As you may have read, England's House of Lords recently passed judgment on the culture of "Fast Fashion" as epitomized by chains like H&M and Forever21, stating that it fosters a culture of irresponsible waste. While the high-handedness of a group of peers making such a pronouncement has been roundly denounced - and indeed, is in danger of obscuring the message - the truth is that this is a real issue that can stand a little exposure. The current trend towards ever-cheaper and more disposable wardrobes is not merely bad for the environment and the sweatshop workers who turn out that $14 Marni knockoff, but is probably, ultimately, pretty bad for us as a society, too. Melodramatic? Maybe. But valuing things is, paradoxically, a luxury.First: the facts. There's no free lunch and there's certainly no $20 dresses. Well, not without a lot of people in Bangladesh's garment districts eking out a very meager existence to meet the demand. As The Daily Mail's Liz Jones puts it, "Ever-cheaper fashion... is like cheap food: it means people's lives and the environment are being violated." Of the 2.5 million Bangladeshi garment workers, 75% are women and children, who earn approximately $5 a week. The environmental toll, which the House of Lords emphasized, is heavy too - we're throwing out literally tons of cheap clothes every year, most of which are made from, ahem, less than earth-friendly materials. The high turnover of the collections at these stores keeps us on the lookout for the new, the fresh, all the time - and this has in turn influenced the high fashion industry, which is producing more frequently in order to satisfy our restless tastes, with similar environmental and human costs. Perhaps we can justify fast fashion to ourselves because everyone's broke - but given the life span of most of these clothes, it really is true that a slightly more expensive basic pays for itself in wears. And, seriously, are most of us going to Forever21 for our work wardrobes? Maybe a piece here and there, but for the most part you don't want to be in the office in a pencil skirt that changes color under lights. Cheap clothes are, obviously, fun. We all remember the thrill of realizing how awesome Forever21 was and thinking it was an amazing secret that only we were onto, until everyone at the office showed up in the same Marc Jacobs-esque blouse. But the sad truth is, the thrill fades quickly. The clothes fall apart, the styles change - I always justified buying "trendy" shapes at cheap places 'cause I didn't want to spend on something that would date quickly - and because they were easy come, it's a lot easier to part with them when it's time to clean closet. Yeah, you can give them to charity - but I'm guessing that $12 used poly-cotton Go for Target sweater isn't going to be anyone's first pick at the SalvA, either. Harder to give up, probably, is the pleasure of it, one of the few affordable treats left to us. But in a sense, while it provides a cheap thrill, fast fashion degrades the shopping experience. Just as McDonald's is no substitute for a nice - or healthy - meal, a trip to Forever21 doesn't make you feel especially good. It's loud and chaotic, the sizes are all over the place, employees are often disaffected, you make poor decisions - sometimes just to avoid the hassle of a dressing-room line. Perhaps, as in the case of fast food, fast fashion is yet another degredation of our quality of life. "Cheap fashion, " says Liz Jones, "like cheap, factory-farmed salmon and chicken, has stripped away any notion we had of something being luxurious or in any way special . It has devalued all our lives, making us ever more dissatisfied, always wanting more." More prosaically, everybody looks the same. Sure, we all have in mind the ideal of the inventive fashionista, effortlessly and creatively mixing high and low fashion into one dazzlingly chic whole. But the reality is that we are far more homogenous in our distinctively-printed designer knockoffs than we would be in simpler basics. The idea of high style comes to us pre-packaged, complete with eclectic jewelry and accessories, and I'm guessing this paradoxical illusion of the unique is at the expense of individual creativity. Inevitably, this trend is spawning a "slow clothes" movement: locally sourced, small-batch clothing produced according to the highest standards. Equally inevitably, this is still a boutique phenomenon that doesn't come cheap and is likely to be tarred with the same 'twee elitism' brush that first characterized slow food. Realistically, this isn't an option for most of us. And to tell the truth, it'd be a serious wrench to have to give up the small after-work of pleasure of a cheap top. But you know, this is something we've become accustomed to very quickly —such a thing would have been unheard-of a few generations ago —and I'm guessing that, together, we can weather the withdrawal. I'm three weeks clean and counting —one day at a time. Should We Boycott Throwaway Fashion? [Daily Mail]
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I still shop at Forever 21 despite the fact that I'm long past their demographic. And yes, some of their clothes are cheap, poorly made, too trendy to last. But I am wearing a pair of dark bootcut jeans I purchased there in 2005. I have worn them dozens and dozens of times. They cost about $30, 1/4 of the price of department store jeans. I purchase most of my office clothes there as well. Gap-looking striped trousers are $20 and also last. I am fortune enough that most of the clothes fit me well and I'm patient enough to find pieces that are fairly classic (yes it can be done). Apparel markup is insane. Belive me, if I could afford the real thing, I'd buy it. But I can't live my life in one pair of $100 pants when I can buy a week's worth of clothes for the same amount.