As Fashion Revolution week forges ahead in full force, artist and fashion stalwart Kelly Thompson explains why influencers have a moral responsibility to make better choices.


Garment factory workers in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; Image courtesy of AP images

Have you noticed how many influencers have been showcasing H&M and Zara on their Instagram feeds lately? As Fashion Revolution asks us this week #whomademyclothes, is it still acceptable for influencers to turn a blind eye to what goes into fast fashion and continue promoting it?

As brands and companies struggle with the realities of forced closures and plead for customer loyalty, there is a played-down desperation that defies their branded personas, yet, many local influencers turn away posting pics in fast fashion that arrived by post from overseas. 

Shopping local is no longer a trending concept, but a necessity to aid the failing economy and save small business. The delivery of a Zara or H&M package, just weeks after spokespeople such as Emily Miller-Sharma, from Ruby, spoke about the importance of supporting local is, quite simply, a kick in the face from those who, in theory, are leading tastemakers.

You would hope that with the praised profile of being a recognised influencer that said influencer would use the opportunity to put that influence to work positively, particularly in times like these. All too regularly our influencers are seen touting their latest fast fashion items, luxuriously lounging in full defiance of the rather unsavoury journey from factory to the curated wardrobe. The problem is that those with influence often lack integrity and awareness, one day wearing ethically produced brand Maggie Marilyn in full knowledge and support of her values and the next, très chic in the latest Zara. They don’t seem to care enough that to support fast fashion is in direct friction with yesterday’s favourite local designer. 

As we watch the “I LOVE that, where is that from?” comments roll in on a fast fashion post and engagement soars, a fellow influencer writes “soooo good” in full support, but is it really good? Let’s take a closer look so you can decide. 

In 2018, labour rights organisation, Clean Clothes Campaign, released a report analysing the wage rates and working standards of 62 workers from various H&M factories. The report found that none came close to earning a basic living wage, working overtime hours exceeding legal limits without paid overtime. Workers endured sexual harassment lacked adequate healthcare with reports of women getting sacked after fainting at work. 

During the Covid-19 outbreak, many fast fashion brands who pay their suppliers weeks after delivery cancelled order as stores closed.

April Tashjian writes for GQ magazine April 2020 “Earlier this week, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), which represents factory owners, reported that US$2.81 billion worth of work orders made to 1,025 factories, had been cancelled… A survey of factory owners by Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights released last week stated that the cancelled orders — which many Western companies are refusing to pay for — have left millions of workers, many of whom are women from rural areas, without wages owed or severance. Nearly all Western buyers have refused to contribute to worker wages, the survey found. “Our situation is apocalyptic,” Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, told The New York Times.

Good 0: Not Good: 2

In 2012, according to the The New York Times, Inditex, founded by Amancio Ortega Gaona (the world’s third-richest man at the time) and founder of Zara, generated approximately 840 million garments each year. In 2016, an investigation by the BBC discovered refugee children working in factories ‘distressing’ jeans for Zara, despite the company claiming they had “highly effective way of monitoring and improving conditions”. In 2017, workers from Turkish factories left tags inside garments that read “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.” While this lack of payment was credited to the manufacturer going under, it does throw into question exactly how thoroughly Zara’s “highly effective monitoring” really is.

Good 0: Not good: 4

Taking a look at environmental factors, H&M alone generates in excess of 400,000 garments per day and, in 2018, had more than $US4.3 billion worth of deadstock in storage. While they have made efforts with their Conscious Collection, now claiming 97 per cent recycled or sustainably sourced cotton, their efforts fail to address just how much stock they’re generating. With up to 16 collections per year and weekly stock refreshments, they are vague about what happens to the 29,005 tonnes of garments (2019 figures) they collected through their recycling scheme. Meanwhile, Inditex, Zara’s parent company, manufactures more than 840 million pieces per year, dropping an alarming 24 collections. New 2025 goals include having recycling bins in all stores, educating staff on circularity and a commitment to ‘Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals’ for its supply chain. They also note not using fibers from endangered forests, aiming for 100 per cent sustainable cellulosic fibres in viscose and, by 2025, using 100 per cent sustainable cotton and linen along with recycled polyester. While these are great goals, in no part did they address the sheer volume of product they manufacture, their fast fashion model or pay much attention to those making their product. Eco-friendly is great in theory but producing more and more still comes at an immense cost to the environment. Let’s also rewind to that “not using fibers from endangered forests” line, how good does that cheap tee feel at the expense of an endangered forest?

Good: 1 (point for effort) Not Good: 6

The list goes on and, while we know these brands are not the only offenders, we know they are offenders. Perhaps it’s time for us to start saying no to fast fashion until they deliver on their promises. It is understandable that an influencer may receive more than NZ$1,000 to promote a product and we all need money, yes, but in an industry with evident and documented shortcomings, promoting these brands is an irresponsible act. While this problem is world wide, we are grateful that influencers are now having their decisions challenged. Our fashion community is small and hurting, we are in this together, give your support and use your influence for those who aren’t jerks. Share the news with those who support your journey and use your profile well, not wastefully. 

…and in response to that age-old “we need fast fashion because a t-shirt shouldn’t cost NZ$100” argument, here are a few white tees under $70.

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