Lazy Oaf Are Resisting Fast Fashion with Ethical Streetwear (2023)

In a corner of east London that travel guides probably call ‘bijou,’ there lies a kaleidoscopic cavern of really great clothes. Through a set of white doors is a treasure chest of garments that fall somewhere between streetwear silhouettes and kids’ dressing up box costumes. Puffy chiffon sleeves swing gently on racks next to oversized tees emblazoned with sarky slogans about hating your job, and on the next rail are funny subversions of the sort of commemorative tops you can buy at holiday resorts (“The sun never shines,” reads one t-shirt illustrated with a sad-faced palm tree.)


The jumpers, skirts, trousers, coats and shoes around me are carefully thought out, and made in a limited quantity. They carry such a strong brand identity – bold prints, a slacker aesthetic, a sense of fun – that they could only be made by one company: the now-iconic British brand Lazy Oaf.

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Part of Lazy Oaf's current Dr. Martens collaboration collection (left) and their east London shop front.

I’m at Lazy Oaf’s Shoreditch store, their second in London, following the Carnaby Street outpost that opened in 2013. I’ll be meeting some of the creatives behind the brand, which has endured for almost two decades as a completely independent venture, with no investors. There is design manager Shirley Webb, Jerry O’Sullivan, the PR and marketing manager who’s been with Lazy Oaf for over a decade, and of course the founder and CEO Gemma Shiel, who started everything on a market stall in early 2001. In an era where new fast fashion labels seemingly spring up every week, often supplying poor quality, unethically made clothes with a large environmental impact, I want to find out first-hand what it takes to build a thriving, unique and instantly recognisable fashion brand which has taking things more slowly built into its very ethos.

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Inside Lazy Oaf's Shoreditch shop in east London.

The women I’m meeting today look right at home in the shop, because they’re also wearing Lazy Oaf designs. The brand is best known for its subversion of tropes and trends, as well as its proclivity for a daring print (in fact, they’re so well recognised in this area that they’ve collaborated with creative institutions as beloved as Peanuts, Mr. Men and Hello Kitty.) True to the label’s form, Webb is in a tweed suit, which would seem pretty buttoned-up for Lazy Oaf’s famously laid back style if it weren’t playfully oversized, while O’Sullivan wears a more understated black, babydoll-style dress. Shiel, on the other hand, is in full Oaf regalia, in the form of a two-piece suit featuring a pink scribble print – business wear, but make it Lazy.


This distinguishing style chimes with what Demetra Kolakis, Course Leader for the Fashion Visual Merchandising and Branding BA at London College of Fashion, tells me about the brand, when I contact her to get an academic perspective on why Lazy Oaf stands out so much on the British fashion landscape. “The brand is known for its original designs, each fused with a warped sense of humour involving eye-catching colourful and fun aesthetics. As a result, Lazy Oaf is memorably beautiful and individual, setting them apart on the UK independent fashion market,” she tells me.

The bold, bright spoils of Shiel’s labour certainly attest to that, surrounding us in the store as we settle in and she tells me a bit about Lazy Oaf’s beginnings. Fresh out of uni, having studied print-making, she felt unsure about what came next, though she had been making t-shirts for friends on the side. “I thought that maybe I could give the t-shirt thing a go. I was hand-printing t-shirts and selling them on a market stall, and whatever I got from the t-shirts, I’d use to buy more t-shirts, and print them, and then I was probably working two or three jobs at the same time to pay for food and beer!” Shiel remembers.

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Gemma Shiel, founder and CEO of Lazy Oaf (left), and design manager Shirley Webb.

Things got more serious when she opened a store with some friends, and the Lazy Oaf products were by far the most popular. Soon after, Shiel started taking her designs to streetwear trade shows, and recalls how much they stood out. “Everyone at that time, in the early 2000s, took streetwear so seriously. I wanted to have fun and approach stuff with light-heartedness, and mixing colour or jokes or graphics that really didn’t have much representation. There wasn’t much womenswear either.”


