Last night, Love Island came to an end for the second time in seven months.
At this point, the £50,000 cash prize is relatively meaningless, because the real Set For Life riches will start to pour in as soon as the contestants are back on British soil, in the form of endorsement deals, Insta #sponcon and, for the winners, a lucrative but short-lived ITVBe show and a collab line with an online fast fashion brand.
That last point is important: as Love Island has become a completely inescapable part of popular cultural, so too have websites like Boohoo, Missguided and I Saw It First. And for good reason: the two cultural bullet trains have a symbiotic relationship. The brands sponsor the show and supply contestants with enough clothes that they can wear a new outfit every day, suggesting to viewers – who can shop those clothes as soon as they see them on air – that a one-time wear is the norm.
This was reflected in a survey VICE UK conducted of our Snapchat users, who mainly fall within the 18 to 24-year-old age range. Of the 9,549 people asked, "Do you ever buy an item and wear it once before chucking it out?" 23 percent of respondents said yes, while 8 percent of 11,137 respondents said they buy more than ten items a month from online fast fashion retailers.
Clearly, this does not bode well for the environment. The production of fast fashion now accounts for 10 percent of all carbon emissions and is the second largest consumer of water globally (one pair of jeans requires around 2,000 gallons to produce, or enough water for one person to drink eight cups a day for a decade). Cheap clothes are made from cheap materials, and – via being laundered – are responsible for an estimated 35 percent of all microplastics found in the ocean. They also take hundreds of years to decompose, which is fairly worrying when you consider the equivalent of a truck-load of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second of every day.
Of course, online retailers aren't the only brands to blame here – clothing production has doubled since 2000, feeding the stock rooms of everywhere from cheap stores like Primark to those pitched at the higher end of the high street market, such as Zara and H&M. But by offering clothes at comedically low prices – the £1 Love Island bikini, for instance – and uploading literally thousands of new items every week, these websites are perhaps the most brazen offenders.
Consumers have a part to play in the problem – of 9,120 respondents to our Snapchat survey, 54 percent said they feel bad about shopping fast fashion – but the true responsibility lies with the companies pumping all of this stuff out.
Those defending the industry would argue it democratises fashion, allowing people who didn't previously have the means to properly express themselves through clothing to finally do so – and there's some truth to that. But equally, nobody needs to choose from hundreds of thousands of new garments every month to express themselves, and it's the companies manufacturing all of those garments holding the power to rein it in.
Over the next week on VICE UK, we'll be taking a closer look at fast fashion and its effects on popular culture and the environment, from the billionaire Manchester dynasty at the forefront of the industry – and the new genre of human they've helped to create – to the rank excesses at the heart of the fast fashion business and the human cost of all those £10 jumpsuits.