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Best Features of 2016: How I Quit Fast Fashion

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

Image: Fashion is something to be taken seriously, as Anne Hathaway's character learns in The Devil Wears Prada. Fast fashion is something to be taken even more seriously. Image source.

I remember a time when the fast fashion heavy hitters didn’t exist in Australia. Sure, we had local versions like Supré and some international discount retailers such as Target, but the likes of Zara or H&M simply weren’t available on home soil. Something that I used to think of as an inconvenience, but now recognise for what it really was: a rare luxury.

Today, Zara has more than 2,100 stores worldwide and 15 in Australia alone. The latter of which has been achieved in just five years since the Spanish retailer’s initial arrival. And it’s in those five years that my perception of stores like this has shifted dramatically. When I was first introduced to these chains, it was via a friend who’d recently returned from summer in Paris. It was on this trip that she had acquired a fairly impressive haul of (shockingly affordable) garments. Which struck me, at the time, as achingly Parisian — this new wardrobe full of wearable blazers, floaty blouses and distressed denim, all for less than the price of my recently purchased overcoat.

I was converted. Even more than this, I quickly began to view these retailers as somehow exotic — exclusive to far-flung parts of the world (and let’s face it, almost everywhere else is far-flung when you live in Australia). An important part of this so-called exoticism was that these fast fashion brands were unattainable at home. And I have since come to realise that this sense of unattainability is actually a big part of their marketing strategy. Perhaps Zara is no longer physically unattainable in Australia, but it remains so in the sense that you have to act very, very fast if you want to get your hands on the latest ‘must-haves’.

Companies like the Inditex-owned Zara have major marketing budgets and they know exactly how to make us want to buy stuff. So it is surely by no coincidence, then, that they drop new stock in store not every season or even every month, but up to twice per week. Unfortunately, I know plenty of people who have memorised that schedule to a tee, ‘dropping in’ just as frequently so that they might nab the latest trend. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that it feeds directly into an inherently flawed system of fashion manufacturing.

The harsh realities of this problematic system really first came to my attention around the time that the devastating Rana Plaza collapse occurred in April 2013. This was also when the world could no longer ignore the blatant social exploitation at the heart of our faster-than-ever model. So the issue began to be covered by the media in much greater depth and, in general, access to information about these processes improved. If I’m being really honest, though, traces of the truth had probably surfaced before this. It simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a t-shirt to cost $10 — I’d dabbled in poor attempts at making my own clothing and the fabric alone cost more than that. Plus, I’d visited Bali and travelled past textile regions where the conditions seemed far less than adequate.

The loss of 1,137 lives, though — as well as all the other issues this tragedy soon saw uncovered — were far too difficult to ignore. I no longer felt very comfortable walking into fast fashion stores, now that I knew the social and environmental costs of producing clothing that quickly and that cheaply. It was at this point that vintage local and independent fashion all took up greater residence in my wardrobe. A shift that has, sadly, served to further underscore just how damaging fast fashion can be for those same independent designers — forcing them to try and keep up with a system that survives by cutting corners.

I started moving away from fast fashion gradually and am still by no means perfect. But this season I decided to give the 5 Piece French Wardrobe a go, inspired by Vivienne Westwood’s philosophy of "buy less, choose well, make it last”. And I’m finding that I cherish my purchases so much more now, knowing that I have saved up for them, or that they’ve been handcrafted especially for me. Apparently, though, this approach doesn’t make me all that likeable to some. Refinery 29 points to a 2016 study that demonstrates “not only do most people choose to remain wilfully ignorant of the conditions in which their clothing is made, they also look down on the type of consumers who do care.” Personally though, I’m not too fussed by that, because I feel like my consumer choices are being put to good use now, which is something that I’m proud of. Of course, I can understand why people might feel that way, too — none of us wants to be made feel guilty for our own consumer choices. But, then again, you don’t necessarily need to quit fast fashion cold turkey in order to make a difference. In fact, you might be surprised at the impact you can have simply by making small changes like buying less and making it last, or supporting a designer that uses sustainable fabrics. We all have to start somewhere and if we don’t, then we’ll simply be complicit in a damaging cycle.

This feature was originally published on 13.07.16


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