The Rise (and Soon to Be Fall?) of Fast Fashion

linen - by Hanspeter KlasserIn the last twenty years or so, the cost of clothing has plummeted. As a result, clothing stores struggle to get rid of their huge inventories, and yesterday’s blouse is today’s obsolete embarrassment.

I find myself struggling to keep up. And doesn’t it seem to be getting worse and worse?

The recent factory collapse in Bangladesh gave us a harrowing example of the abuse happening at the lowest rung of the fashion chain. Clearly, the low cost of fashion comes from a low cost of production; and the low cost of production comes, in part, from poor treatment of garment workers – particularly a lack of precaution for worker safety.

But was that headline the last straw? Will the cheap fashion bubble ever burst?

Fresh Air recently interviewed author Elizabeth Cline about exactly that. While writing her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Cline traveled to China and Bangladesh – sometimes undercover – to investigate the garment industry.

I love her take on the recent trend of “fast fashion” (think fast food) and how her research changed the way she dresses and shops.

Based on her thoughts, here are 5 ways to encourage “slow fashion” and affect the clothing industry for the better:

  1. Avoid temptation. Don’t spend a lot of time in malls, and fast forward or mute commercials.
  2. Get thrifty. Thrift stores and yard sales aren’t just cheap – they’re an easy way to say no to fast fashion and reduce waste.
  3. Shop evergreen. The little black dress for women. The well-tailored suit for men. Some fashion doesn’t go out of style and should be treated as an investment. In fact, even though it may seem counter-intuitive to selling more clothes, many designers are moving in a more evergreen direction.
  4. Debit not credit. Only buy with real money. Preferably well-budgeted money. On that note:
  5. Budget more to buy less. With a few deep breaths we’ll learn to accept that a well-made dress by a well-paid laborer will cost more than $15. Take that chunk of change to a few of the great sites out there curating ethical fashion. Here’s just one.

How do you balance looking good with shopping in a people-conscious way? Do you try to avoid the ever-changing fashions, or do you have other tricks up your sleeve?

8 Responses to “The Rise (and Soon to Be Fall?) of Fast Fashion”
  1. Whoa this is right up my alley. I guess the Italians haven’t caught up with the cheap trend yet. It seems that high quality men’s suits only go up in price. If you shop for quality and a timeless look you don’t have to shop very often and you can wait for the spring and fall sales and pick up real bargains. Sometimes though you have to bite the bullet to get just what you need.

    If I could walk into Walmart and buy a Zegna suit that might cost $2500 full price at Oak Hall for $500 would I do it? No, I would not. That suit would not be the same or feel the same on me. I will wait for Oak Hall’s twice a year sale and hope its there.

    Your advice is sound especially for the ladies. For men who have to dress professionally every day it might be more difficult.

    • JCM says:

      Actually for men it may be easier, in my opinion, because most men don’t face quite the same social pressures to dress according to ever-changing styles. Also, you can wear a suit more often than a dress. But either way it definitely takes a lot of planning and savvy.

  2. Bobbi says:

    I only wear Lycra (fitness pro and fanatic) and that, come to think of it, has gotten WAY too expensive!

    I buy on sale and off season. Wash on delicate and hang dry. Well made clothes can last 10+ years that way.

  3. Claire says:

    This has been on my mind lately. I keep thinking it’d be so much easier to do this if I worked in an office because much of my clothing would be professional dress which seems easier to find in high quality materials and cuts and then last as well. But right now, life is on the floor, rolling around in cat hair and drool (wow, that’s disgusting). What to wear that isn’t cheap, and how to make it last for the more down to Earth, nitty gritty side of life? I suppose I need to look at some brands that are made in the US or are ethical and that would be a place to start- see what they offer.

    Also, I just saw this site: —it looks like something that could be right up this alley. Designer stuff consigned on a website so you’re getting exposure to a larger thrift collection, and high quality pieces.

    Thanks for writing about this. I need to figure this out.

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