Hello and welcome to Trend UK, your shortcut to popular culture from the British Council. In the next few minutes we’re going to be asking whether you’re after value for money when you’re shopping for fashion; or fashion that’s made with values. We’re all after a bargain on the high street. But how often do you stop to consider how some stores seem to stock low-cost/high fashion items quicker and more cheaply than others? Fulfilling our needs for fast fashion means increased production and competition in clothing made in countries with low-wage economies. Our reporter Mark has been to the high street to find out more.
Here in a typical British high street there are plenty of bargains to be had. Handbags at £3.99, T-shirts for a fiver and shoes for under a tenner - all roughly equivalent to the price of an everyday meal. But how many of the people shopping in this high street have stopped to think about how it’s possible to sell clothes so cheaply? Is it because some companies are turning a blind eye to the exploitation in the countries where these items are made? Ruth Rothelson is an expert on ethical shopping from the Ethical Consumer Research Association, who amongst other things produced the magazine ‘Ethical Consumer’.
Ruth, just tell us what the Ethical Consumer Research Association is.
OK, well the Ethical Consumer Research Association exists to provide information for shoppers, letting them know what the companies are doing behind the brands that they see on the shelves.
So what makes an ethical shopper?
Very broadly speaking, people who are concerned about ethical issues want to know that the product they’re buying hasn’t been made at the expense of the people who are producing it, whether it’s in this country or abroad. They might also be concerned with other kinds of issues: whether the company is involved in armaments, or whether they’re donating money to certain political parties. And that as a shopper, you might not want to give your money to that party so therefore you might not want to buy a product from a company who is supporting a political party that you don’t agree with.
And is there any kind of rule of thumb? Is something that’s more expensive, for example, likely to be more ethical?
Unfortunately it isn’t always the case that the more expensive something is, the more ethical it is. We can buy very cheap products and it’s very likely that when products are cheap, something has suffered in order to get it to us. Whether it’s the person making it or the animals or the environment. Quality however, is often a good indicator whether something, especially with clothes, has been made well. And unfortunately a lot of ethical products will cost more because they reflect the real cost of bringing that thing into the shops. So something that has been made in a factory where the workers have been paid a proper wage will cost you more to buy, simply because the people making it are getting paid enough to live on.
Do you have to be well off then to be an ethical shopper?
It really depends. You don’t have to be rich to be an ethical shopper. One way of thinking about ethical shopping is thinking about buying less. Sometimes we buy an awful lot more than we need. We buy more items of clothing than we need. So being an ethical shopper really means thinking a bit before you go and spend your money in the shops. Some things may cost a little bit more in the short-run, but be worth it in the long-run. If you are paying for quality, something will last you longer and then save you money. And sometimes you can buy things second-hand. There’s a lot of charity shops on the high street to buy good clothes. Sometimes you can look a lot better than someone who’s just bought off the high street because you can have quite a unique look, and the quality that you find in most second-hand shops is really very good these days. So it’s about thinking before you shop.
Thanks Ruth. Now among the shoppers here I’ve got Lauren and Bella. Starting with you Bella, would you consider shopping ethically?
Definitely for food. And clothing, well, when I buy clothes I wouldn’t want to think of them being made in a sweat shop.
Lauren you do shop ethically. But you’ve got a slightly different take on it haven’t you.
Yeah I suppose I shop ethically but my original thing for that was that I like to wear clothes that are different from everyone else. So I would start shopping for vintage clothes. So ethically, obviously they’re second-hand so…also I buy a lot of clothes from market stalls, from fashion students maybe. So they’re all made here, so they would be made ethically as well.
Thanks Lauren, thanks Bella. Well it’s an interesting debate, and I’ll certainly be doing my clothes shopping with a little bit more care in future.
Our reporter Mark, out among the dedicated and ethical followers of fashion there. And that’s it for this time. Please remember that the opinions expressed in Trend UK are those of the individuals concerned, and not necessarily the views of the British Council. Don’t forget, you can find out what the British Council is doing on contemporary UK by using your local British Council Information Centre or by checking our website www.britishcouncil.org, that’s www.britishcouncil [all one word] .org. Just follow the links under ‘Contact Us’. And while you’re on the website you can also update your English by checking out the words and phrases in the Trend UK online glossary. And tell us what you think by sending us a comment or voting in the online poll. But for now, from me and all the Trend UK Team, bye bye.