Enough already! Put down the god damn $3 tee that you fished out of some unfortunate sale bin in Forever 21! It's probably being held together by spit, glue, and the tears of a factory worker from Bangladesh. Retire those H&M jeans that only cost $15 but you have to buy 15 pairs of each year! You'll wear them a few times, wash them, and then they'll become so thinned and stretched out that you can never wear them again! Give away that $70 Zara dress that's already starting to fray at the edges! You only bought it because you didn't want to spend an extra $30 on that LBD that you would wear for years to come.
It's not a secret that fast fashion is cheap for a reason. A mix of poor quality fabrics, lack of creativity and design, no R&D process, and most likely, cheap labor from abroad keep fast fashion prices low, keeping Western consumers happy. How many times have you heard your friends brag that they only got this top for $8 at H&M? But what they're not saying is that they'll gladly drop what adds up to hundreds of dollars a year on countless pieces that fall apart easily and end up in the trash within months. Hardly a savvy investment, not to mention an unsustainable industry that is terrible for the environment (despite these companies' PR-friendly eco initiatives).
Making a t-shirt from hemp does not erase years of what's essentially a business model that is predicated on the products' lack of sustainability. Producing a new collection that hits stores every few weeks expects that consumers are cycling through their clothes at a certain rate, and they're most likely throwing away or donating a good amount of their used clothing at this rate as well. The U.S. alone contributes 11 million tons of clothing to landfills...each year! Because these textiles aren't biodegradable, they stay in landfills for up to 200 years, and release harmful gasses into the air. And this doesn't even factor in the environmental impact of making the clothes! Even when companies try to implement more "sustainable" practices-- like the use of organic cotton (which, when you account for how much more water, man-power, and resources go into the production of organic cotton, the claim of "sustainability" becomes much more dubious)-- fashion is believed to be the second largest polluter in the world (behind oil).
And while the environmental costs are certainly high, we haven't even begun to discuss the human costs of fast fashion. To keep costs low, fast fashion companies often produce their clothes in factories in places like Bangladesh, where wages are barely livable and safety requirements are minimal. How is it possible that in a 3 trillion dollar a year industry, only "2% of apparel companies source from suppliers that pay their workers a fair and living wage?" Well, unsurprisingly, the companies get away with this by claiming that they don't own these factories, and often keep their production practices shrouded in so many layers of contracts and secrecy, that finding out who works for who is nearly impossible.
Even more dangerous are the often-deadly working conditions in such factories, leading to horrific disasters like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that left over 1,100 people dead. Yet because these fast fashion companies don't "own" these factories, they take no responsibility in the safety maintenance. After the Rana Plaza collapse, the world demanded that Bangladesh increase worker wages while fast fashion companies sat on their high horses and demanded that factories increase their safety features. But instead of shelling out the money themselves, these companies approached factories, asking that they make their garments with profit margins as slim as 2%, meaning that these local factory owners couldn't absorb the rising costs of higher wages and still make the necessary safety improvements. Thus, while fast fashion companies are supposedly condemning the unsafe working environments, they've managed to simultaneously avoid paying for them as well as avoid all accountability. To stay in operation, many of these factories have to accept the deals given to them for fear of losing their contracts and main sources of income, giving all of the negotiation power to fast fashion.
If the very real environmental and human effects of fast fashion aren't convincing you to give up your fast fashion addiction, what about the poor quality and lack of design process? Contemporary brands and luxury designers spend months putting together each collection; from finding inspiration, sketching, and sourcing fabrics to fittings and editing, each piece that goes into production is the product of countless and meticulous hours of work. When you pay for a designer dress, you're not only paying for quality fabric, but you're essentially paying for the R&D behind that dress. And while the intentions of fast fashion companies-- bringing low priced, fashion-forward clothing to the masses-- may have started out pure, the results are cheap fabrics, copycat designs, and inconsistent fit. When the whole lifespan of the production of a collection-- from idea to the moment it hits stores-- is less than a month, how much care is put into the selection of fabrics and attention to fit? While new products hit stores on a weekly basis, the sheer volume of carelessly-constructed garments is astounding.
It's clear that asking the general public to splurge on better clothing is not only unrealistic, but lacking in a general understanding of this country's (if not the world's) socioeconomic diversity. The goal of fast fashion started off as a noble one; companies like Zara and H&M began with the intent of bringing fashion, a once unattainable luxury indulgence, to the masses. But as the demand for cheap clothing increased, so did the tendency towards unethical labor practices and the trend towards terrible quality. It seems that sticking to your ethical standards often requires paying a premium for nicer brands. And one of the great and lasting problems with the fashion industry is how to produce quality, ethical garments at low enough prices to satisfy all types of consumers. But until that eternal issue is adequately solved, maybe it's time for those that can afford this premium to start to examine their consumption habits more closely; are clothes that cost $25 worth it when you end up throwing/giving them away in 6 months? When you have to constantly replace these clothes, are you saving that much money in the long run? If you're spending hundreds of dollars a year on fast-fashion pieces, how many quality pieces could you invest in that would last you much longer?
Now is a better time than ever to seek out alternative options to fast fashion. Though the price point between Zara and contemporary designers used to be lacking, it is now being filled by brands like Everlane and Reformation. And many of these new brands are focusing carefully on producing ethically and providing their customers with transparency in their production processes. The emergence of new brands in LA, Australia, and online has lead to a considerable increase in choices available to those of us who can't afford brands like Rag & Bone or Theory, but want to craft more adult wardrobes. Focusing on direct-to-consumer business models, these new brands are providing quality garments at prices that are digestible.
For more about these brands, stay tuned for our post tomorrow, when we'll be discussing the best brands for getting high quality, decently affordable basics!