Love Island is a ratings hit but a sustainable fashion disaster

Women contestants on ITV's Love Island

‘Every day girls in the Love Island villa wear a new outfit, promoting the insidious idea that you cannot be seen in the same clothes twice.’ Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Like millions of viewers, I’m hopelessly addicted to Love Island in a way I never thought I would be. But my biggest problem is not so much with the show per se, it’s with fast fashion

Through omnipresent product placements and advertising, Love Island has turned into fast fashion’s biggest advocate. Every day, girls in the villa wear a new outfit, promoting the insidious idea that you cannot be seen in the same clothes twice. You can even shop for what the islanders wear in real time through the show’s app or via its partner I Saw It Firstencouraging impulsive purchases. When Britons are already expected to buy 50m single-use outfits this summer, the show only adds fuel to the fire, or rather to the truckload of clothes that ends up in the landfill every second.

The problem is our planet cannot take more £1 bikinis. When clothes are so cheap, they are usually made out of materials derived from plastic, such as polyester or nylon. These materials can take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, and release thousands of microfibres during each wash, which end up in our oceans.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wears a dress by the sustainable brand Reformation during her tour of Australia with Prince Harry.
 Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wears a dress by the sustainable brand Reformation during her tour of Australia with Prince Harry. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

To keep costs down, the fast fashion industry has also been known for manufacturing in some of the lowest-wage countries, where labour and safety standards are particularly poor. Despite pledges for better working conditions in supply chains following the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, this model remains prevalent today.

Love Island has an incredible platform and the potential to influence millions of people. I wish the show used it to be a force for good, starting with fashion. The good news is there are a number of opportunities to get on the sustainable fashion path.

Reducing our consumption of virgin fibres by reusing garments is essential to tackle the throwaway culture fast fashion promotes. More and more influencers are embracing the slow fashion movement, turning to what’s already in their wardrobe rather than buying new. If Emma Watson and Livia Firth proudly re-wear outfits on the most coveted red carpets, surely islanders could do the same in the villa.

Far from the stigma it was once associated with, thrifting and upcycling are also becoming fashion statements. With the comeback of crafting, doing new with old is no longer seen as an odd thing to do. Wearing clothes that have had a previous life is an opportunity to look fashionable with one-of-a-kind pieces while reducing the need for new resources. Rather than a hundredth kissing challenge, what about harnessing the creative potential of our islanders behind a sewing machine?

After taxis and hotels, the sharing economy is on its way to disrupt the fashion industry. New business models have arisen in the past 10 years making it possible to rent, borrow or swap clothes. Their success in the market shows that clothes do not need to be brand new to feel new to consumers.

When new is the only option, alternatives to fast fashion do exist. A number of ethical and sustainable fashion brands have emerged, shedding a new light on the importance of better materials and fair working conditions in the supply chain. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has subtly turned into a sustainable fashion champion. It only takes one wear from her to make the sales of brands such as Veja or Reformation skyrocket. Could you imagine what would happen if Love Island did the same?

It’s no secret that brand partnerships generate significant revenue for reality TV. But the climate crisis we are facing is very real too, and we know for a fact that fashion plays a key role in it. So now may be a good time for Love Island to embrace its corporate social responsibility, and rethink its partnership strategy in the light of the emergency.