Fashion’s Dirty Secrets – A Stacey Dooley Documentary

BBC - Hello Halo - Photographer: Olivia Strong

Words by Katie May Huxtable

There was nothing I used to love more than to trawl around shops in search of the juiciest of bargains. A mission to win the ripest of fruits in our shopping centre fruit bowls. Sale signs would bounce off the glass of my eyes, a red blur of window by window as I waltzed my way through aisles of cheap clothing; a basket much more plentiful than my own bank account. As consumers, we do obsess over the idea of value for money. We bury all desires for quality in an attempt to quantify the maximum amount of clothing that the notes in our unzipped purses can stretch too. In a strive to win life’s competition, we aim for gold when making our money stretch to its maximum. Yet, in this flurry of spending, we fall naïve to the idea that in order to sell clothing at the cheap prices we desire, companies have to cut corners along the journey of production that ends with their products hanging in our wardrobes and our environment suffering for it.

In a fashion industry dependent on trends, we flock to fast fashion in search of cheap, disposable clothing that we can chuck with ease once a new style fronts the runways. However, in a recent BBC documentary, investigative journalist Stacey Dooley attempted to shine her own spotlight on the Fashion Industry’s well-hidden Dirty Secrets, conveying to us the extent of the damage our habits have been having.

As an industry, Fashion is the second largest industrial polluter, only beaten to the top spot by oil. When we walk the streets in the latest pair of jeans and a new slogan tee, we often fall short of recognising that the price on the environment is a lot more than the price from our own pockets.

With cotton being one of the most unsustainable crops on our planet, Dooley begins her documentary investigating the damage that its production has been having. A shot shows her walking across the Aral Sea, or, to be precise, the seabed that was formally beneath the Aral Sea. An area of water that was once the size of Ireland has now disappeared, an entire local fishing industry along with it, in what has been a massive environmental disaster caused by the production of cotton. Rivers once running to the sea were diverted to provide production of cotton with the large scale of water it needs, leaving land altered dramatically for fashion’s gain. The new jeans and tee that I aforementioned would take a shocking 20,000 litres of water to produce, many of our products using enough drinking water to last us an average of 80 years.

Dooley also used the documentary as a tool to reach out to fashion retailers in hope of an interview to uncover the actions that they have been taking in a step towards an industry no longer on borrowed time. This invitation was declined by all large brands, many cancelling interviews at the last minute and refusing to comment. Their lack of words really did speak for itself. It has since been announced that MPs have written to the heads behind UK’s biggest fashion retailers, asking them to reveal their environmental record and uncover what steps they are taking to reduce the impact that their products are having on the environment.

Returning to the UK, Dooley took to the streets of Glasgow in an attempt to open the eyes of regular shoppers on the extent of industry impact. Shocking them with the extent of water it would take to produce the content of their shopping bags, many expressed their disappointment at just how well these secrets had been kept; having not heard merely a whisper of the impact that their shopping habits were having. Dooley also involved online influencers who are well-known for uploading clothing hauls to their platforms. The girls involved displayed genuine shock to the scale of the situation and agreed that they too would be adjusting their actions when relaying content to their audiences.

Fashion’s Dirty Secrets gave us the insight that we needed on how our environment is failing in Fashion’s hands. With a need to suppress our appetite for fast clothing, and a desperate call for industry adjustment it made a step towards both a demand in industry recognition and more conscious clothing decisions from us as consumers. With more and more retailers stepping out from the shadows displaying a selection of sustainable products, Dooley’s documentary showed us that we do have a choice – and that these secrets can be secrets no longer.

So, next time I too find myself in a search for something new, I hope to make a competitive step towards changing my own shopping habits. With 30,000 tonnes of clothes dumped in landfill each year, I also hope to stretch those style staples I do own that little bit further. We need to swap our love of fast fashion in a search for fast change.

Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets is available for viewing online at BBC iPlayer.