Voices: What Gemma Owen has done since leaving Love Island undermines the show

·4-min read

After a stint on ITV2’s hit show Love Island, there are a few things guaranteed for the bronzed contestants once they leave the villa.

Depending on the levels of success they achieved during the show, some will be relegated to the less than Z-list tasks of promoting diet lollipops and hair gummies.

For other lucky members of the cast, a deal would come a-calling from fast fashion brands to get them started on their new careers as influencers and brand ambassadors. Such is the case for 19-year-old Gemma Owen, who recently signed a six-figure partnership with Pretty Little Thing (aka, PLT).

It’s clear that these influencers have little involvement in these deals, but I suppose the allure is that you are wearing a dress apparently designed by Molly-Mae herself, rather than some underpaid twentysomething holed up in a warehouse somewhere off the M62.

In recent years, brand I Saw It First had held a lucrative partnership to dress the contestants in the villa and use the breakout stars as walking adverts for their clothes, which sometimes retailed for the reasonable price of £2.80. Indeed, Love Island became one of the most important marketing moments in the fast fashion calendar.

However, this year the show decided to make a significant shift towards a more ethical and sustainable future. In 2022, the cast’s wardrobe were sourced entirely from resale site eBay, with the show’s head of fashion, Jemma Tadd, stating: “We hope when people see [eBay sourced products] on the Islanders, it inspires them to either add a couple of pre-loved pieces to their wardrobes or sell stuff they no longer use to keep things in circulation.”

Here in the UK, we buy more clothes per person than in any other country in Europe. The fashion industry here grows at a faster rate than the rest of the economy, and an estimated £140m worth of clothing is sent to landfills each year. Most fast fashion garments are made from fossil-fuel-based fabrics such as polyester, so not only can they not be recycled but they’re actually made from a polluting and finite resource.

PLT is one of the most popular brands in the UK, and also relies on cheap labour to mass produce clothes, operating outside of the regular “seasons-based” model to put out new lines every few weeks. A recent investigation by The Sunday Times revealed that workers in a Leicester factory supplying Nasty Gal, a brand owned by Boohoo which also owns PLT, were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.

A couple of seasons ago one contestant, Brett Staniland tried to reinvent Love Island’s relationship with fashion. He turned down the £500 voucher to spend on the I Saw It First website ahead of the show, also refusing the regular drop of new clothes to the villa from sponsors. Returning back to the UK, Staniland became a passionate advocate against fast fashion and its ties to the show, even protesting outside former contestant Molly-Mae’s London PLT show last year.

I don’t hold a particular candle for Gemma Owen, nor did I expect her to lead a secondhand revolution and eschew fast fashion for the rest of her days. But I did hope that after spending a few months in secondhand (albeit, designer) clothes, she might think twice about immediately jumping into bed with a brand like PLT after the show has made a clear decision to step away from fast fashion.

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The irony that Owen is one of the richest contestants to enter the villa, but chose to partner with a low-budget brand shouldn’t be lost on anyone either. Somehow I don’t buy the suggestion that she is queuing up to buy £10 dresses when most of her photos show her dressed in head-to-toe designer clothing.

The reality is that secondhand fashion is becoming increasingly popular as another contestant from this year’s show, Tasha Ghouri, recently showed by becoming eBay’s first ever “pre-loved ambassador” and the success of platforms such as Vestiaire and Depop. Just this year alone, eBay has seen one pre-loved fashion sale every second on eBay UK. With a fifth of Brits buying more secondhand fashion compared to two years ago – and Gen Z leading the charge – pre-loved is on the rise.

Unfortunately for Gemma Owen, a partnership with a fast fashion brand these days is more of a Z-list kiss of death than a golden ticket into high society. As the tide turns towards ethical and pre-loved fashion, it’s the smart islanders who have grasped this new opportunity and saved themselves the bad press in the process.