i recently read this great piece by leandra medine aka da man repeller and i’ve been thinking about it a lot. last winter i started the process of cleaning out my closet (it’s complicated) and i’ve been putting a lot more thought into my clothing purchases. i understand the importance of supporting designers who employ people that they pay a real, fair wage and that create garments with consciousness and respect for the environment as well as their employees. i fully get that it’s not only morally and ethically better but also way cooler to wear clothing that is created in smaller batches with care rather than mass produced with carelessness.
the recession certainly tried to teach us a lesson in surviving with less. we came out of an era of more is more, of credit card debt and mcmansions and so-called “fast fashion” seems to me to be a part of that. all of the walmarts and targets and forever 21s were directly related to the attitude of excess that americans had when the economy collapsed. the subprime mortgage ideology of wanting something for nothing spilled over into our fashion choices. but the double edged sword (and the beauty) of fast fashion is that while it seems cheap and like it can be bought in excess, it has no shelf life. simply put: it’s quantity over quality.
as i cleaned out my closet i noticed that the pieces that i was not at all hesitant to get rid of were those impulse buys, the ultra trendy pieces from target that look ridiculous just a season later. how much does all of this fast fashion add up to? how many pairs of $30 shoes that last one season before falling apart or just looking terribly out of style do i own? more than i’d like to admit. big retailers offer ridiculously cheap wardrobe staples such as $10 jeans and $8 tank tops, all of which lose their shape, develop giant holes or broken straps or zippers within a few months and typically have a shelf life of no more than a year. and these pieces that fall apart don’t even have the possibility of being donated, they become garbage. the $4 pair of leggings that last 6 months vs. the $40 pair that last 5 years is a good example of how we throw our money away on the perceived bargain that fast fashion offers.
you can’t argue that something that was created with higher quality fabrics and handy work that is also something that you have paid more for, is more satisfying to own and something that you will hold on to far longer than something that is cheaply made. but thinking for ourselves is a part of it too.
a new trend has emerged that has created a sort of juxtaposition in todays marketplace: fast fashion versus vintage. the new frontier of “vintage” clothing that came as a result of ebay and then etsy and now instagram suddenly has anyone with a computer and a camera (or smartphone) running a used clothing shop. sites like ebay and etsy directly reflect the housing market in that they revolve around perceived value. it is not about what something is actually worth, but how much someone is willing to pay for it.
a word that i loathe these days is “curated.” people create etsy shops or websites or instagram accounts based on the idea that people are paying for taste. americans have always looked for someone to tell them what to wear, whether it is anna wintour or ali mcgraw or sienna miller. women want to be told what is attractive and we look to the popular girl to show us the way. sites like instagram turn women into lifestyle brands, with each photo providing a link to purchase every piece of clothing or furniture.
we now not only have fast fashion coming to us cheaply by big retailers, we have smaller retailers selling clothing produced largely the same way for 3-4 (5+) times the amount of big chains, and it’s selling like hot cakes because it is being offered by the popular girl shop with the most followers on facebook. we also have people selling clothing that they got for very little at thrift stores or yard sales or at fast fashion retailers for big bucks (#instashop), all thanks to the perceived value of their taste (or their popularity on social media). i can appreciate that not every person has the eye or the wherewithal to comb through smelly racks at thrift stores or musty piles at estate sales to find that killer piece of vintage, but when i see a 500% markup i can’t help but pause and think about what we are really paying for. it feels like we are paying for inclusion in the cool girl club.
in the wake of all of this a different animal emerged: the craftsman. the trend of handmade goods has really made a dent in the marketplace. suddenly small designers have a presence. people are willing to pay for quality, original pieces of clothing that are made consciously. even urban outfitters and forever 21 are now carrying small designers on their websites (alongside their cheap knockoffs) and h&m has introduced their “conscious collection” line of clothing.
i find the popularity of handmade or independently, american made clothing as exciting as i do the popularity of organic, local food. in a time where people are famous for nothing, there are people out there actually creating really amazing things. to paraphrase michael pollan, we get a vote every time that we buy something. nothing speaks louder than the almighty buck, and if buying “slow” clothing is changing even big retailers like forever 21, i am hopeful. so lately i’ve been thinking a lot more about what i buy and who exactly i am supporting when i buy it.