Monday, 10 August 2015

The Psychology Behind Fast Fashion: Comment by Der Spiegel magazine

I often find it interesting to compare how other countries approach sustainability, especially when green issues such as renewable energy and recycling are at the forefront of government policy. Even more fascinating is to observe how such countries react when international fast fashion retailers start to expand onto their shores, as Primark has done in places like Germany and the Netherlands over the last few years to great success, despite a higher level of consumer awareness of the ethical and environmental issues surrounding the products' manufacture. So why does the magic combination of overwhelming choice at bargain prices incite shopping madness into even the most knowledgable customers, and what can we do to change our mindset? In a recent article for Germany's Der Spiegel, Eleonora Pauli attempts to find the answers - check out the original article here, or read on for the English version.

She drinks organic wine, buys carbon neutral water bottles and sews her own curtains - Eleonora Pauli cares about sustainability, just like many city dwellers. But when it comes to fashion, ethics go out the window. The reason? We visit Primark's Alexanderplatz store in Berlin to find out.

They hold up neon tops in front of the mirror, try on sunglasses, experiment with striped scarves. Five euros, three euros, one euro. Kay and Casey, two students from New York, stumble in a dazed state through Primark's Alexanderplatz store. It's Saturday lunchtime in Berlin. The 24-year-olds are looking for rainbow patterned accessories to wear for the Christopher Street Day parade (or CSD), Berlin's Gay Pride equivalent. "We love the selection here!" they exclaim. "And it's so cheap!" And sustainability? Yes, the young women admit, that's definitely something they think about. "But the parade is just around the corner and we have to hurry up - we don't have time to worry too much about it."

The first time I was in Primark, I didn't worry about it either. I spent a year studying in Britain, and it was just before Christmas. Along with two other friends, I roamed through each of the store's overflowing floors looking for presents for my entire family and all my friends. All together I paid £50, roughly €70, and was amazed - a knitted woollen hot water bottle for my mum, a mini tartan anorak for my aunt's dog, a pair of earrings for me.

A survey by the centre for consumer research in Nuremberg revealed that currently, almost half of German customers think about the ethical credentials of a product when making their purchase, especially when buying food. But when it comes to clothing, the results are very different, according to Natalie Wäsch. For her Master's dissertation, the graduate of the University of Würzburg analysed the shopping habits of 170 Primark customers and found that more than 70% of them are of school or university age. "On average, they are 22 years old and informed about the conditions of manufacture, but buy there regardless."

Outside, grammar school students Frida, Anna and Lena from Rostock are sitting on the steps of the Primark store, in between other exhausted customers and next to their bursting shopping bags. They are showing off their new T-shirts and simultaneously taking selfies. Lena hadn't intended to buy anything. "But then it just looked too good, and I couldn't resist," she says, rummaging around in her brown paper bag - a parka jacket, a handbag and a cardigan, for a grand total of €34.

"At Primark, you go in, see the cheap prices, and suddenly your brain stops working," says Frida. The main reason for this mental blackout isn't necessarily a lack of money - according to Natalie Wäsch's study, most shoppers have around €80 a month at their disposal. The trick is that customers are able to buy lots of individual items for very little money - and can therefore go shopping more often. The Rostock girls, however, don't want me to take a photo of them. "With the Primark bags? Please don't, it's embarrassing!"

"The manufacturing conditions aren't cool"

A year after my excessive Christmas shopping spree in Britain, the Rana Plaza factory, which had been producing cheap fast fashion for the Western market, collapsed in Bangladesh. 1127 people died, and the world was exposed once again to risky and dangerous working conditions. Since then I haven't set a foot in a Primark store again.

Yet the tragedy didn't halt the expansion of the Irish company - in fact, it continues to grow. Not unusual, according to researchers at the University of Sussex: instead of making a loss after such a scandal, measures to ensure a company's recovery often increase its revenue. Primark established its own code of conduct, and in May of this year the company was named as a "Detox Trendsetter" for toxic-free fashion by Greenpeace. Soon, a new store is opening in Mallorca.

Lena looks suspiciously at her purchases. "I don't think the manufacturing conditions are very cool. I heard once that it would help the seamstresses a lot if the things were only one euro more expensive," she says - it seems the girls are already aware.

But, like the majority of the participants in Natalie Wäsch's survey, this knowledge doesn't influence their purchasing decisions. In the rush of buying, the reality outside the store disappears, and the clothing doesn't have any connection to the negative press. "As long as it's socially acceptable and the sales figures match up, there's simply no reason to prioritise sustainability," says Wäsch. No negative consequences - neither for the consumer nor the company. To young people, fast fashion is simply more important than sustainability, a fact also confirmed by Greenpeace.

Katharina sees it differently. The Geography student only has a tiny paper bag in her hand - new socks, which she actually needed. The 25-year-old rarely buys anything, "in order to appease her conscience," and also questions whether Primark is less sustainable than H&M or Zara. And it's this uncertainty, combined with a lack of dependable alternatives, that's driving customers into shops that they would otherwise rather avoid, according to the Hamburg market research company Nielsen. Instead, Wäsch suggests improving the image of certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or websites such as Rank a Brand.

I went to Decathlon today - a very, very cheap sports retailer that has finally opened in Berlin - as I really needed to buy a tent for the Garden Festival this weekend. Along with many other sporty types, I stroll down the aisles, and as I stand by the camping mats, I hear someone say in passing, "Wow, this is just like Primark for the gym!" I look at the €35 tent in my right hand, the bikini and tennis balls in the other. After I've paid, I quickly shove everything in my fairly-traded leather handbag. I'll have a look at the store's ranking later.

Follow me on Bloglovin
Image via

No comments

Post a Comment

© THE GREEN SCENE | All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig