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Missguided, The ‘Girl Boss’ & The Reality of Fast Fashion in the North

Channel 4’s documentary insists the North is the place for empowered working women, but does it neglect the reality of sexism in fast fashion?

In the first episode of ‘Inside Missguided’, we meet Eleanore Chetcuti (Head of Brand), Treasure Evans (Creative Director) and Shelley Herring (Buyer). On the surface, the narrator’s claim that the company “might be owned by a man, but it's definitely [women] who run the show”, seems true.

Only after a deeper look does this statement become trivial. Missguided’s executive board is male dominated. The CEO, Chief Product Officer, Chief Growth Officer, and Head of Sourcing are all men. The company still has a 46% gender pay gap too.

While the documentary paints the North as the capital for empowered working women, this is unfortunately an illusion.

Yet the North is used as a thematic prop throughout. Perhaps the boldest claim is that the North is superior to London because it's less nepotistic. Allegedly, you don’t have to “know someone” to attain a career in fashion here. Yet in the same episode, we meet designer, Rohini Sood, who is the cousin of CEO, Nitin Passi. While Sood is talented, her limited past experience is unignorable.

To distract us from this evident nepotism, the focus shifts to Head of Buying, Victoria Saliba. She’s a working pregnant woman and it's rare that stories of employed mothers are told in the media. While this is progressive, the documentary ultimately excludes the context behind fast fashion.

Footage of the mostly-female cast working their “arses off” is a response to the company’s £26 million loss in 2018. An example of the team hard at work is buyer, Shelley Herring, haggling a supplier in Pakistan down to £7.40 for a dress. The bulk order is to be made and delivered in a matter of days. Herring is commended for her ‘girl boss’ attitude but there’s no reference to the conditions the dresses are being made in.

In fact, Missguided has links to Bangladesh, which saw the collapse of a Dhaka garment factory in 2013 due to poor working conditions. Aside from dangerous working environments, making a bulk of dresses so quickly for that low a cost is unfair and it’s a gendered injustice. 80% of garment workers are women, meaning it’s them who are being underpaid.

The company also sources half its stock from Leicester – the widely publicised modern slavery zone of England. Investigations uncovered the average wage here was around £4, compared to the UK’s minimum wage of £8.20. Underpaying women has detrimental consequences for Missguided’s gender pay gap.

Other subject matter includes body diversity. One episode sees Creative Director, Treasure, and Head of Brand, Eleanore, search for diverse models for an ‘inclusive’ campaign. Yet in June, the website saw plus-sized shorts modelled on a size 8 woman. Actions like this create ridiculous standards for thinness, which is already a loaded issue.

The brand was also caught photoshopping stretch marks onto a model in 2017, rather than just using a model with stretch marks. This was an effort to seem more inclusive but it’s incredibly regressive considering the modelling industry still denies opportunity to women with stretch marks.

Limiting opportunities for snubbed women goes beyond body diversity. The documentary also focuses on originality with many staff members claiming Missguided “doesn’t copy”. However within the first 15 minutes of episode one, designers produce a replica of a dress worn by influencer, Sofia Richie. The brand also duplicated swimsuit designs from Scottish designer, Danielle Meighan, in 2017, which inevitably deprived a less financially successful designer of business.

Worse still, the brand claimed to support Black Lives Matter while simultaneously replicating more swimsuit designs from the independent black business, DestinationSwimwear. Apparently empowering women in the workplace only applies to the predominantly white Missguided team. Diversity isn’t addressed, but the non-white faces in the team can be counted on one hand.

Ultimately, the documentary is post-colonial feminist propaganda. What the women of Missguided consider empowering whitewashes feminism. It unintentionally presents itself as a last push to make fast fashion seem inclusive to the activist generation.

It’s no secret fast fashion is losing its market, with 52% of young people now favouring buying second-hand. This documentary seeks to save fast fashion, but its agenda is redundant.

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