"By snapping up rack after rack of cheap, mass-made clothing, we're making ourselves all look alike, trashing the planet, and mistreating our fellow humans." Well, when a person puts it like that, it sounds bad!
As a fashion editor of twenty years' standing I have found it extremely uncomfortable to admit that the seemingly harmless fashion industry is actually driving our demise. It is at the heart of all that ails us; pull at any social or environmental thread, and it will lead you back to the fashion industry.
We've talked a good bit about the consequences of fast fashion and the virtues - green, moral, aesthetic, and philosophical - of returning to a simpler and higher-quality way of being. A few months ago, I forswore fast fashion, and, Katy Perry-style, I liked it. The first few weeks were embarrassingly challenging, since I was used to breezing through Forever21 on my lunch break, or picking up basics at H&M. But weighing purchases, buying for quality and thinking about what I need have, in fact, saved me some money and made me feel better about what I wear. I went into Forever21 last week, by way of experiment, and I was shell-shocked: stuff felt so crappy! All the mass-market creativity looked so soulless! I bought a $7 necklace!
I got my just desserts when I got a rash, and then it hooked on the back of a chair and broke. But it did underscore the challenges of giving up easy gratification. Even stepping into that Forever21, I began to doubt myself, to crave novelty, to need a hit of of-the-minute. Which, apparently, runs pretty deep as we've come to take constant novelty as our due. Says Durrant,
As the ‘trend frenzy' deepens, we can see that fashion is no longer about style and self-expression: it is primarily about judgment – self-judgment and judgment of others. A toxic media reporting how women ought to look, and celebrity obsession further enforce this strange new paradigm...In the end the true antidote is to adopt an attitude of voluntary simplicity. A manner of living and being that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich. A way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct conscious contact with every part of our lives.
That's all well and good. But the sad truth is that things aren't quite this simple, and she's talking about two issues, the philosophical and the gray-shaded reality. I used to be all about the boycotts, but a global industry is built on the backs of our fast fashion addiction, and wearing locally made, good-quality clothing in New York doesn't guarantee a better life for anyone - in many cases, quite the opposite. If we boycott, it must be mindfully - and not in a vacuum. Inaction, at the end of the day, is still that. Yes, research companies, and support those fighting the good fight and running good factories, rewarding and reinforcing rather than just punishing. Is "fast fashion" bad? Sure, but as a phenomenon, it's less evil than the specifics of unsafe, unsanitary working conditions or companies who fail to pay a living wage. We need to think not just of our own souls and worthiness, but of real issues like the economic viability of those people who produce clothing. Boycott? Simplify? Yes. But also research, donate, and be mindful of shades of gray. Most of all, let's break our addiction to easy answers.