Originally published August 2015
The Issue You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the scrutiny being hurled at the fast-fashion industry. Ranging from poor working conditions in unsafe factories to the environmental impact of mindless and unnecessary levels of consumption (not to mention headline-making intellectual property lawsuits and disgruntled employees), there is plenty of material to keep critics busy. Yet what’s the alternative? High-end designer fashion is largely unrealistic for those of us who do not belong to the one percent. As an average person with a desire to be on-trend, the question becomes, “How can I be a socially (and fiscally) responsible consumer?” Rather than preach from behind a computer I decided it would be more informative to swear off fast-fashion brands for a season and force myself to investigate the alternatives. Here’s what I learned.
The Challenge To be clear, I’ve been a fashion nut since I was a kid. (One Christmas, my list to Santa consisted entirely of imaginary clothes and accessories I’d never seen in a store. You can imagine my parents’ joy.) I’ve made a career out of my obsession and relish finding an affordable high-street interpretation of a runway trend just as much as I cherish finding a vintage designer piece. So for me, quitting fast-fashion brands for an entire season would be more than a little challenging.
Using What You’ve Got The first thing I noticed myself doing during my self-imposed shopping fast was revisiting long-lost items in my closet, often with scissors in hand. Perhaps that crop top I’d been eyeing was easy to recreate by shortening a thin-strapped linen top I never wore. I was correct. A pair of printed pants I’d ignored for years converted nicely into culottes with the help of a tailor. The thrill of the shopping hunt was replaced by the fun involved in creative recycling of my own closet.
Cost: Under $30. Benefits: Reduced contribution to landfill waste.
Friend-Swaps One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so I called in my best friends. You want to borrow the Givenchy crossbody bag collecting dust in my closet? I’ll trade it for that Kenzo dress your coworkers are bored of seeing.
Cost: Zero. Benefits: Taking a few fashion risks; a Chardonnay-fueled closet hang.
Consignment Again, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I couldn’t justify buying the latest incarnation of Gianvito Rossi heels so instead I scooped up a similar style from the same brand on consignment site Vestiaire Collective, a great online store that makes selling and buying contemporary and designer pieces easier than updating your Facebook status. Much like another favorite, The Real Real, they come to you, collect your clothing, photograph it, post it, ship it to buyers and deposit the money into your account.
Cost: $400 Benefit: Well-made items from big-brand names at more affordable prices.
Vintage Affordable, one-of-a-kind pieces are everywhere, you just need to put in the effort. And when I say put in the effort I don’t mean dedicate an entire weekend to trolling the racks of every vintage store within a 50-mile radius. Instead, put the effort into finding one great vintage store and after a few visits, the vast denim rack and endless printed-dress selection seem far less overwhelming.
Cost: $50-$100 Benefits: Unique pieces.
Shopping Smarter Where I would previously buy three items from a high-street store—often to find they’re also owned by five people I know—I now more thoroughly consider what I’m buying because I’m likely spending more money. The contemporary-designer price tag prevents mindless purchases, which means you have a more tightly edited closet of great items that suit you and your aesthetic. Surprisingly I’ve found the real benefit of buying fewer, well-made pieces is that getting dressed in the morning is actually easier.
Cost: $300 Benefits: Well-constructed items you’ll own for years to come.
To Recap Insisting that people swear off fast-fashion brands would be completely ridiculous. That genre of stores make it possible for the average person to participate in current fashion trends, and many of them are making a concerted effort to be more socially conscious. However, it is worth reevaluating your approach to shopping and remembering that there are in fact a variety of other available and fairly easy options. I will happily still wear some of my fast-fashion mainstays on occasion, but will no longer rely on them as heavily. As I remind myself with all my other vices: everything in moderation.