When fashion model Brett Staniland appeared on ITV’s reality dating show “Love Island” in 2021, he was struck by the sheer amount of new clothing that arrived at the contestants’ villa.
Each participant on the TV series was entitled to 500 pounds ($610) to spend online with fast fashion brand I Saw It First before the show’s start, and would then receive a fresh delivery every few days, he said.
“Some of the other cast members were saying, ‘You know, I can’t wear this again because I wore it three weeks (ago),’” said the 28-year-old, who advocates for sustainable fashion.
“They’d just throw it into the corner of the room for it to be removed by cleaners each day,” Staniland told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “It becomes extremely wasteful.”
The cast of “Love Island” is hardly alone in snapping up fast fashion.
About 13 million items of used clothing end up in landfills in Britain every week, according to the charity Oxfam here.
The fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water globally, behind agriculture, and accounts for up to a tenth of greenhouse gas emissions – more than aviation and shipping combined – the United Nations’ Environment Programme (UNEP) has said here.
In a bid to shake off its fast fashion image and be seen as more eco-friendly, this year “Love Island” has partnered with online marketplace eBay to dress contestants in what eBay calls “pre-loved clothes”.
“We believe now is the best time to change the conversation around fashion,” said Jemma Tadd, head of fashion at eBay UK.
In previous series, dresses and other new items of clothing would sell out in minutes after appearing on the show.
Now, viewers wanting to replicate the stars can find similar second-hand options on eBay. Tadd said searches for cut-out dresses soared by 79% after contestants wore them on the first two episodes of this year’s show, which aired last week.
Sustainable fashion campaigners and experts hope that the influence of TV shows such as “Love Island” can help promote second-hand clothing and keep more items away from landfills – even as fast fashion brands continue to flourish.
“Millions of people watch these episodes … (they) have the potential to change behaviours,” said Amber Martin-Woodhead, a human geography assistant professor focused on sustainable fashion at Coventry University.
“My concern with it is: what happens next year?” she added. “Will eBay be sponsoring it for the years to come or will it just be another fast fashion retailer next year?”
While awareness is increasing of climate change threats, Martin-Woodhead said her research has found people need personal incentives to shop in a more sustainable manner.
Those includes cost savings, especially as the cost-of-living crisis bites, she said, but “thrifting” also has become more fashionable and reduced the stigma of buying second-hand.
In Yorkshire in northern England, “Love Island” fan Vicky Leyland welcomed the eBay partnership, saying her 18-year-old daughter loves hunting for charity shop bargains.
“Most of her clothes are from charity shops, and she’s proud of them,” she said by phone from the town of Knaresborough.
Leyland has watched every series of “Love Island” and runs a Facebook fan page here with nearly 100,000 members. Only a few have commented on the show’s use of eBay clothing, she said.
She said she was surprised not to have heard any discussion on the show about the new partnership. “I just hope that they mention it more, and more people go to reusing and reselling and rebuying,” Leyland added.
Another company looking for a “Love Island” advertising boost is second-hand fashion marketplace Vinted.
Since it was founded in 2008, the Lithuanian app has grown to at least 50 million members globally, with users doubling in Britain over the past year to more than 3 million, said consumer lead Natacha Blanchard.
Vinted’s UK customers are buying second-hand clothes not just for financial reasons but also to shop more responsibly, especially over the last few years, she said.
Research in 2017 by the environmental charity WRAP found that here a 10% increase in second-hand sales in the UK could save 3% of carbon emissions and 4% of water used per tonne of clothing.
Boston Consulting Group, a management consultancy, predicts that the share of second-hand clothing in people’s closets will rise to 27% in 2023, up from 21% in 2020.
Yet despite the growth of the second-hand market, fast fashion retailers are still thriving.
“The introduction of new collections, new trends and so on into stores and online does not seem to be showing signs of abatement,” said Patsy Perry, an academic at Manchester Fashion Institute.
She said several retailers have sustainable collections – featuring items made with recycled plastics – but that these tend to make up only a small proportion of their overall range.
“Sometimes people feel like it’s a bit of greenwashing,” she said.
Only 1% of clothing on retailer PrettyLittleThing’s website contained recycled materials, with other sellers not much higher: 2% for Boohoo, 4% for ASOS and 5% for Missguided, according to a 2021 analysis here by the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) of 10,000 of the brands’ items.
Activists have demanded greater transparency in the fashion industry so consumers know what they are buying.
The British government has faced calls to regulate fast fashion more tightly and make retailers take greater responsibility for their environmental impacts.
Last year, it unveiled plans here to tackle textile waste but few concrete measures are in place yet, analysts said.
To make fashion greener, experts say more needs to be done to curb production and keep clothes that are manufactured in use for longer – be it through repair, swapping, renting or simply wearing each piece many more times.
Former “Love Island” contestant Staniland said that before taking on new modelling work, he looks at information about retailers’ business models, supply chains and materials.
The model is also pushing other influencers to work with more sustainable brands. Upon leaving “Love Island”, cast members often sign lucrative deals with fast fashion companies.
While it is just a first step, Staniland said he was optimistic that the partnership between “Love Island” and eBay could be part of a broader change when it comes to eco-conscious fashion.
“It has the potential to be a really big moment,” he said.
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