On Fast Fashion


Part One: Why Are We Here?

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Ask anyone who knows me about my style and wardrobe and they’ll probably tell you either something about how sumptuous it is, followed by something about how I somehow manage to find everything either on sale, secondhand, or from a vintage shop. And it’s true.

I take pride in what I consider to be my good sartorial taste; I’ve grown up adjacent to the fashion world, steeped in the art world, and because of that I appreciate nice, beautiful things. I got a Vogue Paris subscription for my 14th birthday and kept it until Carine Roitfeld left (I still have every issue). I wrote a college-level thesis about Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Cocteau while in high school (my fancy-pants school had a program for that). All of this is to say that I know of what I speak.

During the second semester of my freshman year of college, the tragic and horrific Rana Plaza factory collapse happened. I was disgusted, reading about the details of what was clearly, to me, a failure in human rights. And yet, what made me sick is that it shouldn’t have taken a contemporary factory calamity to get me to move away from fast fashion. We all learn about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in U.S. History classes; Rana Plaza was no different. Regardless of era, cheap products - fashion, here, in particular - come at a price, even if it isn’t reflected on the tag.

A few months later, my aunt launched a clothing line because, as a luxury consumer, she was dissatisfied with the decreasing quality of the clothing that her favorite brands were putting out. She realized that a lot of them had moved their production from the United States or Europe to China and decided that she wanted to make her own clothing in the United States. Through her endeavor, I observed the actual cost of high quality clothing; her production was in New York's Garment District, paid its workers insurance, and was incredibly expensive simply to manufacture. And that was all before retail mark-ups were factored into the equation.

At the same time, my mother, who had also accumulated a ton of designer clothing over the years, discovered what was then an unknown online consignment website called The Real Real. Her earnings stacked up considerably, and she kept it all in store credit. Her closet is stuffed to the gills with fabulous designer pieces now, as it always has been, but it’s virtually all recycled goods from TRR now. I loved the site because I was finding pieces that I’d coveted during my Vogue Paris days at steep discounts. Those 5-inch creepers from the Burberry Fall 2011 collection that had been unattainable to me then, were now on the site, in my size, at $175. Plus 20% off. (My budget was accommodating to this price!)

Since then, I’ve slowly but surely phased out the fast fashion from my closet and replaced it with a combination of secondhand, vintage, and consigned clothing. I’ve also kept the financial loop closed by only spending on clothing what I’ve made from selling it on Poshmark and eBay.

After discovering and thinking about all of this, I’ve realized that it’s one thing to make the personal choices to phase out fast fashion - because we all are entitled to spend our money the way we choose. If this isn’t enough to convince you, or you’re reading this and thinking, of course I know this, but this isn’t feasible for me, or there are more pressing issues at hand, keep reading. I have more.

Part Two: On The Role Of Fashion In Society; Women's Rights; And The Environment.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to broach the subject of fast fashion with some of my friends and they dismiss it as frivolous, or inconsequential, or simply Not A Priority in the face of the other problems that we face on a daily basis. And while they do have a point, my point is that the issues of clothing production and fast fashion go far beyond what we like to wear.

Fast fashion is an issue that comprises women’s rights, human rights, immigrant’s rights, child labor, climate change, and economic inequality.

Women’s rights, because more often than not, the people who produce clothing in factories like Rana Plaza are women who are paid dismally low wages. In some of the more egregious cases, children are also employed to make your $10 jeans.

Immigrant’s rights, because even here in factories in the United States, immigrants are paid as low as $6/hour to manufacture clothing due to legal loopholes.

Climate change, because fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet, after fossil fuels and oil production. ONLY OIL IS WORSE. OIL!!! There are well documented after effects to the fashion industry. Between landfills and contaminated water supplies, our belief that clothing should be cheap is destroying our home.

However! Unlike many things in life, cutting fast fashion from your wardrobe is very easy. As I mentioned in Part One, websites like The Real Real and Poshmark are very user-friendly. The first step is retooling the way you think about shopping; regardless of budget, finding designer and vintage clothing in good condition is feasible. Take, for instance, the following items from my own closet:

  • A vintage Yves Saint Laurent evening gown with a built in corset

  • A classic, black Chanel mini skirt with pleats and gold buttons

The Yves Saint Laurent dress, I found on eBay - I wore it for the dinner party shoot! The seller had listed it for $125 or best offer… and luckily she accepted $75. Meanwhile, here’s a chic, but likely to fall apart dress from Zara for the same amount. I am all too aware of the “lucky, rare vintage find!!!” trope that seems to plague a lot of articles written about secondhand/eBay shopping, and a red evening gown isn’t exactly everyday wear, so here’s another example.

I had been looking for a nice mini skirt. Zara and H&M had tons of options and cuts, but nothing was hitting my fancy, and this was around the time that I had decided to cut out fast fashion. I had been used to perusing The Real Real for pieces that had wow-factor (or that I’d coveted when they walked down the runway years prior), but hadn’t really considered it for simpler clothing purchases. Nevertheless, I set a few filters on their page and went looking for black mini skirts… and found a classic Chanel mini skirt listed. It was $50. (Plus, should I decide I don’t want it anymore… it will hold its value on the resale market, which is not true of items that come from mass retailers).

The point is that, once you consider the amount of money spent at a fast fashion outlets versus a second-hand designer or vintage item, it is easier to reconsider buying from places like H&M and Zara; and I’m only focusing here on retailers that sell online. This article would be much longer if I made mention of the gift that is vintage and thrift stores!

Next week... we'll chew on some bigger issues. Until then, happy hunting.

—Helen America

Helen Americared, extras