Nowadays, streetwear is full of tongue-in-cheek lols (think of the Supreme burner phone, or, like, the brick), but Lazy Oaf’s sense of humour has been a crucial part of the brand from the very beginning. “Lazy Oaf came from the fact that what I liked to draw was really the most unpretentious stuff that I could think of, related to what I was watching on telly, or bad food, the stuff that is sort of, anti-a good lifestyle. That has remained a bit of a constant. I’ve always had quite a wry sense of humour, a little bit cynical,” says Shiel.

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A bomber jacket from the Lazy Oaf archive.

Another area that Lazy Oaf were quietly pioneering was social media, for which they’re well respected in their community. James Cutmore, the founder and owner of The Ragged Priest – an edgier, but similarly-sized brand whose store is Lazy Oaf’s Soho neighbour – tells me that he thinks “they’re one of the best at it in our industry.” “It’s a very clear aesthetic, and they have their own handwriting,” Cutmore continues.

O’Sullivan speaks to Lazy Oaf’s adeptness with social media, in particular Instagram, her area of expertise. “I’d like to say we were quite early adopters of Instagram, because everything’s really visual and we put a lot of investment into the quality content.” Their approach to the medium has adapted over time, too, because it’s had to. In a landscape where brands like Pretty Little Thing are constantly releasing influencer ‘edits’ (essentially, collections of their existing designs supposedly selected by a high-profile influencer collaborator to represent their style), Lazy Oaf are more interested in “finding people from all over the world who represent the brand and bring their own personality and values to it. It’s part of a bigger community,” says O’Sullivan.


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An archive piece from Lazy Oaf's first Dr. Martens collaboration.

Though Lazy Oaf aren’t part of the fast fashion ecosystem occupied by brands like PLT and Missguided – “we’re not producing thousands, we produce a couple of hundred of each thing,” Shiel clarifies defiantly – they can’t help but be affected by the market domination of trends, purely as a fashion brand in 2019. Fast fashion, to some degree, places Lazy Oaf in a bit of a double bind. Shiel explains: “Consumers’ expectations, whether you’re fast fashion or not, is that they want their product and they want it now. But they also complain about fast fashion. If we haven’t released anything new in two weeks, we can see our sales start to drop, because people just want newness. And then if they’re not getting it delivered the next day or the day after, then it’s a problem.”

“But then also it’s quite interesting at the moment,” she continues, “because everyone’s like ‘I’ve got to really care about the ethics or my purchases. So I’ll ask them if they’re ethical, but I’ll also complain at the same time if I haven’t got it the next day.’ So it’s up to us to make sure we have enough education on our side, and on our brand, about who we are, what we care about, why we are ethical, and why we’re trying our best to be as socially responsible as we can.”

This is something Lazy Oaf have stepped up recently. Though in the past, the brand's policies have been less clear, this year they published an 'Oafesto' on their website which lists all of their commitments to social responsibility, animal welfare, environmental impact, and more. In this, they recognised that "our customers would appreciate greater transparency from us," which they are "happy to provide."


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A wall display at Lazy Oaf Shoreditch.

The ethics of what they do are important to all three women: O’Sullivan names the brand’s first non-profit collection for Mental Health Awareness Week as a highlight of her time there, while Webb is passionate about sustainability. She is one of many Lazy Oaf employees working to make the brand more eco-friendly, from the big (they’ll be releasing a fully recycled swim collection in the future) to the little: “Even in terms of our swing tickets and stuff, we’re changing them all to be recyclable materials,” she says.

To a degree, however, sustainability is already somewhat inherent in each Lazy Oaf item. Though they are sold at a slightly higher price point than clothes on the high street, Shiel says that Lazy Oaf’s clothes are “built to last,” and is especially pleased to see a culture of reselling Lazy Oaf garments on sites like eBay and Depop prevailing. “We’d like to work with that somehow in the future, and encourage swapping, trading. We might do an Oaf car boot, where people can trade the stuff they’ve had,” she says.

