It’s time to confess - I’ve got some skeletons in my closet. I buy dresses, trousers, t-shirts and sweaters that have been made in factories with terrible working conditions. It’s unethical, irresponsible, and I’m not proud of it. But like many in the UK, I can’t afford to do otherwise.
Ethical clothing isn’t a financially viable option for me. But why shouldn't it be?
It's hard not be be moved by the news today that a “cry for help” label has been found stitched into a Primark dress, which reads "'forced to work exhausting hours". The woman who bought it said she dreaded to think “that my summer top may be made by some exhausted person toiling away for hours in some sweatshop abroad.” And, of course, I agree.
I shop at low-price high street chains, like Primark, so when I read about the story I immediately felt ashamed. But any guilt was quickly replaced with indignation.
I’m not an evil person. I do not relish the thought of men and women being forced to endure hideous and life-threatening conditions to make the clothes I wear. I was shocked and outraged by the collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh last year, which at the time supplied two low-price UK retailers, among other brands.
But calling for an outright ban like Katharine Hamnett, the fashion designer famous for staging a protest against nuclear weapons in Downing Street, ignores an inconvenient truth.
Hamnett thinks that by refusing to buy cheap clothes, we can change the way the industry works. Rather than being something extra we pay for, it should be a standard feature of all our attire.
However, most people cannot afford to pay for Hamnett’s alternative - a £35 t-shirt. One carries the slogan “No More Fashion Victims”, but with fuel and housing costs soaring in the UK, we can't all get behind such a sentiment.
What's more, in the past year over a million people have had to use food banks. When it’s a choice between being able to put food on the table and ethical clothing, can you blame someone for choosing dinner?
The Most Controversial Fashion Adverts
The Most Controversial Fashion Adverts
1/9 YSL, 2000
The infamous Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume advert featuring a naked Sophie Dahl was removed from billboards as it was deemed "sexually suggestive and unsuitable to be seen by children", although was allowed to run in certain fashion magazines. It is the eighth most complained about advert, receiving 948 complaints.
2/9 Agent Provocateur, 2001
The lingerie ad saw Kylie Minogue writhe on a rodeo bull and was only permitted to be shown in cinemas. The campaign was banned from all UK television channels, except BBC1.
3/9 Wonderbra, 1994
Eva Herzigova's Wonderbra campaign was thought to have caused car accidents, such was its provocative appeal.
4/9 Dolce & Gabbana, 2007
The label's 2007 advert was banned in Spain after it was thought to "glorify rape". Designer Stefano Gabbana stated that the image was intended to show “an erotic dream, a sexual game”.
5/9 Miu Miu, 2011
Miu Miu's campaign starring Hailee Steinfeld, sitting crying on a train track, was banned in Britain, after it was decided that the image depicted a child in an unsafe location.
6/9 Marc Jacobs, 2009
Dakota Fanning was 17 when Juergen Teller shot her for Marc Jacobs. The picture was thought to "sexualise children" and was banned.
7/9 Tom Ford, 2007
A not-so-subtle message from Tom Ford, photographed by Terry Richardson. The campaign was banned in several countries.
Shot by the controversial photography Terry Richardson, this advert made a play on the word 'fashion junkie'.
9/9 Calvin Klein, 1995
Calvin Klein are known for a string of controversial campaigns (including a picture of 17-year-old Kate Moss straddling Mark Wahlberg), but this 1995 image shot by Steven Meisel provoked negative response from child welfare authorities and the consequently brand withdrew it.
There are other cheaper options than Katharine Hamnett. People Tree also sell ethically made t-shirts, but they’re still £20. It’s a tall order to expect when many high street chains offer similar items for less than a quarter of the price.
This all makes demonising those who continue to buy from low-price brands incredibly unfair. A more productive approach would be to focus upon making ethical fashion more affordable, and putting pressure on brands that fail to demand safe working conditions and a living wage for workers employed by their suppliers.
So I call on all fellow consumers to hear my confession, and join me in putting the spotlight on the brands, and not the buyer. It should be big conglomerates on the catwalk of shame, and not those stitched up by today's cost of living.