Fast Fashion: Changing The Landscape Of Fashion Forever?

June 11, 2012 • Editorial, Fashion Blog, Shopping, Sign of the Times, Yahoo

Lately I have been feeling rather blase about fashion. I’m slightly bored. There doesn’t seem to be anything terribly new and trends are recycling faster than I can keep up. Mind you, I will buy a trendy item to pair with my designer duds at Zara in a New York minute. Yesterday I came across an interesting article in the NY Post which looked into the new book (which I need to get STAT) Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline. In it, she takes an investigative reporter’s tour of the global fashion business and finds most of us have abandoned high-quality apparel in favor of mass quantities of cheap clothing that’s as disposable as a Wendy’s Frosty cup.

While our grandparents bought quality items to last and knew how to mend, skills such as sewing have been lost on this generation. Global “fast fashion,” empires have risen, forcing local department stores into oblivion. We own many more items of clothing than even our parents, yet families in America spend only, on average, $1,700 a year on apparel. “It’s the smallest percentage of our incomes ever dedicated to clothes,” Cline writes. “Our money has never gone further.”

Sadly Cline finds a domestic garment industry in decline, a prospering Chinese export industry and a ton of industrial waste and ecological damage associated with our mass consumption. We may assume that our used clothing will reach a person in need, yet in reality much of it becomes trash!

Alan Ng, who runs a Brooklyn-based garment factory, explains our addiction: “The most general consumer would rather buy cheap stuff because they don’t want their clothes next season. They will spend $20, so they can buy 60 or 100 pieces, but they will not spend $150 and buy fewer pieces. It’s very wasteful.” The author herself was shocked to find that after cataloging her own closet and drawers, she owned a shocking 354 pieces of clothing! I bet many of us can say the same thing (I know I can!).

Seasonal trends that once drove department-store cash registers four times a year have been replaced by two-week product cycles. Trends barely arrive before they’re gone in favor of something else — promoting a get-it-now-or-its-gone buyer frenzy. Our we really getting a value when this crap falls apart after three washings?

The pace of fashion trends is now so blazing fast, it’s getting harder for any trend to get traction. Cline and her friends weren’t able to define a trend that would characterize the decade between 2000 and 2010. They were easily able to describe the ’80s, which were closely associated with “neon, Hammer pants, power dressing, poofy party dresses,” and the ’90s, “grunge, floral prints, combat boots and midriffs.” Aha! Maybe that is why I am so over it.  Maybe the biggest trend of the 2000s were the trends themselves! “Too many to count, changing ever-faster, challenging us to keep up.”

“The net effect,” Cline writes, “we’re buying so much clothing that world fiber use has risen from 10 million tons in 1950 to 82 million tons today.” She then explains how retailers are able to make clothing at such low prices. It’s down to cheap fabrics, high volume and designers who are left to figure out how to produce lines at less than cost.

Chains are able to sell clothing so cheaply because of their high volume. They bulk buy and push us to buy frequently so they can keep the prices low. “Fast fashion’s profitability resides in the same place as its appeal — in selling a relentless and unsustainable ocean of new clothes week after week,” Cline writes.

You can blame Forever 21. The chain, founded in 1984 by South Korean-born couple Do Won Chang and Jin Sook Chang, is a trailblazer fast fashion. Forever 21 picks up hot trends faster than anyone else (mainly by copying runway looks within days) and has been frequently sued unsuccessfully for copyright infringement. That’s because US copyright law does not protect fashion design, only fabric prints and jewelry (that’s a whole other problem/issue).

Cheap fabric is another reason stores can offer cut-price clothing. Polyester is now the world’s dominant fiber. How scary is that? I remember a time when we turned our noses up at polyester…now we pay hundreds for it’s synthetic relatives. Much of the fabric from our cheap-clothing addiction is turned into rags in its afterlife because the quality is so poor.

While fast-fashion proponents (mostly tweens and twenty-somethings) might argue they’re democratizing fashion, Cline travels to China and witnesses what havoc we are wreaking. Guandong’s Pearl River has turned red and indigo from runoff from dyeing plants. Since so many fabrics are blended, meanwhile, they’re not recyclable.

Chanel-toting Chinese business executives are making a fortune with their deals with Western chains on the backs of millions of low-cost workers and the wages are lost in the US. While New York “is the undisputed fashion hub,” we barely make anything anymore, Cline writes. How can New York’s fashion industry survive against an impossible torrent of cheap foreign labor?

Video may have killed the video star, but fast fashion may have killed the fashion industry.

Read more: Crimes of Fashion

– Lauren Dimet Waters

Source: NY Post

Image: Second City Style

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5 Responses to Fast Fashion: Changing The Landscape Of Fashion Forever?

  1. Anne says:

    I read this story yesterday and think it is so interesting. It’s particularly crazy how few clothes are made in the U.S. as compared to even 20 years ago. That said, I don’t toss out my clothes from H&M or Target after a season. I have plenty of pieces from both that are at least 4 years old. I’ve never shopped at Forever 21, so I can’t speak to its quality.

    • Second City Style says:

      I agree. The numbers are staggering. I own some items from H&M, Target Collab Lines and a bunch from Zara. I JUST got rid of a pair of H&M pants I had for over 8 years and wore them to death, so they held up pretty well for under $30. However, I never thought of the impact my cheap purchases had on the environment, etc. Will it stop me from buying the stuff? probably not, but I will think about it. Thankfully I prefer quality over quantity.

  2. Very good points! My friends and I were trying to think of a single trend item of the 2000 (any year) and came up with nothing. Everything was a re-booted trend or timeless (floral, classic silhouettes, etc.).

    • Second City Style says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The 2000’s have been about the “re-trend” at rapid-fire pace. It kinda sucks.

  3. Katie Fitch says:

    One of the most thought provoking style posts I have read. What do you think the market will look like in 10 more years? I am struck by how much this ties together the US economy, human rights, and the enviroment.

    In other news, yesterday, in preparation for oversees travel, I made my first dash to Forever 21 in search of cheap jewelry. I fond plenty and figured, “$6 for a necklace? Wow, I’ll buy 4!”

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