Indeed the amount of people who are able to wear Lazy Oaf garments has grown over the years – they recently expanded their size range to include everything from a UK size six to a UK size 20. Shiel is very conscious that this is only “a good start,” explaining that she wants to make it even bigger (this, of course, would also necessarily make the brand more ethical and sustainable), though she faces some challenges.


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More of the current Lazy Oaf collections.

“We’ve done research across all the high street stores, and what we’ve found is that there’s no industry standard once you go past a 14,” she says, the frustration clear in her voice. “So we’re working on perfecting a 16 to a 20, and until we nail that we can’t truly go up any further. What we’re really keen to do is actually understand what happens, so we can get the fit really great, and people feel great. We’re trying to include our community in that process as well, so we’re inviting people into our head office and our studio to try stuff on, tell us how they fit, bring their old clothes in, and how they like those and what’s good about it.”

It’s clearly a process that all the Oaf designers are passionate about, as Webb adds, “We want to make sure that as the size goes up or down, the garment looks exactly how it’s supposed to look. There shouldn’t be a compromise because you’re wearing a smaller or larger size. We want to perfect that.”

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Menswear at Lazy Oaf.

Though perfection seems antithetical to Lazy Oaf’s über-chill attitude, what they care about is getting it right where it counts – doing right by their consumers, and, increasingly, the planet, by taking an approach that puts creativity, care, and self-expression miles ahead of mega-bucks. “Although we’ve been around for a long time, that means we’re really steady, and we understand how this works,” Shiel concludes. “We’re not hungry for fast growth and global domination. It’s like: steady but surely, we’re gonna creep up.”

Two stores, a global, cult consumer base unlike any other, and genuine efforts to make the world a cuter and more conscious place? These sound like pretty good results to me.

@hiyalauren / @bekkylonsdalephoto


What are the ethical issues with fast fashion? ›

Unsafe Labor Conditions. In order to mass produce so many inexpensive garments so quickly, items often aren't ethically made. Factories are often sweatshops where laborers work in unsafe conditions for low wages and long hours. In many cases, children are employed and basic human rights are violated, reports EcoWatch.

What is the argument against fast fashion? ›

The pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means environmental corners are more likely to be cut. Fast fashion's negative impact includes its use of cheap, toxic textile dyes—making the fashion industry the one of the largest polluters of clean water globally, right up there with agriculture.

What is the dark side of fast fashion? ›

Fast fashion relies heavily on the production of cheap, low-quality clothing made from materials such as polyester, which is derived from fossil fuels. The production of polyester requires large amounts of water and energy, contributing to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Is it ethical to buy from SHEIN? ›

The environmental impact of SHEIN is one of the primary issues. SHEIN manufactures a tonne of apparel as a fast-fashion company, much of it is produced from synthetic materials that do not biodegrade. Also, the business's manufacturing and shipping methods could pollute the air and water.

What is the difference between fast fashion and ethical fashion? ›

The main difference in fast vs. sustainable fashion is the amount of waste that each one produces. Sustainable fashion decreases waste by making clothing that is significantly better quality. Less waste leads to both less water pollution and fewer carbon emissions during production.

How is fast fashion bad for society? ›

Fast fashion promotes the throwaway culture, excessive consumerism, and makes clothes disposable commodities. Many consumers make purchasing decisions based on their emotions. Retailers use that behavior and tap into the subconscious of consumers.

Why should we boycott fast fashion brands? ›

In most cases, they don't buy new clothes because they need them. There are many advantages of fast fashion for consumers. But fast fashion is very harmful to the environment and workers in supply chains. By boycotting fast fashion, you feel so much better about your purchase decisions.

Can clothes become an ethical problem? ›

Why is unethical clothing a problem? Unethical clothing can refer to a variety of things. It might include clothing that uses sweatshops, cheap labour from impoverished countries with loose labour laws. Alternatively, it might refer to the process by which clothes are made.

Who wears the most fast fashion? ›

The target audience for fast fashion is consumers aged between 18 and 24, while women and young girls consume fast fashion more than any other demographic group.

What makes fast fashion worse? ›

Fast fashion pollution

Fast fashion relies on cheap, disposable clothing that is produced quickly and sold at low prices, encouraging consumers to buy and discard clothing at an alarming rate. As a result, landfills are overflowing with discarded clothing, and textile waste is piling up.

