In case you missed it, Missguided released a £1 bikini and the Internet was MAD. The backlash has seen conversations sparked about fast fashion, ethics, affordability, size inclusivity, and more. But, there are always lessons to take away from these mistakes. Here’s what we learned from Missguided’s royal screw-up…
This is how the story starts. On June 11th, Missguided, a UK-based multi-channel fast fashion retailer posted a picture of the black string bikini with this caption: “Introducing the fire £1 bikini that everyone will notice (but your bank account won’t). Shop the ‘one pound bikini’ RN in our Insta story before it’s gone”. Missguided went on to announce that they would drop the 1,000 featured bikinis every day.
While many jumped on the opportunity to cop a too-good-to-be-true deal, a few conscious shoppers took to the comments section of the post and slammed the brand with comments like: “How can you be paying your seamstresses and other garment workers a fair wage with prices like this?” “You really shouldn’t be promoting a £1 swimsuit. This is fast fashion and we are in a climate crisis.” The hashtag “#WhoMadeMycCothes”, referencing the slogan from the global Fashion Revolution movement also showed up more than a few times.
Sustainability activist Venetia Falconer put Missguided on blast with a hilarious video about other almost-free, eco-friendly alternatives to the one-pound bikini. But as funny as it was, Venetia also pointed out that the bikini, made from 100% new plastic, will outlive every single one of us on this planet.
View this post on Instagram
COSTING THE EARTH | 🌎💰♻️🌊 I acknowledge my privilege to have the time and money to spend on clothes, but when a bikini costs £1, someone, somewhere, is paying. Not to mention the planet. Fast fashion is exploiting people (most of whom are women working in appalling conditions) and polluting our lands and oceans. If you’re thinking about what’s on your plate and the plastic straw in your drink, think about who is making your clothes. To @Missguided: being proud of your fast fashion business model is no longer something to shout about. We’re in the midst of a global climate emergency and we need to drastically slow consumption, rather than relentlessly encouraging it. I don’t think I’m the only person who would love to hear more about your sustainability policy and responsibility statements. Do get in touch 🙏🏼
The backlash was so bad that if you search “Missguided” on Google, the top stories are about this exact scandal. In response, Missguided had to publish a statement about the bikini. And they did:
“We launched the £1 bikini as a promotional item to celebrate 10 years of empowering women to look and feel good without breaking the bank. It cost us more to produce than £1 and we’re absorbing the costs so we can offer it at an incredible price as a gift to our customers. There has been no compromise with this bikini – it is sourced to the same high standards as all of our other products.”
So the plot thickens. Soon after Missguided’s statement, ethical consumers continued to criticise the brand, highlighting that it was ridiculous that they could mass produce a bikini like this, underpaying their garment workers, despite their mission. Their mission statement, as it reads on their website, is to empower females globally to be confident in themselves and be who they want to be.” Some came to the defence of the fast fashion retailer, supporting Missguided’s claim that they are probably paying their workers the usual wage, absorbing the cost for advertising purposes.
Let’s consider that for a moment, and assume it to be true. Does paying their workers “the usual wage” actually help Missguided’s case?
How ethical was Missguided before this?
According to the Good On You app, Missguided is not just “fast fashion” but also “rapid fashion” for their ability to drop 1,000+ new products weekly for their “babes”. Producing at such a large scale means that Missguided likely employs many garment workers. Good On You writes: “Despite being part of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which promotes respect for workers’ rights, the brand doesn’t disclose where its final stage of production occurs and provides no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain.”
Earlier this year, Missguided (and Boohoo) were rated amongst the least engaged brands when it came to promoting environmental sustainability and protecting its workers. (UK Environmental Audit Committee) With this information coupled with the current saga, there’s nothing to be proud of even if they are paying their workers the regular wage and not cutting costs to make this one-pound bikini.
We haven’t even talked about the trouble that this one-pound bikini spells for the planet. In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’re undergoing a bit of a climate crisis right now. Business-as-usual would set us down a path of complete ecological destruction; civilisation as we know it is coming to an end, probably by 2050. We’re already seeing signs of planetary distress, with increasing extreme weather events and unusual rates of melting in colder regions. The fashion industry, specifically and especially fast fashion, is a serious contributor to emissions, pollution, and waste problems.
How bad is this bikini anyway?
