The Fashion Industry Is Fucked And You *just* Might Be Contributing To The Fuckery

Keep calm, let us explain. Actually, we'll let the brilliant Elizabeth Cline handle this one | Part IV of the Quit Fast Fashion Series

By: Amber

Okay, we may have projected a bit, but it’s true: the fashion industry is really effed up. We’re depleting our natural resources at rapid rates, our climate has been permanently changed, our oceans are more polluted than they’ve ever been, yet we’re buying and hoarding and disposing more than ever. So many of us are so hooked on this high-speed, never-ending treadmill of consumption that we don’t even realize that we are in an environmental crisis largely because of our own unsustainable shopping habits. Want more proof? Just read this

But there is a solution to this massive problem. And we get it. As soon as you hear ‘ethical’ or sustainable’ fashion you start nodding off…or start feeling itchy and want to exit out of this window ASAP? That used to be us too. But before you check out (or click out), we promise that embracing well-made, high-quality fashion can be exciting without you having to skip your student loan payments for the nest few months. If you don’t believe us, believe Elizabeth Cline, one of the industry’s goddesses. Oh, yeah. We had to bring out one of the big guns.

We were compelled to chat with the New York-based journalist after reading, then rereading her acclaimed book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. This book needs to make it to your coffee table/bookshelf/nightstand soon, if it’s not already there. Seriously. There’s a reason why FIT has included the galvanizing piece of literature in their curriculum. And it grounds itself in one concept: the truth. 

You’re cheating yourself if you only wear fast fashion

“Shopping exclusively at fast fashion chains is like eating every meal at a fast food restaurant. It’s perfectly fine and fun once in a while, but there’s a whole world of much better clothing out there that people are missing out on! Fast fashion clothes are rarely made with the beauty and attention to detail that can make clothing really pleasurable to wear. These details are in the fabric, the sewing, the fit, and fast fashion chains don’t pay attention to much of that. They make clothes to meet a certain price point and that look good from a distance or on a hanger. This is my argument to people who won’t change to spare in the environment: Do it because you’ll look and feel so much better in your clothes. I want people to love their clothes, no matter if they’re purchased from a fast fashion chain or Gucci. It is possible to shop in a fast fashion chain and end up with a $5 polyester dress you truly adore. If that’s your thing, I would just recommend exploring the alternatives as well. And always, no matter where you shop, buy with care, buy what you love, and wear the hell out of it.”

BTW, the problem isn’t only H&M and Forever 21

“By my definition, fast fashion includes any massive corporation that sells huge quantities of clothing at low prices, while turning their inventory over on a weekly or monthly basis. The entire mass market fashion industry borrows elements of fast fashion now, from outlet malls to department stores to discounters like T.J. Max, Kohl’s, and Old Navy. Even high-end brands are trying to move in a see-now, buy-now direction, which is a fast fashion invention.

Many mall brands and department stores are closing up shop while new fast fashion companies from the UK are moving into the U.S., such as Boohoo, ASOS, and Missguided. If you love cheap, trendy fashion, it’s a good time to be alive.”

On going against what society tries to make us do

“Minimalism has inspired millions of people. It has been a meaningful backlash against a society telling us to live an empty life of mindless shopping. For me, minimalism was a stepping stone to finding balance in my wardrobe, but I’m definitely not a minimalist nowadays. The way that I refine my style is to put more time into every step of the process of buying and wearing clothes — I spend a lot time looking for inspiration online and in the streets, ordering and sending back items that don’t work, and putting imagination and creativity into thinking ahead about what I’m going to wear for particular events. Personally, the solution that’s worked for me is being active and engaged with my clothes. And that hasn’t amounted to owning less. I probably own as much clothing as I did prior to Overdressed, but I now treasure my wardrobe, know exactly what I own, and get a lot of use out of it.”

(If you’re nodding and thinking you really would like to refine your style and treasure your wardrobe, you should definitely  check out this post that includes everything you need to know about curating a fully functional wardrobe you adore, and then you should sign up for (it’s free, babe!) our 10-day masterclass: “Your Ideal Wardrobe.”

