Sometime last year my friend and wildly talented wardrobe stylist Erica Hanks posted articles damning cheap mass produced clothing and encouraging people to consider the impact this “fast fashion” has on the world. I read it and processed it but rolled my eyes and chose to ignore it. I know who Erica’s clients are and I know the labels she works with and I know I, like most people, can’t afford those things. So give me my cheap Forever21 and TJMaxx and I’ll bank the savings, thank you very much.
But at what cost?
The more I thought about what Erica was preaching the more I realized my fast fashion addiction was at serious odds with my imperfect but earnest attempt to follow a moral compass that steers me towards more ethically produced food and beauty products. So why should my clothes be any different? Because I was focused on price, not value.
In the same way cheap fast food ends up costing us more in the long run–with medical expenses and environmental damage–cheap fast fashion is taking a serious toll on its workforce, on the environment and on the consumers that demand it.
- In 2011, only 1% of footwear and 2% of clothing was produced in the US. That means we’re shipping products around the world from locations where they can be more cheaply produced. (source)
- Factory workers in Bangladesh earn $43 a month. Factory workers in China earn $117-$147 a month. (source)
- The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing a year. Throws away. (source)
- In 2013 a factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 1,000 workers inside, and in 2012 a fire erupted in another Bangladesh factory killing 112 workers who couldn’t escape through locked exit doors. (source | source)
- The markups are so low because the volume is so high. A fast fashion giant like H&M can price margins at just 4% because the volume of pieces sold will translate into millions in profits. Higher quality garments that aren’t produced in such massive quantities have significantly higher markup (sometimes 100% or more) because not as many pieces can be produced or sold. This is why smaller indie brands can’t compete with the big guys on price.
- The styles are produced at a rate that ensures you feel out of style immediately. Higher end fashion has two seasons–spring/summer and fall/winter. Fast fashion giants are cranking out 52 “microseasons” delivering new styles into stores daily to ensure consumers always want what’s next.
- The products are designed to fall apart. You don’t care if your shirt falls apart because you’ll buy another one because it’s so cheap. The stores don’t care if your shirt falls apart because you’ll buy another one because it’s so cheap. The cycle never ends.
Over the last year I’ve started to shop a lot more at resale and consignment shops. Part of it started after going on the Charlotte Shopping Tour (organized by my talented friend and event planner Jen at J. Leigh Events) where we stopped at a number of consignment shops. I had no idea there were so many in Charlotte or that they had such great pieces. And the rest of it was fueled by Erica’s initial battle cry against fast fashion. If you can’t afford the pricier labels, she said, shop resale.
And so that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to see if I can go through 2015 purchasing no new fashion. It doesn’t mean I won’t be shopping. It just means I’ll be shopping used. It’s not about shopping less but about shopping with more intention.
Happy new year!
The photo above is at JT Posh, one of the best consignment shops in Charlotte. I geared up for this year’s challenge with three new-old pairs of jeans there last week.