by Vivian Morellon
Mix together a streamlined supply chain, low quality materials, low-living wages and what do you get?
And it’s truly fast, with the average retailer taking 2-3 weeks from concept to retail. Quick turnover, fresh product, and micro-trends that have us refreshing our favorite brand’s website weekly – like an addict needing more, more, more! Every Monday you can see new arrivals, new promotions and newly added sale items. Instant gratification that has us focusing on that next purchase as soon as we hit “place order.”
It’s congruent with scientific findings – the search for the perfect item increases dopamine production, heightening our emotional response in anticipation of a reward – a.k.a the purchase. So, if we’re constantly scavenging for the next item it’s no wonder fast fashion’s business model has us addicted to its quick cycle of consumption.
Participating in this cycle means supporting a supply chain that cuts corners in order to move things quickly. As a result, ethics and sustainability get cut out of the equation. Not only that but the quick push of product has rewired us to believe that these synthetically made clothes – yes, the ones that harm our resources in the making – are disposable.
Just as quickly as we buy, our garments (millions of it) end up in landfills, unable to decompose, and the pollution from it’s chemicals, dyes, and micro plastics end in our water sources.
Textile waste – it’s one of fast fashion’s biggest consequences.
Initially created as a reflection on the wastefulness of the industry, Elizabeth Illing began Project Stopshop, a visual critique on our clothing consumption patterns that encourages us to understand our monetary choices.
NTCH has the opportunity to talk to the 25 year old Bristol native and address her inspiration behind the visual movement.
Let’s talk about your background – you graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in London with a Fashion Promotion degree. what was it like to study and be a part of an industry that is, for the most part, not the most ethical or sustainable?
I studied Fashion Promotion but specialised in Visual Communication and worked on projects developing my skills in graphics, set design, styling, photography, film making etc. Although there was obviously a focus on promoting, branding and marketing fashion related concepts we were also pushed to explore the wider context of our work. I sometimes questioned whether the fashion industry was the right place for me to carve out a career but decided that creative opportunities within fashion don’t have to be unethical!
For those who are unfamiliar with your work – What is STOPSHOP and how did it come to be?
I started Project Stopshop for my final major project at university, I wanted to create an engaging campaign with strong visuals that would catch people’s attention and bring them to question their fashion consumption. I created large receipts, paper receipt t-shirts, clothes tags and clothes labels to display a range of data and quotes that I collected from survey participants.
I was looking through pictures of your labels, they seem to be direct quotes from conversations i’ve heard or had! I’m curious to know where they come from… Is it from your own survey and data search or through your Personal relationship with fast fashion?
I began data gathering from my own wardrobe, I recorded every garment and categorised them based on how often I wear them; often, occasionally, rarely, or entirely unworn. I wanted to show this information because it highlights how little we value a large proportion of our garments and this relates to a lot of people. I then conducted this clothing usage survey on a number of my friends, family and students at the university who confessed to having extreme fast fashion shopping habits! As well as the numbers I was gathering I also interviewed my survey participants to gain insight into the reasoning behind their shopping habits and this is where the quotes come from.
So the quotes are from the consumers’ point of view… what made you address this issue based on the consumer’s perceived value?
When reading the quotes on the labels they are either shocking or relatable – or both, this gets people thinking about how their own opinions and survey results might match those on display. We are always hearing facts and figures of the terrible impact fast fashion has environmentally and socially but unfortunately I think people find it easy to ignore. By using real consumer quotes it’s more personal and I hope it prompts people to realist that the shopper has the power to change their habits and force the retailers to react accordingly.
With your knowledge and understanding of how product is pushed, why do you think there is so much hesitance (collectively speaking) in embracing sustainable brands and efforts?
I think that the vast majority of people are so used to the quick and easy nature of buying from the brands that provide the cheapest garments, the newest styles and in the shortest time frame. You can receive online shopping in less than 12 hours! In order to change to sustainable fashion efforts you may need to do some research and spend a little more and I don’t think many people are prepared to do that sadly.
What do you aim to achieve through this project?
I want to encourage people to question their fashion consumption habits just as I did at the start of this project! I hope the images I create can catch some attention and perhaps prompt some changes to be made, whether that be by consumers or retailers.
What does STOPSHOP’s future look like? Will it continue to exist solely as visual displays?
I have been encouraged by the recent attention brought to my project, the positive feedback I’ve received is definitely pushing me to continue to create more. I currently want to work on more visual displays but who knows what else could be down the line f or the project, I’d love to collaborate with other like minded individuals on more large scale work.
Initially a school project, Elizabeth hopes to continue growing Project Stopshop and inspire consumers to support a slower and ethical consumption pattern. From buying less to re-using textiles, up-cycling, and thrifting, we can move towards a circular business model in which textile waste isn’t the leading pollutant. But first, we must turn to our own closets and asses the change that is needed.
The end goal? Better quality that we hang unto for longer – good for our wallets, psyche, and planet.