If there was ever a headline to shatter childhood dreams, surely this is it.

Simon Murphy revealed that the Spice Girls’ ‘Girl Power’ ethos goes no further than a catchy chorus or two when the Guardian published this article on January 20th.

The news of the exploitation and maltreatment of garment workers in this instance is timely. Just this morning, following the findings of The Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, MPs announced that fast fashion brands’ inaction on ethics is “shocking”.

Livia Firth, Creative Director of Eco-Age, pointed out on the Today programme that this didn’t particularly come as news to anyone who’s part of the sustainability-concerned fashion community.

After sharing Murphy’s article on Instagram, we recieved lots of responses from the Nu community voicing their opinions on the story. Alice of @TheLifestyleRemedy said: “This is just crazy! When high profile celebrity figures commit to releasing lines or collaborating with stores they are responsible for the choice of supply chains.” I agree - there are questions to ask and issues to be raised that can currently be too easily swept over in a merchandising meeting.

Orla said: “More naming and shaming might get people to think more about where their clothes come from. It’s sad but it’s true.”

Do you see sponsored fashion ads pop up on your social media feeds often? I’ve had a lot in the last month - and when I see an item I like, I’ve started messaging the brand’s account to ask where the clothes are made. Responses are thin on the ground - and I’m yet to buy any of the items as a result.

Social media empowers the individual to openly question and hold brands and public figures to account - you can do so politely and quietly but just by asking the question you put it out there for the online community to see and consider for themselves.

In response to our post about Murphy’s story, Jessica at Slae Mag said: “That is so annoying and infuriating seriously...” - which I just like to read with a real head-in-hands type exasperation, as in ‘really!? COME ON.’

It has been interesting to see how people working in different sectors of the fashion industry responded. Karen at Rock the Frock Bridal commented “We try really hard to ensure our complete supplier chain is ethical - choose ONLY designers who produce their dresses locally with high working standards. The wedding industry is one place that definitely needs attention!”

One follower probably said it best by commenting just “#idontwannabeaspicegirl.” Let’s get THAT trending, shall we?

Activist and writer Gina Martin (who I’d say could already be named woman of the year) also shared our post so we just had to ask her opinion on the story. Gina told us she wasn’t surprised that the band were so far removed from their production line: “I am, however, surprised that their team didn’t see ethics as a priority given their entire brand is built on empowerment.” Amen.

“I think we’re just starting to ask questions about production lines and how something’s made,” said Gina, “but there’s not nearly enough pressure to hold big brands accountable all the way along the supply chain. The independent industry is showing a big effort towards ethics but as always big brands need to do better without the public having to force their hand.”

Part of the reasons I’ve found the Spice Girls story frustrating is because while this case made the headlines, there are hundreds and thousands of garments being produced every day in exactly the same conditions, and those stories aren’t making the headlines. Why? Because consumers are complicit in an industry increasingly reliant on the exploitation of workers? Because there isn’t space for those stories in the pages of weekly magazines? This is the reality of how the majority of garments that are bought and worn in the UK are made. Perhaps it’s the lack of a hashtag and a girl band which means its a story that otherwise won’t make the front page.

You are wearing the stories of the people who make your clothes.jpg

Back to 7.20 this morning when Livia Firth struck a chord before I’d finished my first coffee of the day. It’s as simple as she says: we wear the stories of the people who make our clothes - and we owe more than the occasional headline, hashtag and Instagram post.

Julia O'DriscollComment