Missguided is now selling a bikini for £1. That’s less than this week's copy of Grazia cost you, less than a bus fare, less than a takeaway latte. It hardly needs pointing out that clothing that costs a quid isn’t made to endure. It’s as disposable as a Love Island relationship – the show where this bikini is being advertised; in the ad breaks and on a former contestant. And while Missguided is by no means the only brand peddling cynical, lightning-fast ‘fashion’, this is the outrageous apex of the movement.
‘Missguided’s £1 bikini was invented to give me a nervous breakdown,’ says Lucy Siegle, author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? ‘Clothing is a durable good – so you have to make garments to last so that they can be reworn,’ she continues. ‘They take loads of environmental resources to make, such as water, oil, cotton and dyes, and cause global warming gases. But the trade-off is that you keep the garment for a long time and re-wear it. This bikini crosses the line into straight-up disposable and has huge ramifications environmentally.’
All this came in the week the Government rejected the Environmental Audit Committee’s Fixing Fashion report, which recommended setting obligatory targets for retailers with a turnover above £36 million, putting a ban on incinerating unsold stock, and that companies pay a penny for every garment they produce, to raise funds for better recycling systems in the UK. ‘I have always thought we need to educate and change personal behaviour towards consumption,’ says designer Richard Malone, whose own collections include ethically sourced, sustainable fabrics. ‘It is vital that people understand the actual cost of textile production.’
Missguided has pitched the £1 bikini as ‘a promotional item to celebrate 10 years of empowering women to look and feel good without breaking the bank’. EcoAge creative director Livia Firth says, ‘It is fundamentally wrong and irresponsible to have a bikini costing less than a sandwich – we need to ask, who is picking up that cost? Millions of workers are enslaved in supply chains fuelling a system based on throwaway fashion. What is empowering is for us to stop buying fast and furiously and start acting as if what we wear matters to the lives of other women, because it really does.’
‘I think it’s crazy that we don’t have legislation to protect our workers, many of whom are incredibly vulnerable and invisible to consumers,’ adds Malone. To be fair, Missguided has pointed out that ‘[the bikini] cost us more than £1 to produce and we’re absorbing the costs so we can offer it as a gift to our customers. There has been no compromise – it is sourced to the same high standards as all of our other products. But ask yourself whether, in a world where the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global waste water and 10% of global carbon emissions, according to the UN, this is really the right message to send? Price tags like this immunise us to the true value of things and fuel a more, more, more culture. As Greenpeace protesters who interrupted Philip Hammond’s speech last week shouted, ‘This is an emergency.’
Still, isn’t all the eye-rolling at this bikini just the smug privilege of the middle classes? For lower-income households with budgets to squeeze, what’s the harm? It’s not the ‘fault’ of the customer; we shouldn’t be offered these options. But the high street is raising its game: Arket, Lindex and H&M all have sustainable swim options. So perhaps it’s worth remembering that while there’s a lot of talk about sustainability, consumer power is in our wallets, not inspirational hashtags. I hope there is a kick-back against these items. We deserve better – because the price might be £1, but the cost is much greater.