Is fast fashion human trafficking? ›

However, forced labor accounts for an estimated 81% of total human trafficking cases (Human Rights First). One contributor to “forced labor” is fast fashion, which is defined as cheap, trendy clothing that transitions directly from the catwalk or celebrity culture to retail stores for consumer purchasing (Good on You).

What is Shein being sued for? ›

Estimates are that over the last two years, Shein has been sued at least 50 times for trademark and copyright infringement, often choosing to settle with plaintiffs rather than defend its practices.

Is Shein unethical 2023? ›

Despite gargantuan profits, SHEIN HAS been accused of stealing designs from small independent labels, selling offensive items including Islamic prayer rugs as decorative mats and swastika necklaces, selling items containing unsafe amounts of lead, and forcing garment workers to work in extremely unethical conditions.

How much does Shein pay their workers? ›

The documentary reported Shein garment workers are paid as little as four cents per clothing item in work shifts that can last up to 18 hours.

Is Nike fast fashion? ›

Ultimately, Nike is a fast fashion company manufacturing millions of products every year.

Who benefits from fast fashion? ›

Profitable for manufacturers and retailers: The constant introduction of new products encourages customers to frequent stores more often, which means they end up making more purchases. The retailer does not replenish its stock—instead, it replaces items that sell out with new items.

Should fast fashion be banned? ›

Fast fashion is unethical and hard on the environment. It is responsible for huge textile waste, water, air and soil pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It isn't sustainable and has to stop. Fast fashion exists to meet the ever-increasing consumers' demand for new trendy clothes at lower prices.

Can fast fashion ever be sustainable? ›

Critics assert that fast fashion apparel cannot be sustainable by its very nature. The poor quality of the material makes it hard to recycle, even if the brands commit to recycling a certain percentage of used or unsold products.

What is slow ethical fashion? ›

Slow fashion is an aspect of sustainable fashion and a concept describing the opposite to fast fashion, part of the "slow movement" advocating for clothing and apparel manufacturing in respect to people, environment and animals.

Is fast fashion the same as sweatshops? ›

They work on farms and garments factories, being exploited and forced to work for less than they'd need to live. The fast fashion industry exploits local and underserved communities in sweatshops to produce cheap garments. It employs more than 300 million people in the whole world but doesn't pay living wages.

What would happen if fast fashion stopped? ›

Doubling the use of our clothes would, for example, cut the garment trade's climate pollution by nearly half. Shutting down worldwide clothing production for a year would be equal to grounding all international flights and stopping all maritime shipping for the same time period.

When did fast fashion become an issue? ›

Welcome to the world of fast fashion. Fast fashion is a relatively recent phenomenon. During the 1990s, retailers began to introduce trendy, cheaply-priced, poorly-made clothes on a weekly basis, intending to match the breakneck pace at which fashion trends move.

Which clothing industry problem is the most serious? ›

Sustainability is still the biggest problem the fashion industry is now facing, despite the fact that it is the second most polluting industry on the planet. The creation of clothing consumes a great deal of natural resources and generates a tonne of harmful waste that is dumped directly into waterways.

Will boycotting fast fashion do anything? ›

Boycotting fast fashion is a way to practice using what you have. Challenge yourself to make different outfits from a few pairs of shirts and pants. This can help encourage you to be more creative in using what is already in your closet and prevent clothing to be thrown away.

How does not buying fast fashion help the environment? ›

Buying fewer clothes and higher quality is one of the best ways to help the environment. It not only saves resources used in the production of new clothing pieces but also prevents more textile waste from ending up in landfills. Our wardrobe has a terrible impact on the planet, people, and animals living on it.

Is fast fashion ruining the economy? ›

One of the biggest economic issues with fast fashion is the high production costs. This is also associated with producing millions of garments in a short amount of time. This includes labor costs, materials, machinery, energy used to create each garment, and transportation costs if the garments are produced overseas.

