Fast Fashion & Our Lives
Have you heard of “fast fashion?” It’s a pretty simple concept. The term “fast fashion” refers to cheap clothes sold to you super cheap. Those clothes will look like crap, or have fallen apart in a season or two; and you’ll be back at the store buying more fast fashion. Me, I’m sick of it. I’m tired of clothes that come out of the dryer looking horrible. I’m really tired of clothes that fit badly and wear out quickly.
I’ve been working my way through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Marie Kondō claims that permanent tidiness can be attained by getting rid of any possession that doesn’t make you feel joyful. Underwear does not bring me joy, but I’m not likely to throw mine away either. So I’m not entirely sold on her method. But she’s absolutely right about one thing: quality over quantity wins every time.
Slow Fashion: The Proposal
I noticed something when I emptied everything out of my closet, and the guest room closet, and the dresser. As I sorted through the huge pile of clothes I realized that of that big pile I wore the same roughly 10 pieces over and over again. Half of what I owned I’d worn only once or twice. Most of it I’d either forgotten I owned, or long ago stored away for “later.”
I got brutal and gave away everything that didn’t fit well. I gave away the things I’d worn only once. All those things I bought because they were cool, but that I never wore, those went too. I was left with a very sparse wardrobe of things I actually enjoy. The things I kept were the things I actually wear.
I stood there in front of my transformed closet and decided that some things need to change in my life. I’m tired of “fast fashion,” I’m tired of the treadmill of buying more and more stuff I don’t need. But beyond that, I’m tired of the ways we’ve been trained to support an unethical system.
There’s a number of reasons I decided to take on this challenge for 2018, and to bring you all along. But there are a few big reasons we can talk about here.
The exploitive part of fast fashion, that pays garment workers less than a living wage in dangerous working conditions is something I have always found troubling. But the more I become aware of how pervasive such abusive practices are in the industry the harder it is to ignore. And the truth is there’s absolutely no reason for it but greed. Paying garment workers a living wage would increase costs by a tiny percent, a nearly negligible precent truthfully. If you’d like to know more here’s a great TED talk about the topic: From fast fashion to fair fashion.
The truth is that fast fashion is shit quality. In general new collections hit the stores (especially the outlets) every two weeks. That’s right, ever two weeks. The result? Seriously low quality. I bought six t-shirts this summer from a big name outlet. In the course of just a month five of those shirts had multiple holes (even being washed on the delicate setting and treated very carefully.)
Then there’s the silk shirts I owned at the time. Most of it incredibly thin, prone to wrinkling, and “dryclean only.” While my Grandmother was alive she found such quality and care requirements astounding. When she was growing up in the 1910s all of her underwear was silk. Let’s just say they didn’t dry clean it. (I’m down to one such piece of silk, and I’ve added a number of high quality pieces that are super low maintenance and look fabulous.)
And that leads me to the last reason I’m doing this. I’m sick and tired of contributing to a culture that is so horribly unsustainable; both environmentally and economically. From an environmental standpoint fast fashion is very polluting, on the production end, and on the consumer end where we throw away all that crap when it wears out in weeks or months.
It’s also economically problematic. The workers who make the clothes aren’t paid a living wage, and those of us buying it find ourselves stuck in the infinite loop of buying cheap clothing over and over again into infinity. My father’s favorite phrase is “penny wise, pound foolish.” It’s absolutely appropriate to fast fashion. We feel like we’re getting a deal, but we really aren’t, not in the long run.
So I’m done. I’m done with fast fashion. I’m done with having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.
My challenge is to change the way I shop, and therefore the way I dress. For me it’s about more than money, it’s about living intentionally and in line with my values. Once I own things the goal is to make life simpler, a closet full of pieces that go together, make me feel confident and happy, and will last. In the end I spend less time worrying about my clothing, and less money replacing things that are out of fashion, don’t fit, or have worn out. I will also buy from and support only sustainable, ethical producers of clothing. Those who source their materials ethically, and pay their workers a living wage. The final positive: I have a closet of clothes I love to wear.
I need structure if I’m to accomplish a thing so I’ve established rules for this challenge. I’m keeping things as simple as possible. Here’s how I’m planning this to go (we all know about plans):
- Total budget for the year for all shoes, handbags, and clothes is $500. This is less than I would normally spend in a year but my goal is to add a few very select pieces that will last a long time.
