If it’s a test of a good documentary series that it takes us deep into an unknown, even unimaginable world, then Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester passes with flying colours — especially for the more middle-aged viewer.
Missguided, it turns out, is a fast-fashion company, which means that it spots what celebrities are wearing online and then designs, makes and sells much cheaper versions within days — all while indignantly denying the outrageous charge that ‘we just rip off other people’s designs’. The target market apparently consists of young women obsessed with Instagram and Love Island. And so, on the whole, does the staff, who have names like Treasure, Zee and Karolina, and are keen for us to understand how excited they are at all times.
‘Manchester: the greatest city in the world!’ yelled the narrator (a Missguided receptionist) at the start, in the kind of stage Mancunian that only a true Manc can pull off. On a more sombre note — although just as loudly — she also stressed the company’s feminism. ‘It may be owned by a man,’ she conceded, ‘but it’s definitely us women who run the show. We drink pints and we swear and we get our tits out if we want to, because we’re empowered.’
We joined these employees, or ‘bad-ass bitches’ as they prefer to be called, at a time of financial difficulty, after a disastrous 2018 in which the company lost £26 million. Their recovery plan was two-fold. The first part was to launch a new line with Jordan Lipscombe, as I hardly need remind Spectator readers, a YouTuber with 1.9 million followers. Jordan was duly photographed pouting extravagantly as she leant against various walls. Lacking in previous modelling experience, she was given the urgent if baffling instruction from the photographer that ‘thumbs are for fashion, fingers are for fat people’.
More importantly still, as the narrator put it so excitedly that she seemed unable to believe her own words, ‘The company is literally trying to get one of the Love Island cast as the face of the brand.’ This was Molly-Mae who, as far I could see, looks much the same as every other female Love Island contestant (i.e., admittedly, great), but who Missguided’s marketing people considered worthy of £350,000 for a six-month contract. Doing his best to hide an embarrassing lack of Love Island knowledge, Nitin, the male owner, proved willing to stump up. But, he wondered, why only six months? ‘Because no one might like her in six months,’ replied his commercial officer in the manner of someone patiently explaining an obvious fact.
Sadly, even though Missguided also threw in the offer of an £80,000 Range Rover and a special outfit for her teddy bear Ellie Belly, Mandy-Mae passed on the deal, signing instead for a rival company. Not of course that the bad-ass bitches were downcast for long. Within minutes, they’d resumed their impersonations of the sort of people they’d inexplicably like to think of themselves as being, and were emphasising again that ‘girls rule the world’. So the good news is that it seems the patriarchy doesn’t exist after all.
Given the relentlessly upbeat tone, the possible downsides of fast fashion were never likely to receive a thorough airing. Nonetheless, we did have occasional glimpses through the cracks. According to the narrator, the staff of Missguided ‘work our arses off 24/7’. But as the bulk orders arrived from Pakistan and China days after being placed, it was hard not to think that the people really working around the clock might be younger and more foreign than the ones we saw. (With three episodes to go, I suppose the series may yet turn its attention to investigating the manufacturing process — but I don’t see how it could get there from this level of enthusiasm and pride.)
There was a bit of a giveaway moment, too, from senior designer Victoria who, as bad-ass bitches go, came across as rather sweet. Despite working in an office where the large slogans on the wall include ‘Keep It Real’ — along with ‘Peace’, ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Unicorn’ — Victoria told us at one point that the world of Missguided is ‘definitely not real’. She added that this means the pressure on teenage girls ‘to be perfect is now bigger than ever’.
In the end, then, what was genuinely revealing about Inside Missguided was that almost nothing we heard was, strictly speaking, true — from ‘Everyone loves Love Island’ to ‘We’re helping to dress the majority of women in the UK’ (as well as, let’s face it, ‘Manchester: the greatest city in the world’). The more chin-stroking among us might even have been drawn to wonder if the whole Missguided business has something to say about the disappearance of reality from so many other areas of life.