The Paradox Of High Street Luxury

...fast fashion may often be fabulous but there's no escaping its immorality.

by Ellen Grace Jones
High street luxury: somewhat of an oxymoron, yet the concept of 'affordable luxury' is one we've readily succumbed to given the 6:00 AM queues of fashion fans snaking around Topshop and H&M, eagerly awaiting their discount Versace, Marni and NJAL Black Sheep Mary Katrantzou. Designer x high street collaborations have served as a fortuitous gap-bridging, purse-friendly way to connect the hoi-polloi with the otherwise unaffordable. Sadly, the hype usually overshadows the product.

Perhaps not content with their successful designer love-ins, H&M recently announced the launch of their very own 'luxe' label called - rather strangely - '& Other Stories'. This begs the question, is it really possible to have high-end high street? Or are we being sold up the river by unscrupulous retailers? Until '& Other Stories' actually hits the rails, it's impossible to tell whether their 'luxury line' is actually made in the same sweatshops as H&M, or indeed painstakingly handcrafted in Italy. Somehow the latter seems unlikely.

As a first-class enabler of emerging talent, NOT JUST A LABEL is a crucial pro-quality-and-design platform. A direct customer-designer conduit. Your item will come hot from their studio, which leaves no doubts about your purchase's provenance or the seller's manufacturing practices.

Fast fashion may often be fabulous but there's no escaping its immorality. By now we are well aware of the seemingly ethics-phobic corps who churn out garments via environmentally unsound factories with inhumane working conditions and hours. Labour Behind The Label's 2011 report, Let's Clean Up Fashion, offered ethical trading scores for 29 UK retailers and revealed very few were willing to publish their figures on what they define as a 'living wage'. "Overall, we were disappointed at the slow progress being made." The report stated. "A number of projects, most notably those being carried out by Gap, had been scrapped entirely, others had totally stagnated. Although a few retailers could demonstrate wages increasing at a handful of their supplier factories, none were able to claim significant progress towards the payment of a living wage."

Just recently it was revealed that Stella McCartney's Team GB Adidas kit was manufactured in Indonesian sweatshops where workers toiled 65 hour weeks and allegedly endured beatings. "If the leader gets really angry, they throw the shoes in front of the workers. Once on my line I saw a worker get hit by a shoe." Claimed Ratna, an employee of PT Panarub one of Adidas' factories.

Economic times are hard and it's no wonder we all want a slice of luxe-style for less, which no doubt sets our internal moral compass askew, when deciding where to shop. That we look to shonkily-made-yet-stylish-goods is not surprising. Investing in lasting quality over sweat-shopped garments is one smart move, but it's equally as imperative to financially support deserving new talent and business as well.

Fashion - like any industry - is not exempt from megalomaniacal capitalist machinations, strangling the lifeblood of other designers, brands and retailers so it's critical we think sharp and shop consciously with conscience. 'High street luxury' may afford you that cheap Mary Katrantzou dress but it really only lines the pockets of Topshop tax-dodger Philip Green, or other high street behemoths.

Perusing NJAL's digital rails, RHLS' bold, graphic Quadrocepticon dress and Katrina Ferrari's beautiful custom made trapeze dress retail at the same price points as a designer / high street collaboration dress yet are infinitely more characterful, idiosyncratic and crucially, made with love.

Ultimately, unique clothing from up-and-coming designers who refuse to pander to disposable trends (nor compromise ethics) is a fundamental investment in your identity. The antithesis of the 'must-have-label' herd mentality. Purchasing fledgling labels and brands underscore a commitment to individuality whilst supporting new businesses in equal measures.