I’m what you would call a Light Green Environmentalist. I compost, recycle, I gave up bottled water years ago, I avoid processed foods, I choose grass-fed beef for my beef eating spouse. I do not, however, wear hemp clothing (on purpose, anyway), or give much thought to the toxicity of the dyes used in the clothing I buy. There are some interesting parallels between Food & Fashion, and the direction both have gone in recent years. Although Fashion distinguishes itself by being a true business venture in every sense, I will forever approach shopping differently after attending last night’s lecture on The High Cost of Fast Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Much like seeing the slaughter houses in Food, Inc, or the effects of processed food on the human body in Super Size Me, Elizabeth Clines’ book Overdressed also left me feeling queasy.
Never before in history have consumers had more choices at more price points than they do now. A recent visit to H&M shows shoes for $8, and blouses for $9. Stores like Zara, Target, Express, and Old Navy are cranking out clothing at prices so low you have to wonder how they make money.
Fast Fashion refers to the speedy fashion cycle that has come about through technology. A trend hits the marketplace and companies can design, manufacture and deliver that item to its stores in as little as two weeks. That item was likely made in China or Bangladesh, by workers who earn a whopping 26 cents an hour, and may have been dyed AFTER production (a process called “postponement”) so as to ensure the latest color trend is adhered to, and will hit stores, sell, go on sale, and be disposed of by anyone who purchases it a SEASON later, because it falls apart or falls out of trend. And round and round we go. Consumers allay their guilt because it only cost them a few dollars. They got their hit of “newness”, feel on trend, didn’t spend a lot, instagrammed it, presented it to the world, and discarded it all in a matter of weeks. But where does it go?
In his recent book, Stuffocation, James Wallman tells compelling stories illustrating how our unhappiness has grown significantly the more we buy. Ms. Cline also spoke last night about what all this consumerism is doing to our souls. Our Mothers and Grandmothers invested in clothing. A coat was worn for 20 years. A dress, mended, tailored, or outright redesigned to last a lifetime. Many items such as these that were NOT couture or made by high-end designers are in Vintage Stores now. I hardly imagine that a Forever 21 Bandage Dress will wind up in a Vintage Store many years from now. Part of the problem is also that there is a symbiosis between very high-end fashion and fast fashion. Luxury goods’ prices have risen to levels that very few folks can afford. Fast Fashion comes to the rescue, with items being knocked off and offered for 1/4 the price at the same time the higher end item is in stores. Should Manolo Blahniks’ shoes cost $1100? No. But should H&M’s cost $8? Probably not. If they ARE $8, as yourself why.
Like the Slow Food movement, there is a Slow Fashion movement as well. There are many companies improving their manufacturing techniques and addressing the environmental impacts of their ways. The prices for these garments are higher, but is it really? I believe in Trends. But I also believe in Cost Per Wear. Amortize the cost of that well made garment over the course of how long it will last and suddenly it’s not prohibitive.
So what’s a Fashionista to do? I loved how the panel addressed this delicate (to fashion lovers, anyway) topic, because there is a continuum of action you can take. Consumers have more power than they ever did, and Social Media can be used for more than just your OOTD (outfit of the day). You can communicate directly with the brands you love and let them know what you’re looking for in a garment. It’s important to know your own personal “fashion values” and uphold them. Yeah, I just said fashion values. Parse it…..
This may mean totally organic, sustainable, free trade, eco-friendly fashion from head to toe. Or it might mean buying ONE tank top instead of three. Even if they are offered at a “buy one, get two free” price point. I, for one, will follow Ms. Clines’ Light Green Sage advice: When you purchase an item, in addition to deciding if it’s beautiful, makes you feel alive, fits well, is well made, and fits your budget — also think of yourself as personally responsible for it. Will you take care to mend it, or will you toss it when it tears. Do you have the wherewithal to clean it properly (hand wash, Dry Clean Only, etc.). What will you do with it when you tire of it?
Goodwill is always an option, but there are many eco-friendly apps including Threadflip, Poshmark, Rent the Runway, Bib & Tuck and The Real Real. I recommend developing a relationship with a local Consignment Store, think of it like getting to know the folks at your Farmers Market. And when Vintage shopping, look around. Try and imagine your wardrobe on those racks. And Slow. Down.