Why does Gen Z buy fast fashion? ›

It's a trend that analysts say is fueled by a social media culture that pressures youth and young adults to never wear the same outfit twice, as well as an industry that has made impulse buying and returning items far easier.

How does Gen Z feel about fashion? ›

According to Forbes, one in three Gen Zers feel as if they're addicted to fast fashion. Social media perpetuates the circulation of trends — and subsequently, fast fashion brands — and encourages buyers to prioritize cheapness and convenience over quality.

Why do people still buy fast fashion? ›

Affordability is a major factor that drives consumers to choose fast fashion over sustainable options. While some brands offer more affordable sustainably-made items, fast fashion brands can produce garments at a much lower cost than sustainable fashion brands, allowing them to sell their products at a lower price.

Who has the highest human trafficking? ›

The states with the highest human trafficking statistics are California, Texas, and Florida. California tops the list with 1,334 reported cases and 2,122 victims, followed by Texas with 917 cases and 1,702 victims, and Florida with 781 cases and 1,253 victims.

Who is the biggest victim of human trafficking? ›

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those include, but are not limited to:
  • Unhoused youth.
  • Refugees or migrant workers.
  • Those with substance abuse disorders.
  • Survivors of other forms of past violence.
  • Members of minority populations based on sexual or gender identity.
  • People with disabilities.
Aug 28, 2021

Who does human trafficking target the most? ›

Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals whose vulnerabilities, including poverty, limited English proficiency, or lack of lawful immigration status, are exacerbated by lack of stable, safe housing, and limited ...

What are the issues with fast fashion brands? ›

Fast fashion pollution

Fast fashion relies on cheap, disposable clothing that is produced quickly and sold at low prices, encouraging consumers to buy and discard clothing at an alarming rate. As a result, landfills are overflowing with discarded clothing, and textile waste is piling up.

What are the ethical issues with Shein? ›

Despite gargantuan profits, SHEIN HAS been accused of stealing designs from small independent labels, selling offensive items including Islamic prayer rugs as decorative mats and swastika necklaces, selling items containing unsafe amounts of lead, and forcing garment workers to work in extremely unethical conditions.

What are the social justice issues in fast fashion? ›

Brands, retailers and factories must shoulder the responsibility of addressing fashion's key issues: from bad contracts and poverty wages to the exploitation of migrant workers and gender discrimination, the industry cannot continue to make billions in profit from a model that monetises injustice.

What are ethical concerns? ›

What is an ethical issue? Ethical issues are defined as situations that occur as a result of a moral conflict that must be addressed. Thus, ethical issues tend to interfere with a society's principles.

What would happen if fast fashion was banned? ›

Ditching fashion would lift a huge burden off our planet. We'd save water (used in crop-growing and dyeing processes) and carbon dioxide emissions (from the industry's energy use). And we'd also prevent pollution from the fertilisers and pesticides used in cotton farming, and hazardous chemicals used in dyes.

Is Lululemon a fast fashion brand? ›

Yes, Lululemon is fast fashion! Considered as a prominent name in the athleisure market, Lululemon Athletica offers high-end yoga-inspired activewear to help you fulfill your most sweaty pursuits.

Is fast fashion a feminist issue? ›

Our continuous overconsumption of fast fashion directly allows for countless women across the planet to suffer in the production stage of the clothes we wear. Thus, fashion is a feminist issue.

Why is the fast fashion industry problematic? ›

Negative impacts include worker harassment, diseases due to toxic chemical use, poverty, wage theft, increased green house gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and resource and soil depletion. As you can see, fast fashion companies work under a system that has dire social and environmental impacts.

What are the four 4 ethical issues? ›

The most widely known is the one introduced by Beauchamp and Childress. This framework approaches ethical issues in the context of four moral principles: respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice (see table 1).

What are the three 3 types of ethical issues? ›

The three major types of ethics are deontological, teleological and virtue-based.

What are the 4 types of ethical conflict? ›

In the field of ethical conflict, the four forms or categories of ethical conflict identified are: moral uncertainty, moral dilemma, moral distress, and moral outrage.


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