when i was younger i was an avid fast fashioner. living mere blocks from union square in san francisco meant that many hours were spent wandering the multiple floors of giant fast fashion superstores like h&m and forever 21. a splurge meant something new from urban outfitters, and anthropologie seemed ultra fancy and was reserved for special occasions like a christmas gift card. while i have always adored vintage clothing and continued to shop at thrift and vintage shops during that time, i had little to no concept of what fast fashion was or why it was so cheap. i also had no concept of where the idea or design for those clothes came from. why i had that burning “gotta have it” feeling over the wildly bright tropical print maxi dress was beyond me. i just had it, and therefore had to have it. i had no idea that donatella versace had designed a collection of hawaiian print, grecian front, silk handkerchief frocks for her ultra wealthy friends to wear poolside at her parties in 2000, and this had trickled down to my crappy $14 dress from forever 21 made out of some synthetic fabric that would all but disintegrate after a season in my closet. never occurred to me.
as my love for high fashion grew, my awareness of just how much fast fashion retailers were ripping off designers did too. but for years, i still was never able to justify spending the money on designer clothing. i would feel happy and excited when i’d see my favorite runway piece re-produced and sold at a price that i’d typically pay for lunch. i felt like i was pulling something off or getting away with something because my charlotte russe faux miu miu glitter boots or my forever 21 faux chanel bag looked like the real thing. sorta.
these days not only do i understand where those clothes come from (sweatshops. period. they do.), i understand that the fabrics that those clothes are made from are not only poor quality, but are produced in ways and using materials that are terrible for the land and communities that they come from and for the environment as a whole. the conditions that the clothing is made under are terrible, and by people who are incredibly overworked and underpaid for what they do, and forced to do it in unthinkably bad conditions. i now fully appreciate well made clothing or “slow fashion” as it’s now lovingly called.
in the early 2000’s when designer logo handbags were the big deal, the knockoffs from mysterious sources were abound. everybody was carrying fake leather handbags with LV logos that from a distance looked just like the one that paris hilton carried her little dog around in. but up close the logos were wrong, the vinyl fake leather was cracking and the faux brass fixtures were crackling or broken off. i am ashamed to admit that i still have a fake louis vuitton handbag from the early 2000’s in the back of my closet. lined up next to the real louis vuitton monogram speedy bag that i have, the comparison is ridiculous. the fake bag is so honestly ugly to my eyes. not only is it cracked and falling apart (after only a couple of uses), but it looks so dated and cheesy. and even though in 2003 it was the most trendy thing on the planet, the real bag looks classic and even timeless. it looks real.
today i had to pull out that faux lv bag and remind myself of what i already know. i recently invested in a beautiful striped top from celine, circa now. it was instantly my favorite look from the resort 2016 collection, and when i came across it i decided to go for it. after paying a lot of money, i waited for it to arrive. and waited. after 3 weeks of agonizing and questioning such an expensive purchase, it finally arrived. on that very day i discovered this knockoff version being sold, on sale, for a mere $56. and this morning i woke up to find this adorable advertisement for topshop featuring leandra medine wearing a new topshop knockoff version being sold for $110. moments like these can feel like a punch in the gut, the same gut that told me to invest in something beautiful. because in my day to day mom life, there is no high flash photographer waiting to artfully show off my closet on the coveteur. i wonder who even knows or cares that my top is the real thing when any girl can look the same for the cost of a few too many craft cocktails. but the truth is that when i look back at all of the fast fashion knock offs that i have owned in my day, none of it is memorable. those faux glitter heels and loud tropical print maxi dresses are long gone. but the real things remain. and the difference is unbelievable. the difference is there is nothing, nothing like the real thing. and the real thing is, well…real.