An Instagram post from an international fast fashion retailer has been slammed for being “tone-deaf” and naive to the growing debate raising issues about the environmental and socially responsible sourcing of clothing.
Forever21’s Indian social media account re-posted a photo of an item’s label saying, “I probably won’t wear this dress again because it’s already been on my Instagram”.
The label also said the dress was “made in China” and was “100% fast fashion”.
Accompanying the post from the verified account was the comment, “now let’s be honest here”.
The sentiment infuriated many on the social media site, who said the company was promoting an irresponsible approach to the international clothing industry.
The post has also caused confusion among advocates from the sustainable fashion community because the image was initially created as a protest against fast fashion by Elizabeth Illing from advocacy group Project Stopshop.
The picture is typically and widely shared by the “sorts of people who want to address the pace of today’s fast fashion culture,” says Vogue’s sustainability editor Clare Press.
Therefore, the intention of Forever21’s Instagram was unclear.
“The post was tone-deaf, and presumably created by someone who is unaware of the changing nature of the debate around fast fashion,” Ms Press told news.com.au.
“The Instagram post uses the ‘what’s-with-that?’ emoji of the girl with her hands up, like it’s something cute, with the caption ‘let’s be honest here’.
“The suggestion is that it’s aspirational to be able to buy clothes to wear once — and let’s face it, for many people, it still is.”
Ms Press, who is the author of the Wardrobe Crisis and How we went from Sunday best to fast fashion, said global garment production has doubled in 15 years.
“At the same time, clothing use (how long we hold onto our clothes) has dived,” she said.
“According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothing utilisation has fallen by 36 per cent.
“What does that mean? Basically, we’re buying fashion to throw away. Mountains of clothing end up in landfill or incinerated each year.”
“What’s more,” she says, “there’s plenty of evidence that Instagram is making it worse. Young women live in fear of being seen on Instagram wearing the same dress twice. This image is a comment on that. It’s calling out our unsustainable fashion culture. So no wonder sustainable fashionistas are calling out a fast fashion brand for posting it.”
Forever21’s Instagram post was liked 5500 times at the point of publishing, but many jumped in the comments section to share their disgust at the idea it seemed to celebrate.
“How can you promote such a post? Stop misguiding your target audience in the wrong direction just to increase your sales and profits. Reuse clothes,” one user said.
Many others said they would boycott the fast fashion company.
“I can’t follow a company that is blatantly careless with their creation of waste and effects on the environment,” one user said.
Another: “Do the people posting this actually live in India? Aren’t there countless people suffering because of the exploitation of the fashion industry? This is utterly disrespectful.”
Ms Press said it was worth noting the Instagram account in question is the Indian division of the company, which only has 106,000 followers, as opposed to the United States account where the company was founded, which has 1.6 million followers.
“Relatively speaking, these clothes are not so cheap in India, as they are, for example, in Australia and America,” she said.
“In emerging economies, brands like Zara and Forever21 can be seen as luxurious.”
Ms Press told news.com.au education and awareness of the ethical and environmental issues related to fast fashion is vital.
“Human rights, our carbon footprint, water pollution waste — these are all very serious issues,” she said.
“We need to raise awareness and offer solutions that are practical, but also enjoyable.
“If we lose fact of the sight that fashion is meant to be fun for the people who buy it, I’m pretty sure they’ll stop listening.”
News.com.au reached out to Forever21 for comment to respond to this story.