Debunking the whole ‘ethical fashion’ concept

“For me, ethical fashion is a set of practices, not so much about buying ethical products. The practice of sustainable or mindful fashion is available to anyone. This practice boils down to knowing about clothes (from fit to fabric); buying the very best clothing you can for your money; and taking very good care of it. For garments that you don’t plan to keep for a long time, rent it, borrow it or buy secondhand.”

Things have changed since Overdressed was released

“Fast fashion companies like H&M and Zara are also committing to some impressive environmental efforts. There is a debate to be had about whether or not companies that make one billion units of clothing per year (as is the case with Zara) can ever be sustainable, but the fact that they’re both increasing their usage of renewable fabrics, reducing their water and energy consumption, and launching eco-friendly lines is huge progress. H&M and Zara make one in every 100 pieces of the clothing sold in the world, so when they decide to save one cup of water for every garment they make for example, that has massive environmental implications.

I have to point out that we’ve also seen the fast and powerful rise of ethical and sustainable fashion in recent years, and massive changes in the way people shop, thanks to the Internet. It’s hard to guess what retail will look like in a decade, but it’s safe to say it’ll look very different than it does today. This excites me. I’m more likely to find out about an ethical brand, a startup, or vintage seller on Instagram than anywhere else nowadays. The Internet has made it cheaper and easier for socially conscious companies and new companies of all kinds to find their customer. And it’s made it easier to swap, borrow, sell, and rent clothing as well.”

If you’re skeptical about being able to afford to quit fast fashion

“There are, of course, people who can’t afford to spend more than what they are currently spending on clothes. And poor people have always been the thriftiest and most resourceful fashionistas. While we may not all be able to buy a $200 organic dress, we can all certainly look at the labels in Target and try to find cotton or linen items or scour the Goodwill for treasures. But for most people, when they say they can’t afford better than fast fashion, what they really mean is they don’t see the point. Fast fashion has done a fantastic job of convincing us that clothes should be very cheap. And that clothing is not a worthwhile or valuable enough item to invest real money into. 

Here’s the reality: Americans spend less money on clothes than most developed countries while buying more clothing than any other nation. What does this tell us? Being cheap about clothing is a choice. We could just as easily buy less clothes so that we’d have more money to spend on nicer items. One thing I’ve been trying to do since Overdressed is to re-educate consumers on quality, craftsmanship, and pricing so they can feel confident when they buy a $60 silk shirt versus a $6 acrylic one. It’s important to know you’re getting your money’s worth if you’re considering spending more.”

(if you want a step-by-step guide to quitting fast fashion, go straight here. Yup, it’s that simple. We got you!)

On transitioning from shopping at fast fashion shops

“I’ll admit, I had a hard time at first. I was so disconnected from my clothes prior to writing Overdressed. Fast fashion had made me a passive shopper. Fast fashion trains consumers to walk into a store and with almost no thought or information buy something to wear. This is crazy. Clothing is our most direct form of self expression. Choosing clothing should be a very deliberate practice, one that you approach with thought and care.  

Through writing my book I started to learn and understand more about what I wear. To my surprise, my shopping habits changed naturally. It wasn’t hard at all to give up fast fashion as my journey progressed and eventually clothing became this immense source of joy in my life. These days, I spend a lot of time seeking out clothes that I love that are made out of beautiful fabrics and that really express how I want to look. As a result, my style has evolved, I spend less money on clothes, and my clothes have less of an impact on the environment. I would never trade my current wardrobe for the fast fashion junk I had before writing Overdressed.” 

(Past: If you’re really committed to building a fully functional wardrobe as described above, check out our 10-day masterclass: “Your Ideal Wardrobe”. It’s free and it’s bomb, promise.)

On what truly keeps her motivated

Overdressed was released five years ago and there are students who read it in high school or college for whom the book has changed the course of their lives. That is mindblowing and humbling. Some of my readers are now working in ethical fashion startups or have started their own socially minded companies. Others have gone to work for big brands and are trying to make change from the inside. This is what keeps me going, even more than seeing people change their personal shopping habits. I hope the book continues to inspire new business models and policies and structural change.” 

If you’re new to the series…start here

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Guys, this book needs to be your new fashion go-to resource. What did you think of Elizabeth’s thoughts on the current fashion industry? Let us know below in the comments. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Overdressed on Amazon. You can shop the book along with some of our favorite slow fashion pieces below.

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