- Pieces added must be multipurpose and work with multiple items in my current wardrobe.
- All pieces added must come from a brand that sources materials ethically and pays a living wage to its workers.
- Where possible I will buy pre-owned pieces still in good shape. (Another way to be thrifty and not contribute to more landfill waste.)
I am not following a strict “capsule wardrobe” because I’m just not that picky. But I’m getting pretty close and following a lot of the principles. I am not counting in my wardrobe (or reporting here) clothing I need for yoga or horseback riding (my two forms of regular exercise and sanity) because neither of those things are wearable pretty much any other time. Riding wear is stuff that can get filthy dirty, and keep me warm and dry (I do live in the Pacific Northwest), and yoga wear is basically made to keep me decent while sweating profusely. No one needs that crap as part of their wardrobe so it doesn’t count. I’ve got plenty and have no need to buy anything more this year, so we’ll ignore it. (When I replace things that wear out in this category the same rules for ethical sourcing will apply.)
I obviously have summer clothes packed away which are not included as part of the active wardrobe. Come summer my winter things will be packed away and summer come out. This is a big part of a capsule wardrobe and it works for me because of the big swings in climate here. My wardrobe for winter as of Dec 2017 consists of:
- Shirts (10)
- Silk long sleeve (5)
- Flannel (2) (PNW y’all)
- Tunic (1)
- Other (2)
- Foundation t-shirts (4) (black, grey, white)
- Suit/Sport Jackets (4)
- Jeans & casual trousers (6)
- Skirt (1)
- Dress pants (4)
- Dress (1)
- Sweaters (5)
- Pullover (4)
- Long Cardigan (1)
- Boots (4) (A girl can never have too many boots)
- Casual Shoes (2)
- Handbags (4)
- Crossbody (2)
- Satchel (2)
- Winter coats (3)
- Rain coat
- Dress wool coat
- Puffy coat (casual warmth)
And that’s it. There are some tweaks I could make to this wardrobe. I probably don’t need four pairs of dress pants for example. I wear them only when I’m working at my day job, and that’s part time. That number should probably be two. I am slowly moving most of my shirts over to good quality silk, and for winter I’ll probably add another sweater (because I live in them). Other than that, the wardrobe is pretty set for winter.
Join The Fun
If you would like to participate in this challenge you can do so in a number of ways. First: join the Crazy Whole Life Facebook group where I’ll be posting monthly spending reports and checkins to see how we’re all doing on our goals. There will be the occasional outfit shot there as well for us to share fashion inspiration with one another. For women (and many men) fashion is one of our key ways of expressing our creativity and creating beauty in our lives. Fashion isn’t trivial, and it can be part of an intentional and well lived life. That’s what this journey is about.
Second: Subscribe to the newsletter to not miss a single slow fashion update. Play along at home and report your successes and failures in the comments of each update (one for each season).
If you’d like more information on ethical fashion and how you can make a difference with your own life I’ve included some of my favorite resources below. Many of the brands you’ll find listed are pricey. And at first that can be a really hard sticker shock. But again I have to remember what my father taught when he talked about “penny wise, pound foolish.” If in the span of three years I buy 3 blouses at $50 each (typical fast fashion pricing) that last just a year that’s actually no better an investment than buying one blouse for $150. Since that $150 blouse will likely last me far more than three years, I’ve just won economically speaking. It means buying fewer items, and saving up for those purchases but in the long run it’s better for my pocket book and our environment.
How to recognize and buy quality
Justine has two great videos helping you identify good versus bad quality in both clothing and handbags. Avoid the cheap, poor quality stuff and buy things that are actually worth your investment.
Fair Trade Brands & Bloggers
- 17 Fair Trade Fashion Bloggers – A list of fashion bloggers to follow for fair trade fashion.
- 35 Fair Trade & Ethical Clothing Companies – There are a variety of price points listed here from the midrange to the very, very high end.
- Fair Trade Fashion – A great resource for learning more about fair trade fashion.
- H&M Conscious – I love H&M anyway, and they have a whole collection that is reasonably priced and ethically made and sourced. It can be done at lower price points and they prove it.
Help a girl out, I’m new to this so please share your favorite slow fashion and ethical brands and tips in the comments!