Fast Fashion: Then and Now

Fast fashion is a business model for the clothing industry which is firmly embedded within Western culture. It produces cheap, accessible clothing that mimics the latest catwalk trends, and ensures that production costs remain as low as possible. At a time when the cost of living continues to rise, it is no surprise that the affordability of fast fashion brands continues to be popular. Yet at the other end of the supply chain, the garment labourer suffers, and the environmental impacts are catastrophic.

But for just how long has this trend been a part of our society? Within this exhibition, we mark its history, from a time before fast fashion, to the introduction of the sewing machine and the first sweatshops in the UK, to the exportation of garment production abroad and the current fight for a more sustainable clothing model.

This exhibition forms part of Our Green Stories, a campaign by Museums Partnership Reading exploring climate change and sustainability through the shared collections of The MERL and Reading Museum. It also relates to current research into The MERL’s Barnett Collection.

Start exploring now

Fast Fashion: Then and Now

A Singer sewing machine.
Fast fashion is a business model for the clothing industry which is firmly embedded within Western culture. It produces cheap, accessible clothing that mimics the latest catwalk trends, and ensures that production costs remain as low as possible. At a time when the cost of living continues to rise, it is no surprise that the [...]

Migrant workers: Summer on a strawberry farm

One of 30 ink and watercolour sketches by Sarah Hannis providing insight into the daily lives of migrant agricultural workers who came to the UK in 2021. This image shows workers walking to work.

In a previous exhibition, illustrations by Sarah Hannis showed the work of seasonal migrants in winter. As we progress to warmer months, this exhibition shows the role of migrant workers during summer on a UK strawberry farm. The story is based on interviews with workers and on photos they shared during the Feeding the Nation […]

Migrant workers: The raspberry planter

Detail from one of 30 ink and watercolour sketches by Sarah Hannis, provide an insight into the daily lives of migrant agricultural workers

This exhibition is part of a new series exploring the role of seasonal migrant workers in UK food security. Illustrations by Sarah Hannis provide an insight into the lives of migrant agricultural workers who came to the UK in 2020 and 2021. The accompanying story is based on interviews with workers and on photos they […]

A virtual tour – Making Rural England

Reminiscent of daily rural life, this gallery showcases rural culture through crafts, living spaces, hunting and more. The diversity of countryside people throughout history is encapsulated by these displays.

A virtual tour – Forces for Change

Farming has existed since humankind could walk, and has constantly been propelled forward by new tools and technologies. This gallery is dedicated to these advancements in farming, and highlights innovations that led to social as well as agricultural changes, such as the threshing machine.

A virtual tour – Town and Country

Sometimes the lines between rural and urban can become blurred, which this gallery demonstrates. It focuses on the crossover between town and country, including healthcare practice, advances in technology, and allotment farming.

A virtual tour – A Year on the Farm

Working life on the farm changes according to the season. In this gallery, discover where food comes from and learn how we have access to it all year round.

Digital Labels in The MERL galleries

Learn more information about many of the objects in The MERL galleries. Discover what they did, how they were used and made, and their connection to the countryside’s past, present, and future. To find out more about an object, click on the icon hovering above it.

Farmer Arthur’s Paper Theatre

A series of colourful paper puppet figures showing farm animals, vehicles, and rural features

Local artist Lisa-Marie Gibbs has joined our 70th anniversary celebration, 51 Voices. She is one of a handful of talented, creative people who have been commissioned to work with our diverse communities. Each partnership links to an item from the collection connected to 1951, our foundational year. Lisa-Marie worked with Downshire House to respond to […]