Just weeks away from Love Island returning to our TVs, the UK’s biggest summertime pop culture phenomenon has announced that it will be dumping its fast fashion sponsors for secondhand fashion from eBay.
ITV’s premier dating reality show, which sees UK’s ‘hottest’ young singles spend eight weeks searching for love in a luxury villa in Mallorca, has become synonymous with fast fashion in the seven years since it first launched. In recent seasons, the show has been sponsored by some of the UK’s largest (and perhaps most notorious) fast fashion brands such as I Saw It First and Missguided, who provide Love Island contestants with their wardrobes for the duration of the show.
The Love Island-Fast Fashion connection doesn’t end once summer’s over, however. The show has become known as the place where contestants vie for love as much (if not more) as they do for the lucrative fashion deals that await them after a successful stint in the villa. Many past contestants have built multi-million pound empires off of the deals fast fashion brands are quick to snap them up for: Season 5 winner Amber Rose Gill was reportedly paid £1 million to become an ambassador for Manchester-based MissPap, while Season 7 winner Millie Grace Court reportedly signed the largest Love Island brand deal in history when she signed a seven-figure deal to become the ‘global face’ of ASOS in 2021. You don’t even have to win to rake in the cash; perhaps the most successful of the bunch, Season 5 contestant Molly Mae Hague, famously signed a multimillion pound deal in 2021 to become Creative Director of PrettyLittleThing.
These partnerships have certainly benefitted the sponsoring brands just as much: thanks to Love Island’s average 4.2 million daily viewers, Love Island 2021 sponsor I Saw It First saw a 67% increase in sales and 254% increase in Instagram followers.
Love Island viewers flock to the show every summer because of its comforting familiarity. We know we’ll be ahead for eight+ weeks of conventionally attractive (read: white, thin and able-bodied) men and women prancing around in skimpy swimwear searching for “their type on paper”, and we know once the show ends we’ll be bombarded with an endless stream of #sponsored Instagram posts convincing us that we desperately need the neon co-ord sets they’re making millions to take a picture in and likely never wear again. We also know that the brands that make these Insta-ready outfits make up a significant chunk of the 336,000 tonnes of used clothing that end up in UK landfill each year (WRAP).
This year, Love Island is determined to fix this problem by providing contestants a wardrobe (excluding swimwear) full of ‘preloved’ clothes from eBay. The partners have even provided us data that show UK consumers have taken a fancy to the secondhand retail market: 20 per cent of UK consumers buy more secondhand clothing now than they did two years ago, and 16 per cent (22 per cent for those aged 18-34, or Love Island’s target audience) of their wardrobes are now secondhand.
With the Love Island franchise so loyal, babe, to fast fashion, it’s difficult to be convinced that a partnership with eBay will be enough to truly disentangle the show, its contestants, and its viewers from the second most polluting industry in the world. Arguably, the Love Island universe’s relationship is ultimately less about the clothes themselves and more to do with our society’s obsession with hyperconsumption. Just as our beloved Islanders can easily swap a romantic partner for a shiny new one every week, our fashion consumption habits have become driven by a desire – if not pressure – to constantly be seen to have the newest, trendiest and hottest items out there.
Unfortunately, the UK’s high and ever-increasing cost of living means many consumers flock to the brands that can provide these on-trend items for the lowest prices – but also the highest cost to the environment and ill-paid garment workers. Love Island may not have created this problem, but it has certainly perpetuated and profited off of it.
This all begs the question: is it really better to encourage consumers to over-consume as long as the items they’re purchasing are secondhand? How meaningful will this gesture be once this year’s contestants sign on to their brand deals, which will inevitably include a fast fashion brand or two? Or perhaps ITV’s efforts are going further than can currently be seen, and the Love Island producers are lining up more sustainable fashion brands for post-show partnerships with their contestants.
That may be wishful thinking, but before the franchise can truly convince us that fast fashion has given it the ick, it will likely have to radically overhaul how it engages with consumption, from what contestants wear on-screen to the brands they endorse afterwards. We can only hope that the franchise is ready to put profit aside and encourage consumers to opt for fashion that is sustainable enough to last longer than the average Love Island relationship.