Untangling the nuances of the sustainable fashion industry is an intimidating feat. As sustainable fashion grows in popularity each year, these nuances appear to distort to such an extent that many consumers have become unengaged with the debate which asks: what makes a brand truly ‘sustainable’? Nevertheless, conversations surrounding privilege and accessibility are essential when it comes to constructing this upcoming industry, to ensure more ethical practises in the wider fashion world.
Last week, sustainable activewear brand owner Grace Beverley announced TALA’s latest collaboration. Many fans were shocked to hear that their favourite environmentally-conscious brand was partnering up with fast fashion giant, ASOS, to create a collection exclusively available on ASOS’ website. After hearing the news, one twitter user wrote: “the ‘sustainability’ aspect of tala is now a mere commodity and seems like they’re massively going against their values”. Another said: “the brand values seem to have changed, with the several drops of new ranges and collections this past year alone which also opposes my perception of slow fashion”.
When Beverley unveiled TALA in May 2019, the brand became an instant hit with each new launch selling out within the hour of its release. The hype was contagious and even inspired me to pick up my own pair of leggings and matching sports bra. TALA has consistently championed sustainability and boasts of its efforts in comparison to mainstream activewear brands such as Gymshark or Fabletics. Their pride is certainly not in vain, as TALA’s statistics do ultimately speak for themselves. For example, a percentage of their products are made using recycled cotton and this saves 4817 litres of water per tonne of recycled cotton in comparison to conventional virgin cotton. They also primarily use ethical factories in Portugal to manufacture their clothes.
We must ask then - Is it troubling that TALA has joined forces with one of the fashion market’s largest fast fashion retailers? And does this deal affect TALA’s ability to market themselves as a sustainable company?
"Perhaps it is fair to say that selling TALA products on a mainstream site such as ASOS will inspire more consumers to make sustainable purchases. Yet, is this purchase ultimately counteracted once the same shopper places a simultaneous order with fast fashion brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo".
Of course, this is not the first business deal in recent news which has triggered a reaction from the sustainably-conscious. Only last year we witnessed an overwhelming response when indie oat-milk brand Oatly signed a $200 million (£149 million) investment deal led by the controversial firm Blackstone. When these controversial deals between an indie ‘sustainable’ business and a market giant arise, many of the same arguments are regurgitated in their favour. Namely that bringing sustainable brands into the mainstream will force more shoppers to opt for the more sustainable product. Perhaps it is fair to say that selling TALA products on a mainstream site such as ASOS will inspire more consumers to make sustainable purchases. Yet, is this purchase ultimately counteracted once the same shopper places a simultaneous order with fast fashion brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo -- both of which are also available to purchase through ASOS.
Preempting the concerns of her fans, Beverley took to Instagram stories to defend TALA’s collaboration with ASOS. She stated: “when you’re a sustainable brand there’s a lot more reasoning that goes into decisions,” and recognised that when making decisions she must ask: “what are we saying about the [wider] sustainability industry?” She retained that TALA’s mission is still to “make sustainability the norm” because “there is no space for unsustainable and unethical manufactured clothes anymore”.
Beverley’s preemptive statement highlights the arguably unfair truth: sustainable companies are consistently held to a higher standard than their fast-fashion competitors. While I can acknowledge that any brand-owner would be proud to see their brand reaching a larger market, I must admit I still felt disappointment upon hearing the news that TALA had joined forces with ASOS. As a huge advocate for making sustainable fashion accessible, I do believe as aspiring ethical shoppers we must address that the sustainability industry is ridiculed with privileged ideology (typically demonstrated by the inflated costs of items which are specifically marketed as ‘sustainable’). We will not see real change in consumer habits until sustainably is accessible to all.
Equally, I do not think this deal has genuinely made TALA any more accessible than it was previously because the prices of the ASOS collection are the same as ordering directly from TALA’s own site. Additionally, by creating an exclusive collection which is only available on ASOS, TALA has ultimately forced collectors and fans of the brand towards the ASOS website, some of whom might have never purchased off ASOS if it was not as a means to show their support for a brand and influencer they love so dearly. In juxtaposition to TALA’s ethically-conscious ethos, ASOS has frequently faced criticism regarding how ethical their practises are. For example, Lara Robertson reported for Good On You: “ASOS’ labour rating is also ‘Not Good Enough’. Almost none of its supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights, and it received a score of 41-50% in the Fashion Transparency Index”. ASOS’ criticism only heightened amidst the pandemic when workers at their Barnsley warehouse claimed there were not sufficient COVID restrictions in place to protect them. While ASOS has denied these allegations, the controversy surrounding them does make TALA’s partnership appear all the more peculiar.
This debate is far bigger than a single brand and one that will continue to arise until fast fashion companies finally listen and change their ways for good. It is clear that many fans have interpreted this deal as ASOS’s sorrowful attempt to hide / make up for their own unethical practices. Holding your favourite brand’s accountable is one of the best ways to demonstrate to them what we, as consumers, want to see. You can easily do this by reaching your favourite brands on social media and expressing how important ethical practises are to you as a consumer. It seems many TALA fans have growing concerns surrounding the brand’s ethos and therefore, I hope Beverley takes the time to reflect and listen to her fans who have concerns about TALA’s future.