changing trends? And why are we so easily influenced by creators that ‘tell’ us to buy certain items of clothing? Well, the psychology of influence is a real thing and as much as this can work in favour of brands, it can also work against them.

This PR trip serves as a valuable lesson for other brands, and highlights the importance of authenticity. Plus, if it prompts others to reevaluate their own ethics regarding fast fashion, surely this can only lead to positive change?

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