You might be thinking: a one-pound bikini can’t possibly that bad. But it is. Missguided is selling 1,000 of these bikinis a day, at a price of one pound, and they are selling out. So much so that customers have to sign up to a mailing list to be notified when the next 1,000 drops. That’s 1,000 people, daily, purchasing a cheap bikini, and without thinking about the true cost of it. These 1,000 people are then probably going to tell their friends to also snag a good deal. Which encourages more people to mindlessly purchase not just the bikini but also encourages cost-cutting sales.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says. A bikini produced at such a fast rate and for this cheap is unlikely to last more than a few wears. Also because the material is polyester, which is made from petroleum and is carbon-intensive, non-renewable, and certainly not bio-degradable. The production process further requires over double the amount of energy that cotton requires. Most polyester is made in countries where there are lax pollution laws, meaning that to dye so many pieces, synthetic dyes are probably used, which gets washed into our water bodies. Polyester also releases tons of microplastics into the oceans. Because it is so cheap, customers will likely dispose of it immediately after it snags or snaps. The likelihood is that these bikinis are going to end up in a landfill, or the ocean, or burned. All of which is, obviously, not good for the planet.
The arguments for the one-pound bikini, disputed?
There are two possible arguments for the one-pound bikini. The first is the affordability. One-pound bikinis and other similarly cheaply-priced bikinis make the swimsuits affordable to the masses, especially those who cannot afford more expensive, ethically-made alternatives. We’re not disputing that bikinis should be made attainable for the masses. Everyone, regardless of income and background, should be able to own bikinis without breaking the bank. We also understand that we can not expect people who cannot afford ethically-made alternatives to just not buy bikinis. But cheaper alternatives of ethically made swimsuits do exist. You can buy one secondhand, borrow from a friend, family member, or even learn to DIY your own bikini from unworn clothing.
The second argument for the one-pound bikini is size inclusivity. Missguided’s one-pound bikini goes from size 4 to 24, which roughly covers S to XL. That being said, ethically-made alternatives that go up to that size range do exist. Ethical brand August Society produces swimwear from XS to XL; UBU Boutique and slightly cheaper ethical brand Haikini produces swimwear from XS to L. ThredUp, a popular online secondhand retailer, has swimsuits from sizes 00 to 32, which is an impressive range – though they don’t yet ship to Asia.
Bottom line? Purchasing a one-pound bikini would sort of make sense if it lasted more than a few wears. But the truth is, a product produced in mass simply cannot be long-lasting.
What can we learn from the Missguided fiasco?
We usually sweep fast fashion scandals under the rug. Mostly because of news cycles, our short attention spans and lack of general consumer awareness. Remember that time a report revealed that hundreds of H&M and Gap factory workers get abused daily? Or the many times ZARA came under fire for culturally appropriating their designs? You probably don’t. Because the number of times they drop a new collection vastly outnumbers the number of times these scandals get talked about.
So let’s actually learn something this time. First of all, fast fashion brands need to understand that being able to encourage gross overconsumption by their customers is no longer something to be proud of. We also need to encourage fast fashion brands to do better and commit to taking steps towards slower, more sustainable business models in a time of climate crisis. Second of all, we need to see the ethical fashion movement become more inclusive. We need to make petite and plus sizing more accessible – whether it’s ethical brands or thrift stores.
Reformation’s swimwear is so cute – but we can’t all afford these now can we?
What about affordability?
In an ideal world, ethical brands should be affordable to all. Yet we have become so used to paying dirt cheap prices for low-quality fashion products that we lose sight of the fact that products like this are actually not cheap to produce. We also tend to forget that fast fashion has made products affordable to all, but not products that necessarily last. On the other hand, if all fashion brands become ethical, that would lead to some people not being able to afford fashion at all.
There is really no satisfactory answer to that question. One way out is to reframe the way we think. The ongoing climate crisis needs us to stop producing so much, and recognise that even if all fashion brands stopped producing now, we’d have enough for a long time. This also means that buying secondhand is really the more ethical solution, and is indeed nothing to be ashamed of, compared to buying new.
Another way out is to come to a compromise. Buy that $20 bikini from a fast fashion retailer, and wear it as many times as you can. But also, call for the same fast fashion brands to produce higher quality products under better conditions.
Let’s talk tangible takeaways. Because we can all say what we want about this Missguided saga, it’s converting thoughts into actions that is much more important. Here is what you can do:
1. Write to Missguided, or any fast fashion brand, and tell them to do better. Pay their workers fairly, and/or produce in an environmentally responsible way.
2. Write to your local politicians, and tell them to do better too. This matters especially in Asia, where most fast fashion garment factories are located (which means they are answerable to the guidelines and requirements provided by the local government).
3. Be a conscious consumer. Before you purchase anything, especially something like this one-pound bikini, think about where and who it’s coming from. Also, find out if there are other alternatives, like thrift stores, organise swaps, etc.
4. If you can afford it, purchase ethically. Support ethical brands who are doing good so that fast fashion retailers can see that there is a market for ethically produced products.
5. Talk about it. Call Missguided out on your social media platform. Tell your peers, your community, that this is unacceptable in a time of climate crisis.
Remember, your words matter more than you think – use them wisely.