I was lucky enough to recently catch up with Elizabeth Illing from Project Stopshop to catch up on her work and inspiration, reaction to "that post", and much much more.
Tell me about your journey to start Project Stopshop?
During my time at University, I studied Fashion Promotion and I explored how the fast fashion industry has a huge negative impact both socially and environmentally throughout its supply chains. I then learned how brands use greenwashing methods to falsely present themselves as sustainable or ethical.
I began Project Stopshop for my final project - I wanted to create an engaging anti-fast fashion campaign with strong visuals that would catch people's attention and bring them to question their fashion consumption. I created giant receipts, paper receipt t-shirts, clothes tags, and clothes labels to display a range of data and quotes that I collected from my fashion addicted peers! I was learning about creating branding and imagery to sell fashion but often felt disillusioned by parts of the industry and didn’t want to become a part of the problem. It’s easy to become swept up in the fast fashion culture which is brushed aside as being ‘just the way things are’. I wanted to create imagery to promote my campaign rather than a product.
How did that post (Forever 21) change your life/work (if at all)?
I was surprised to see that my image had been so misinterpreted by Forever 21 but then found it to be quite appropriate that my image was displayed on their page. The very fact that they couldn’t sense the irony of the quote “I probably won’t wear this dress again because it’s already on my Instagram” really proves the point that the fast fashion industry is delusional! It backs up everything my project stands for, but it is also quite depressing. I am just grateful it got my image circulated and would have been seen by many fast fashion shoppers when displayed on their page. That is the real target audience for my work!
What have been some of the best (and maybe worst) engagement or follow-ups you've had since then?
Despite the unfortunate circumstances having my image posted by Forever 21 meant that I was contacted by various news outlets and it meant my project was able to extend its reach even further.
It brought a whole new set of followers to my page and I found it very encouraging to continue creating work for this cause.
What do you think of greenwashing? And how it seems even the largest of large companies are working these days?
Greenwashing is terrible because it’s the attempt to make money from false sustainable/ethical claims about a brand. It’s misleading consumers into believing they are doing a good thing by purchasing from these companies, I feel big brands think they can get away with it because they assume nobody will question them. It’s unfair to leave customers feeling confused when there is a lack of transparency in this way, people won’t know what is truly sustainable. I think there needs to be legislation that stops brands from basically lying about their processes. Simply calling a garment ‘green’ or ‘conscious’ does not mean that there has been absolutely no negative impact environmentally or socially during the production of that piece.
How do you think the fashion landscape has changed in the last few years?
There has been an ever-growing number of incredibly cheap online brands who promote a disposable culture of bulk buying cheap clothing. This is heightened by social media and the promotions and advertising that is prevalent on these platforms, the need to always been seen in something new - just as many influencers appear to be. However, alongside this there has also been a rise in the public interest in sustainability as people are waking up to what a huge issue it is. I think more people are searching for brands and garments with meaning and want to try and support sustainable efforts, so I hope this positive shift continues.
What impact, if any, do you think COVID will have on the fashion business?
I think the pandemic has highlighted our ability to cope with less and this will most definitely lead a lot of people to a permanent change in lifestyle once this has passed. Having said that - here in the UK our shops are just beginning to open up again and even in the first few days there were massive queues outside cheap high-street chains.. so perhaps there are some people who feel they have been deprived of fast fashion shopping and will simply slip back into old habits. We are being encouraged to shop and support the economy but we should think carefully about who we choose to invest our money in, we need to shop small and support independent brands!
Have you followed the #payup movement, and if so what do you think about it?
Yes, this campaign is hugely important, it’s ridiculous that this movement even has to exist just to make sure brands do the thing which is morally right. This kind of behaviour needs to be brought to the attention of the public and so brands can be held accountable. It’s amazing to see the results that this campaign has already brought about, I’m constantly checking the lists which are posted showing who still needs to pay up! This cannot be left to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality.
Any great things you are working on currently?
This year I was planning to evolve Project Stopshop further including a pop-up exhibition, I would really love to resume that and create a physical space for the project once it is safe to do so! There are also a few brands who I’m beginning to collaborate with which is something I’ve planned to do for a while, it’s great to make partnerships with like-minded individuals.
Are there any great blogs or podcasts or books you are reading you'd like to recommend?
Amazing group campaigning for global change within the fashion industry, the resources here are incredibly insightful and useful. The perfect place to begin when learning about this topic!
Sustainable consultancy, I often find really interesting articles here.
Website and app which cohesively breaks down which fashion brands are getting it right and which have more to do to improve their ethical and sustainability ratings. A very helpful guide to help navigate around some brands who are slightly less transparent.
UAL’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion always has exciting new projects beginning and online learning resources available.
who was Vogue’s first sustainability editor, super interesting read, and Clare also now has a great podcast of the same name, definitely worth a listen!