Even with a closet-full of options, I find myself sighing and claiming that I have “nothing to wear”. I’ll admit that I have some dresses, tops, jackets, and skirts with their tags still perfectly attached. As much as it embarrasses me to say, I’ve gotten used to allowing them to collect dust and reassuring them that they will be worn… “someday”! I also have a few pairs of shoes that have yet to be brought out of their boxes. Impulse buys? Perhaps. Or I’m just waiting for the right occasion to wear them – well, that’s my reasoning to make myself feel better at least.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has been in this situation before. I’ve heard that we only really wear 20% of our clothes while the rest, like I said, gather dust or are shoved and forgotten in the backs of our dressers and closets. When I take a step back and assess what I have, I do tend to wonder what on earth possessed me to purchase certain items. Then it dawns on me. The price tag has seductive figures like $3, $5, 50% off, or additional 75% off previously marked price. How does one say “no” to that?
With multi-leveled fast fashion retailers within blocks of each other here in Union Square, San Francisco, it’s easy to waltz in having no intention of buying then walking out with ten things because they were so inexpensive. Although I haven’t been inside the world-renowned mega Forever 21 on Powell Street in nearly a year, I still see hordes of people coming out with gigantic yellow bags. There happens to be three H&M locations within less than a mile of each other as well: one near the Financial District, on Powell Street, and inside the Westfield Mall. There are two ZARA locations too – inside the mall and one near NikeTown. They’re certainly sitting on some prime retail real estate.
However, looking beyond those filled-to-the-brim racks and tables stocked with the trendiest pieces that we’re told we “must have now”, do you ever wonder just how these retailers are able to put merchandise on the floor so quickly at unbelievable prices? It seems that the moment fashion weeks are over, the next big “it” items are already available for purchase at a fraction of the price in a matter of a few weeks. Of course, there are issues with knocking off designer collections which becomes an entirely different topic. The point is that not only is this literally fast fashion, it is also no doubt incredibly tempting for the fashion-conscious consumer. Yet, behind those marketing tricks, there’s a side that consumers rarely get to hear about: the real cost of producing these garments and the amount of resources used to make them. There are thousands of garment workers who have been exploited thousands of miles away in order to get those $5 tops or $10 jeans, for instance, into our hands – only to remain unworn or tossed into the trash after one or two wears.
Although this short description is rather simplistic and broad, it is important that consumers become aware of the real costs of fast fashion and understand what truly pushes us to feel the need to consume so quickly. I love bargains as much as the next savvy shopper. However, after learning more about the fast fashion supply chain and the amount of resources that are used to produce these garments, I’ve been rethinking where and how I shop. Perhaps this discussion will motivate you to do the same.
For more information on this topic, I highly recommend reading “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World" by Lucy Siegle. It was published this year and she proposes sustainable solutions that we, as consumers, can easily follow. This book refocuses “the debate squarely back on the importance of basic consumer rights” and the author “reveals the truth behind cut price, bulk fashion, and the importance of your purchasing decisions, advocating the case for a new sustainable design era where we are assured of value for money: ethically, morally, and in real terms.” The information in this book, along with what I have learned in school, have certainly opened my eyes to the negative sides of massive consumption and the impact this consumption has on the most vulnerable of the fashion supply chain – the garment workers who are subjected to intolerable working conditions and the resources that are depleting at record speed.
Comments, questions, and concerns are welcome! I would love to hear what you think!