My Thoughts on Fast Fashion

Blouse: Equipment (Nordstrom) | Skirt: Topshop | Necklace: Dannijo | Shoes: Chanel (Barneys) | Handbag: Stella McCartney (Saks)
Blouse: Equipment (Nordstrom) | Skirt: Topshop | Necklace: Dannijo | Shoes: Chanel (Barneys) | Handbag: Stella McCartney (Saks)
Blouse: Equipment (Nordstrom) | Skirt: Topshop | Necklace: Dannijo | Shoes: Chanel (Barneys) | Handbag: Stella McCartney (Saks)

Nowadays, I don’t glut my closet with many “fast fashion” items from Zara, H&M or Topshop. I’m no fashion snob — I was JUST crowing about scoring a vest at Walmart. But I’m torn between an affection for affordable impulse purchases and a burgeoning discomfort with the cutthroat world of mass market retail.

  • First, there are the shoddy safety practices that led to the collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory, which was manufacturing goods for brands like Joe Fresh, JCPenney and Primark. I am still struggling with how to realistically source most of my clothes from responsible factories — the best I’ve come up with is European-made consignment and American Apparel. I will never forget some of the photos I viewed after the collapse — absolutely heartbreaking. (Warning: the link contains a graphic image.)
  • As the supply chain has morphed, the quality of fast fashion has also degraded. I still own a fantastic caramel $80 Zara leather jacket I purchased in Provence 11 years ago. But Zara’s current leather jackets? They’re three times the price and made from leather so thin, they’re practically transparent.
  • Then, there’s the inconsistent longevity of these purchases. I’ve owned some fast fashion purchases, like a black H&M pleated skirt, for YEARS. But more often than not, I end up donating or discarding the majority of my fast fashion purchases within two years, which is incredibly wasteful.

Despite these qualms, I do not plan a moratorium on these retailers. (And budget-conscious shoppers can’t realistically avoid them, either.) But I have two simple rules to ensure I am less wasteful in my fast fashion consumption:

  • Scrutinize each purchase in the dressing room. Many items will be streaked with deodorant, dangling with snagged threads or missing tiny jewels, which makes abandoning the purchase incredibly easy.
  • Always ditch one item while you’re waiting in line. (This works particularly well at a Manhattan Zara, where you’ll be waiting for 20 minutes.) I’ve saved hundreds of dollars with this tip.

Today’s Topshop skirt passed my lengthy sniff test thanks to its crisp and well-executed orchid print. The faux-tweed pattern is a clever nod to the current mixed media trend, and the rainbow of crystals were clearly inspired by Prada and Dior’s recent runway shows — without being a blatant ripoff. (I also picked it up at a steep discount — $40, down from $170.)

Top: Detail of Topshop skirt. Bottom: Close-up of Equipment silk blouse and Dannijo necklace.
Top: Skirt (Topshop) | Bottom: Silk Blouse (Equipment); Necklace (Dannijo)

You’ll be able to track how I boost the longevity of inexpensive purchases by clicking the “Fast Fashion” category on the blog menu. And if you’re interested in ensuring your fast fashion purchases stay guilt-free, there are plenty of resources. Many companies, such as H&M and Forever 21, have corporate responsibility manifestos that directly address concerns about workers’ wages and safety.  (You can read the social responsibility report from Topshop’s parent company here.) You can also see a list of the companies who’ve signed a pact to improve working conditions in Bangladesh here.