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Voices: Love Island signals the end of our love affair with fast fashion

Love Island’s switch to eBay as a sponsor may help turn the tide and prompt viewers to examine their shopping habits (ITV)
Love Island’s switch to eBay as a sponsor may help turn the tide and prompt viewers to examine their shopping habits (ITV)

As viewers delight in the return of Love Island, previously so starved of impossibly strappy swimwear and the spectacle of endless peacocking, dating red flags and positively Shakespearian levels of romatic machinations, they are tuning into a show with a difference.

Instead of being swathed in the very latest offerings from one of the fast fashion brands, this year’s gaggle of ripped, toned and tanned contestants are wearing – wait for it – second-hand clothes.

The 2022 series of Love Island is brought to you in partnership with eBay, in a major break from previous years, when it was sponsored by the likes of Missguided and I Saw It First. The latter brand is owned by Boohoo, and sells clothes for as little as £2.80. According to the show’s bosses, Love Island is now striving to be "a more eco-friendly production.”

Love Island has long been synonymous with fast fashion. It’s a dating show where contestants undergo multiple outfit changes every day, and many former Islanders have gone to enjoy partnerships with fast fashion giants. Think Molly-Mae “we all have the same 24 hours in a day” Hague, creative director of Pretty Little Thing, Amber Gill’s collaboration with MissPap and Maura Higgins signing as brand ambassador for Boohoo – the same company that used a Leicester supplier which allegedly paid factory workers £3.50 an hour (although Boohoo says it has since made changes to its supply chain).

Justine Porterie, global head of sustainability at Depop, previously dubbed Love Island “fast fashion’s biggest advocate”. But this year’s switch to eBay as sponsor, with contestants wearing pre-loved garments selected by Dua Lipa and Sophie Turner stylist Amy Bannerman, sends a clear message to viewers that fast fashion isn’t all that stylish anymore.

As far as the planet’s concerned, fast fashion was always a disaster. It’s characterised by clothing that is incredibly cheap, but comes with a high environmental cost. Fast fashion is made to be worn a couple of times and then discarded in the flow of rapidly changing trends. Buy lots, wear little and then purchase more.

The fashion industry produces 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions every year, and uses an estimated 1.5 trillion litres of water annually. Cotton garment production requires a massive amount of water – one cotton shirt needs about 3,000 litres.

Synthetic fabrics, which make up two thirds of all textile items, release plastic microfibres and nanofibres during production, during use and at end-of-life disposal into ecosystems in all regions of the planet. They comprise up to 35 per cent of primary microplastics found in marine environments that enter the bodies of marine life, our food and our bodies.

When a piece of clothing is no longer wanted, when it’s deemed unfashionable or has slightly bobbled or the shape isn’t quite as it was at purchase, it will be discarded. In the UK alone, 350,000 tonnes of still-wearable clothing – about £140m worth – goes to landfill every year.

As an industry, fashion is responsible for more annual carbon emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined. It’s on course to trigger a 50 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

And then there’s the human cost. To keep prices low for consumers, garment workers – mainly women – in countries with lax labour laws toil in inhumane working conditions for poverty pay. In 2013, a garment factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring more than 2,500, most of whom were women and children. The Rana Plaza disaster was meant to be a moment of reckoning for the fast fashion industry, and approximately 250 companies signed two initiatives, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Nevertheless, the epidemic of human suffering behind the clothes we wear has not been eradicated – not by a long shot.

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To me, this makes it all the more distasteful when western influencers like Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague trumpet about how they’ve worked their “absolute arse off”, while partnering with fast fashion empires and seeming to ignore the realities of poverty and systemic injustice. Girlbossing it!

Hague has since addressed the concerns around fast fashion, in her role at Pretty Little Thing: “I’m a strong believer in wearing the same dress twice. I even captioned one of my Instagram pictures the other day saying ‘PSA it’s ok to wear the same dress twice’ – it’s a bad habit us girls have got into, like if you put it on Instagram it means you can’t wear it again.”

Love Island’s switch to eBay as a sponsor may help turn the tide and prompt viewers to examine their shopping habits, and make more conscious choices. Second-hand clothing marketplaces like eBay, Depop, Vinted and others don’t just encourage us to give our garments a new lease of life – they also mean we need to be creative about sourcing outfits and putting them together, rather than simply filling a basket (online or otherwise) with the exact crop tops and bikinis and bodycon dresses the reality show crew have been shown in for a couple of minutes of screentime or a single social media post.

Our planet can no longer afford fast fashion. Love Island’s decision to stan eBay rather than yet another disposable brand, Missguided’s collapse into administration – plus the growing popularity of sustainable alternatives such as clothing rental – could signal the sea change that is so desperately needed.