Taking On The Spot Trend, Sustainably

Our social media editor Julia O’Driscoll takes a look at one fast fashion trend that’s creating a buzz for all the wrong reasons.

One particular dress has been busy making headlines this summer – you probably know which one I’m referring to, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already spotted (*get it?*) someone wearing it today IRL or on Instagram

The sellout design has transformed pavements across the UK into nothing short of a 2019 remake of 101 Dalmatians. Cruella’s iconic style is nowhere to be seen amid the sea of spotted pups passing one another with a knowing glance of acknowledgment on the nation’s high streets and beyond. 

Of course, it’s not the first time that a fast fashion garment has accidentally assumed celebrity status – a few readers may even still have that puffa hanging in their wardrobe… But every time I see another person step onto the district line wearing the dress, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Today, it was a woman styling the monochrome midi with cowboy boots, a chunky belt and a loose-fit blazer. Yesterday, it was another in strappy kitten-heeled sandals and an alice band. The day before, someone wore it with an oversized pink clutch bag, ballet pumps and pearly hair clips. As people try to project their personal style onto the dress, it’s hard to avoid the predictability of an outfit that’s become too iconic for individuality. 

There’s nothing surprising about the spotted dress – or any mass-produced fast fashion item that creates a buzz for a season or two at most – nothing that catches my interest about the wearer’s look for the day. And I’m not just thinking about statement dresses; at a festival earlier this summer, a friend was actively looking out for other people wearing the same shirt as him (yes, it was by a fast fashion brand) – we spotted four within the first half hour. The supposed need for new has the ability to fool us into dressing in unofficial uniforms, producing armies of garms rather than people expressing our personalities through our clothing choices.

My thrifted, jumble sale wardrobe is no serious fashionista’s dream – but one thing I will say is there’s a story behind almost every piece (even my most ragged pyjama top, a find from Help Refugees’ warehouse in Calais). From the handbag made out of waste bouncy castle material, to the vintage ex-NHS uniform pencil skirt that I’ve turned into an A-line mini version of its former self, I love wearing something with a story – and even more than that, I love sharing that story. I made my manager feel the bouncy castle bag on my first day at Eco-Age, and forced the story of the NHS skirt on our head of sustainable fashion and textiles one morning before either of us had taken our first sip of coffee that day. 

What do whirlwind trends mean when it comes to sustainability? Part of taking a slower approach to fashion means wearing the same pieces from your wardrobe time and time again – which, in turn, often means saying no to jumping on the latest fashion bandwagon. Once an item loses its initial appeal of newness, it needs to have staying power – which means investing more than a passing fancy in an item before deciding to take it home with you. 

Now that the dress has created a minor fashion phenomenon, I wonder how many people will still be trying to find ways to style it for December holiday parties, Valentine’s city breaks or even into next spring and beyond…

Today, I’m wearing my own version of the summer spot trend – a simple cotton polka dot midi I bought at a flea market during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last August (for £9!). When spots came back on the scene last year, it took me months of popping into charity shops and browsing jumble sales before I found a piece that was both classic enough to wear again and again, and that would tie in nicely with pieces already in my wardrobe. It would have been much easier to pop into a high street store and grab a spotted-something to tick the trend box – but it would have gone against everything that my consciously-curated, ramshackle wardrobe has come to stand for.

The spotted dress feels like a wasted opportunity for positive action. Though some are saying that the dress has created a community of women united through fashion, I’d say that’s trying to make a bandwagon look like a protest rally. The trend is playing into a harmful hunger that can only be satisfied by even more low-cost clothing, the kind of clothing made by some of the world’s poorest workers in some of the most dangerous working conditions. Wouldn’t it be great to see smaller brands who are doing all they can to be as sustainable, ethical and transparent as possible, getting the same kind of exposure and attracting the same kind of audience? (If you’re looking for some, take a look at our recommended brands).

That’s why I’ll be buying into Oxfam’s Second Hand September campaign instead. Take a slower approach to your wardrobe; and if you really want the buzz of wearing this season’s most sought-after dress, why not ask a friend if you can borrow theirs instead… 

Read why Livia Firth says you’re right to feel guilty about your love of cheap clothes.

See how an anti-fast fashion campaign got appropriated by a fast fashion company.

Find out where the fashion industry stands six years after the Rana Plaza disaster.