“Brett’s shoes are putting me in a state of distress,” said one Love Island viewer of the suede Church’s Fisherman sandals that 2021 contestant Brett Staniland wore during his stint on the show. They were not the only garment that caused consternation.
During his short stay on the island, the 27-year-old model and PhD student’s outfit choices certainly caused a stir. Yet while viewers heaped a considerable amount of criticism on Staniland’s looks, in particular his penchant for socks and sandals, the real fashion faux pas was, in his opinion, the mountains of cheap clothes heaped upon the Islanders by the show’s fast fashion sponsors, ISAWITFIRST, in return for free reign to use them for advertising.
“As part of the contestant agreement, there are clauses where if you wear any of the show’s sponsors, then the sponsor can essentially screenshot the television and use your image however they like,” Staniland explains. “When I read that I was like, ‘Guys, like I don’t want to wear any of the show’s sponsors, and I want that to be known’.”
Freedom from freebies
Unlike the other contestants who took full advantage of the free wardrobe provided by Love Island’s fashion sponsors, Staniland had no interest in wearing or promoting fast fashion. He turned down the £500 voucher to spend on the ISAWITFIRST website ahead of the show, then a duffel bag full of goods that was left on his doorstep, as well as the opportunity to request new items at any time – “You’ll get a bag every few days that’s just full of all the clothes and trainers from the sponsors,” he says. Instead, Staniland used his time on the island to give some airtime to smaller sustainable brands and British classics.
“Mostly I wanted to support British designers and friends,” he says. Alongside his infamous Church’s sandals, Staniland packed shirts from Lemaire, Riley Studio, and King & Tuckfield, T-shirts from Asket, and swim shorts from Hemingsworth. Also in his suitcase were pieces from the collaborative REIMAGINE collection by Katharine Hamnett and Patrick McDowell, created to support British businesses and “fight back against the negative impact of Brexit”. The producers, however, took exception to the signature shirts emblazoned with the word “HELP”, confiscating them before he had the chance to wear one on air. “I think they got wind that they were a bit of a political statement and were like ‘nope!’,” he laughs. Staniland still managed to get the message out by wearing a cropped version of one of the T-shirts in his last Instagram post before entering the Island.
“There were so many comments about me wearing a crop top. Like, so, so many,” he says. “We joked that me showing my belly button was apparently ‘feminine’ or even ‘gay’, yet if I’d taken my top off entirely it would have been masculine.”
Indeed, comments on gender representation and sexuality were a regular undercurrent of the criticism Staniland’s confident, limit-free approach to style garnered throughout the series. “At the reunion show I wore my socks and sandals and a pearl necklace, and I painted my nails,” he says. “Because it was live, my phone was going mad while I was on the show. But I like prodding people and making them question themselves. Why is a pearl necklace all of a sudden a woman’s necklace? It has no gender attached to it. I like to ask why and where you learned that opinion.”
Hitting back at homophobia
While Staniland took to his Instagram to call out the inherent homophobia of commenters calling him gay with the intent to insult, he also saw an opportunity to open up a new conversation about fashion and consumption.
“[During the reunion episode] my brother said, ‘Twitter is absolutely killing you at the minute!’, and he and my friend Richard told me to upload my outfit when I got home,” he says. “I did the first one and then I thought, I can do this with all the outfits I wore on the island, and rather than people say ‘that’s an ugly shirt’ or ‘his sandals are horrible’, I’ll show them exactly what they’re like up close. They can see how well made and how nice they actually are.
“Obviously the audience for Love Island is so very large, so I was hoping that within that audience there would be some new people that we could reach to talk about sustainable fashion and climate change.”
While Staniland clearly has a different approach to his fellow contestants when it comes to style and shopping, he doesn’t throw them under a bus for their fashion choices. In fact, he says he had some great conversations about fashion with them. “The lads were asking where I got my clothes from and I could tell them the exact designers, where it was made, and where it was designed. I love talking about that. And Millie works in fashion, and Mary and Kaz too, so we spoke about fashion quite a bit,” he smiles.
Topics, he says, ranged from Telfar to outfit repeating. Staniland is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an advocate of the latter and planned to rewear key pieces (had he remained on the island a little longer) in order to kick against the show’s normalisation of wearing brand new outfits every day.
Instead, he says, “I haven’t watched it back all that much. I watched, like, three episodes myself and it was enough for me! But I don’t know how much of the fashion angle came across. I feel like they had the characters [decided in advance] and my position was to be a bit stale and boring. So, they’re the bits they’re likely to show as opposed to where I’m having engaging conversations with other people.”
High fashion feedback
Since returning from the Island, the reaction from the fashion community has been mixed. “The day I got back to England there was a piece on Vogue, and it was amazing, I was so happy. But then I turned up to some jobs and got side eye, like ‘what’s he doing here?’ when this is my job, this is what I was doing way before!” he says.
Staniland also explains that some publications and brands will no longer work with him because of his links to reality TV. “One of them made me really sad for a bit,” he says. “It was the one publication that I thought would put their arm around me and say, ‘Here’s the fashion representative, he’s ours, he’s one of us,’ but it went the other way. It was a risk I knew I was taking though. If the conversation moves forwards, that’s good enough for me.”
Today, while things have been “up and down” since his return to normal life, Staniland has enjoyed meeting and talking with what he calls “industry OGs” such as journalist and author Lucy Siegle and Eco-Age creative director Livia Firth, as well as engaging with people on Instagram who are newer to trying to find their way out of fast fashion. “The comment I get all the time is I’d love to be more sustainable, but I can’t afford it. I think that’s where we need the most education and we need to teach people about cost per wear rather than just the price tag,” he says. “I used to buy three black T-shirts every two or three months, bin them and get another three. Now, I’ll buy one that’s probably three times as expensive but lasts me five years.”
Staniland credits his career in fashion for his insight into the problems that plague the industry and says he’s currently weighing up how to leverage his newly expanded platform to use his knowledge and become part of the solution. His dream is to make a documentary which maps the entire supply chain of a brand, and he also wants to work with both established sustainable brands, and not-so-sustainable ones who are trying to change in a meaningful way. And as for Love Island?
“I think what people actually try to access is the social acceptance of being relevant and being new,” he says. “The elephant in the room is that the fast fashion partners will always give the biggest funding, but we need to somehow change the narrative.
“Let us see that people in the villa care about what they wear. Let us know it’s OK to wear the same outfit again. Show us what clothes are made of, how to wash them… You have to flip the coin and go and look at it from a completely different perspective.”