The “Downside” of Fast Fashion?

Posted in fashion and society by bluewellesleyblue on August 21, 2008

There is a discussion on Jezebel (one of my favorite general blogs, by the way!) about the downside of “fast fashion” retailers like my dearly beloved Forever 21 and H&M. By now, the preponderance of posts on my blog end up touching on one or the other. The idea of “fast fashion,” because of the cheap more than the fast, obviously holds considerable appeal for me as a shopper. Many of the comments are very insightful, and it seems clear that this is a sort of ambiguous issue.

The consensus on Jezebel is that the Daily Mail, source of the article that set off this discussion, is a kind of crappy newspaper. Indeed, the “con” perspective on “fast fashion” contains some rather amusingly badly argued places. My favorite is the analogy comparing such purchases to “cheap, factory-farmed chicken and salmon” and arguing that they apparently devalue the “special” things in our lives until we’re all unhappy automatons who only ever want more. It’s a god-awful analogy, but let’s run with it. It begs the question: if someone cannot afford the “real thing” in terms of organic, free-range chicken or freshly caught wild salmon (it’s no small thing to buy that for a family of four), does that obligate us to eat potatoes and bread?

Of course, the discount-discount retailers Liz Jones of the Daily Mail mentions, Primark and Asda of the 3 GBP (6 dollars!) pieces, don’t exist in the U.S. context. Some of the issues there do apply to the “fast fashion” options we do have, however.

I do have some qualms about Forever 21 especially, for the occasional very exact knockoff, the fact that it is a big company that will necessarily have the power to edge out community interests when it wants to, and also for the sweatshop labor that contributes to the cheap prices. That being said, on the moderately rare occasion when I find a top or dress there that I really like, I do not treat it as “disposable” at all. Fine, the materials are cheap and I will be lucky if it survives five washes with its integrity intact, much less ten or twenty. However, until the day it falls apart, I will cherish it and incorporate it into many an outfit. Like many people who shop a bit too much, I do have enough clothes that ten or twenty washes worth of wear-times could take a while to get to. My clothes will not be finding their way to a landfill anytime soon. I, and many of the sorts who write fashion blogs or read them, do not really consider any purchase lightly. “Fast fashion” then is not so much an indication of unfortunate cultural trends.

As for the still-thorny issue of sweatshop labor? My opinion on this is probably a bit too cynical, by the way. Still, even if many a would-be fashionista of modest means is contributing to the market for this sort of cheaply manufactured by people without a living wage thing, people like that are hardly the powers that be behind a free market economy or capitalist culture that makes the people behind the big companies think it’s ever alright to pay their workers less than a living wage. Young consumers are products of this sort of culture and world economy, not the cause. Additionally, a lot of more upmarket stuff that is not anything close to “fast fashion” is also being manufactured in more or less the same sweatshops.


2 Responses

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  1. Stacey Derbinshire said, on August 21, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

  2. bluewellesleyblue said, on August 22, 2008 at 1:16 am


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