Look. This is when your morality is tested. An entire beautiful black dress with a cut-out back and gold cross over straps that costs $89. It’s really nice. The fabric feels good (well, it hasn’t been worn yet) and it looks so good. And it’s a black dress. Huge amounts of wear right there. An LBD. The workhouse of the fashion cupboard.
But $89? How do they do that? Should I get it? Should I just not think about the trail of manufacture? Should I push out of my mind thoughts of those factories in Bangladesh, China and Egypt? What about the estimated 170 million children worldwide that are making textiles and garments seven days a week in horrible conditions to satisfy the demand for fast, cheap fashion?
But it looks so nice. And it’s cheap. And I’m in air-conditioning and I need a dress for Saturday night and no-one can see what is going on in my head right now. And that woman is grabbing a large and there are only two more larges left on the rack.
Do you buy or do you leave?
According to a 2015 survey by Barnado’s UK, most fashion purchases are worn seven times. Seven, not even 17. Then they are forgotten, thrown, donated (I say donated because it makes people feel good, but shoving your clothes into one of those clothing bins means that most probably your “donation” will be used as scrap cloth pieces, not survive to live another day in someone else’s wardrobe).
According to The Atlantic, every year on average Americans buy 64 clothing items and more than seven pairs of shoes – double what they did in the 1990s.
With freedom to buy black dresses comes responsibility. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
In response to the growing unease, or at least questioning, of fast, cheap fashion a host of start-ups have, well, started up, and established brands have branched out into niche sub-areas promising ethical fashion that lasts.
They’re not about hemp sacks and hippies who use belts as headbands. They’re about quality, lasting fashion – for people who like fashion but want to know the origins of what they wear, and want to wear it more than seven times.
“For us it’s about providing a product that is durable and affordable that will actually last,” Karla Gallardo, the co-founder of Cuyana told The Atlantic. “But in the long run what we’re actually doing is building a very strong relationship with our customers, who trust us for quality products made in a sustainable way.”
British designer, Tom Cridland, 25, who started 30 Year Sweatshirt said he is not claiming that his sweatshirts, handmade in Portugal from organic Italian cotton, are the only sweatshirts that can last. But unlike other quality knits from established fashion houses, these are designed specifically for the younger market.
“I wanted to make ethically conscious clothing seem less stuffy,” he told The Atlantic. “That’s less preachy and more light-hearted.”
There is no doubting that the price points of ethical fashion are higher than those of fast. Fast fashion does level the fashion playing field; it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s accessible. You just shouldn’t look too closely at it.
Being fashionable costs in a variety of ways. There’s the obvious monetary cost, there’s the effort and pain cost, the worry (do I look good, how do I keep up, should I keep up, what is the deal with those chunky brogues everyone is wearing anyway?) cost, and there’s the ethical cost.
Former editor of Vogue Australia, Kirstie Clements, put a kibosh on the whole fashion as a “must-do” and wrote this week that we need to start ignoring fashion trends all together.
“I watched girls pay $2000 they couldn’t afford for a Balenciaga Lariat bag which then had to be put away in the cupboard, forever, once Lindsay Lohan started carrying one,” she wrote in the Newdaily.
“Then there was the showy Balmain jacket with the super sharp extended shoulder pads that was insanely covetable for about one year, cost almost one year’s salary and which then disappeared in a puff of bugle beads when the designer moved on, never to be seen again.”
Kirstie has also spoken about the lengths at which models go to to stay skinny. Post continues after video…
Clements wrote that the massive amount of choice that is in stores and online means that no matter what you put on, you will never look out of fashion – “You’ll just look different.”
Is she saying there is “people power” when it comes to fashion? That we can really wear what we want?
There is a massive amount of choice when it comes to what you wear. We are lucky for that, while others in the world are terribly unlucky.
Some of us need guidance about what we should wear. Some of us need guidance about what we should buy.
At the end of the long day, with all the choice, all the excitement of fast fashion, all the pace and pressure, all that desire to look good, all that ability to actually have it in your hands, what do you do?
Do you think hard about your choices, because it is a choice – no one has a sequinned Marc Jacobs gun to your head – and buy that $89 amazing black dress?
There’s only one left.
*Feature image via Getty.