What is fast fashion? Zara, H&M, Forever 21, to name but a few since almost every brand went down the fast fashion slide in the hope of fueling a never ending thirst for more sales feeding the frenzy and addiction of everyone wanting more clothes for little cost.
But buying cheaply comes at a high cost.
I thought everyone knew.
My generation always desired new clothes. We have memories of wanting a new pair of pants,
(something very novel to us) an expensive dress, a new t-shirt and Levis jeans, but we either couldn’t afford new clothes all the time or couldn’t buy any Off the Rack like you can today. There were not always clothes in my size, not like today where everyone is accommodated from the very small to the very large.
In my case, being so skinny and small, the only clothes remotely in my size were in the kids section size 14, super ugly big kids clothes for pre-teens, or they were too big for the pre-teen girl wanting more grown-up clothes, that I was.
Definitely just before the days of what we who worked in the industry called junior slut wear. It wasn’t that bad, but it did have sexier details such as sweetheart necklines and the like.
There were only boutiques I would read about in Seventeen magazine.
geared towards the tiny preteen for my sister and I.
One store, in our area, was called Jabberwocky. Our mother brought us all the way there, two cities away, and it did not disappoint.
All the clothes were so fashionable, just what we were looking for and they had small sizes. But they were expensive. I was allowed to buy one pair of pants that I wore practically my whole high school years. A pair of kelly green high waisted pants out of a brushed twill that never seemed to wear out. I only grew out of them eventually.
Friends I had who spent a fortune on clothes had mothers who took their daughters on clothes shopping sprees once or twice a month. They showed up at school with beautiful clean bright new outfits to go with their perfect hair, face, and smile.
The rest of us wore our outfits once or twice a week. That is how we dressed when clothes were expensive and we didn’t shop all the time.
The Gap only had sweatpants for exorcising and sweatshirts or hoodies. Soon they started having a button-down shirt. The Banana Republic had army navy surplus clothes intermingled with other basics that cost more but had a few military-style pieces you could get for a reasonable price.
As time went on, there were more options. We all noticed and started shopping more.
There were strip mall stores opening up with long racks and racks of just tops or sweaters and always one or two we could afford and purchased.
Boutiques in the malls opened up with names like The Limited (except it was anything but) and others all of a sudden, with young trendy cute clothes that were not going to break the bank.
We all shopped more, and it felt like it, we only wanted to go shopping. We went to the mall frequently to buy clothes.
It was an outing different than before when we went to the department stores.
I thought at the time it was having our first real jobs with a need to look better or professional that we shopped. Sure that was part of it but there were so many more options and fashion seemed to embrace all the DIY details we had already made once by hand, but could now buy. Machine embroidered items, already frayed edges at the store, jeans with faded washes.
Nordstroms became the expensive store while for a while they all were before the many boutiques popped up. Nordstrom has survived because in the maelstrom of fast fashion Nordstrom promoted service to the average shopper like no other department store.
When did the Gap become a fashion maven? When did Penny’s become only a place to buy underwear, then after a revamp a place to buy inexpensive suits and dresses. At least they didn’t go by way of a Woolworth’s which touted inexpensive clothes but by no means could compete with trendy chain boutiques.
All of a sudden you could find cute t-shirts at Forever 21 that were extra long and cheap, three for ten dollars. Before that I was sewing any extra fabric I could find to the bottom of my t-shirts to make them longer since low cut pants were in style. We really could not believe it. We couldn’t get enough. We wanted to go back for more. The fast-fashion addiction was beginning.
How could we resist? We found cargo pants, the ones with tons of cute pockets a third of the price of real Gerards. We couldn’t help ourselves. Sweaters were affordable when we were making five to ten dollars an hour.
I know we are still making ten an hour but it was a time of inflation, there was less income inequality. We felt a real option of moving up the pay scale and growth in our careers.
Somewhere along the line, the fashion industry started making more than four or five seasons to feed the demand. There was Spring One and Resort, Fall 1and 2.
We started manufacturing in China.
Unending cheap labor made it possible to design anything we wanted without it costing a lot. It was designed by fax and spec at first. At some point, we started to send the actual clothing to copy.
At first, we designed and made patterns, and traced them, and physically sent them over.
In return we would get these squished clothes that had been sitting in ship containers for weeks, often smelling of chemicals.
Sometimes the USA factories in Flint Mi, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas would still make knits and mostly sweatshirts. There was money for artists to actually draw bunnies and sheep for sweatshirt designs. The competition for making a shirt ten cents cheaper would go to the lowest bidder for a store like Kmart.
People were getting used to their clothes being made somewhere else besides Italy. When more and more madras plaids were pouring in from India and everyone had one because they were a cheap nice-looking plaid shirt made out of cotton gauze.
Levi’s started being made in China too.
For the large majority of their jeans, Levi’s are not made in the USA. More than 99% of their jeans are made in countries like China, Japan, Italy, and others. Levi’s does have a single collection of “Made in the USA” 501 jeans, sourced from a small denim mill called White Oak in Greensboro, NC. Dec 23, 2019
All of a sudden we were emailing China daily, hourly, to get our goods, making only up to two corrections max in an afternoon. The turnaround time was getting shorter and shorter. When we used to plan a year in advance and finish the line to show three months in advance everything was moving faster now.
People were buying whatever we put out there. The competition was fierce to keep making more to feed the fast fashion addiction.
The Target, the H& M’s, The Forever 21’s were the competition with Gap and every big label jumping on board to produce the cheapest and the most sold in more and more stores across the states.
Department stores started hurting not being able to sell designer clothing and quality pieces for twice as much. Plus their turnover was not as great.
If you wanted something trendy in fashion the department stores lagged behind the cheap franchise stores. Manufacturers found the wait time for payment from traditional department stores unacceptable and had a hard time stocking some brands that did better in a boutique setting who paid when they made the order not six weeks later like the department stores.
The competition for making something a dime cheaper for mass production to go into every store around the country and the world was formidable. The markup went from 50% in the old days to 30% and 20% to keep quantity and price down.
H&M started hiring high fashion designers, then Target did the same and big designers started having a line of off-the-rack clothing for the masses.. It was hard to tell if the RL brand was the expensive one or the one made for cheap. So why bother buying the expensive one?
The better-made clothiers were becoming more exclusive. All adding to the income inequality aspect of brands being for the very wealthy. At the same time, most brands were buying more, making six to ten seasons a year. Leaving the design in the dust and relying on surface treatments which are very labor-intensive but easy for China who had unlimited cheap labor.
But now the fashion industry as a whole is having a reboot, some are closing down or slowing down with the help of the pandemic but the pandemic added a magnifying glass to the dilemma to stop the 2.5 trillion industry from destroying our planet. Embracing Intersectional Connection to change the profit motive and discover what sustainable fashion is really all about.