The Primark Scandal: A High Street Downfall
It epitomizes fast fashion; a store where people can go and make quick guilt-free purchases. Fashion isn’t only for the wealthy and so Primark lies as somewhat of a haven for many. Even the fashion conscious mix cheap with chic thinking it’s only the label inside, but it’s becoming the label itself to really define the fashion industry today. The problem is that we don’t think twice about where the label comes from, or who attached it to the garment we’re lusting after. In the last two weeks however that very label has taken over headlines when two women reported finding a ‘cry for help’ from workers in the form of handmade labels reading ‘forced to work exhausting hours’ and ‘degrading sweatshop conditions’ in dresses from a Swansea branch of the store. This isn’t the first time Primark has found themselves in deep water.
Only last year we saw the collapse of Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, a commercial building housing a Primark factory, which led to the death of 1,129 people. Even though it’s shocking to hear, we’re quick to forget. We still head down to Primark for the one-off bargain, turning a blind-eye to these particular incidents. In the light of this we have to question what this really says about the modern British high street. We live in a consumer society where we are judged and understood by the things we wear. This idea that you can reinvent yourself simply through a new outfit or makeover is drilled into our brains, and so it seems almost instinctive for us to head straight to the vast range of high street stores as our first stop. It's not exactly a financially prospering time so it's easy to see why people are drawn to making 'small spends', quick purchases without the guilt. We go in thinking it’s so cheap it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t break the bank so we’re not concerned how much we’ll actually wear it. The quality isn’t the number one factor, as isn’t the working conditions of the people making our £10 jeans. We end up having what we wanted and there’s no guilt for having spent half of our monthly rent on a dress. Even more alarmingly, it’s not just the cheap stores that have been called out for bad working conditions and pay. Gethin Chamberlain, an investigative journalist argues that it is actually mid and high-end designers that are the biggest offenders. Note for example, in 2012 when the Alexander Wang factory workers reported described their conditions as ‘inhumane’. A huge concern is what could happen with a move towards a more digital high street. We can purchase an item from our living room with a click and have it turn up on front door the next morning. We start caring for the quality even less – in a store we’d put the item back but who wants to go through the fuss of returning online purchases? If it looks ok on, it’s good to go. Delivered to our door, packaged up and ready for you to wear, the link between the item and its origin seem almost too distant for us to contemplate over. Does this mean that this problem of poor conditions and pay for workers will just worsen? Or will highlighting this issue cause a change?