Fast Fashion: ‘You Buy Cheap – You Buy Twice’
by Yasmin Jones-Henry
What is the use of buying a cheap coat? Ok so it only costs £10, as opposed to the £1,000 coat you saw in Selfridges. And yes it does look like a carbon copy, but will it last? My Dad always used to tell me during my profligate teenage years ‘If you buy cheap, you buy twice.’ He was right. None of the fast-fashion items I bought during my teenage years have managed to hang on long enough for me to wear them now. Now I work, now I have bills to pay, now I need them. That was all I was thinking about then, ‘Now’. Like so many others, I was seduced by the fast-fashion retailers promise of ‘Now’. They deliberately didn’t want consumers like me to focus on what happens ‘Later’.
For years, the advent of the internet has rendered capable human beings into little more than slaves to convenience. If something is easier to buy – at the click of a button, if something is dramatically cheaper – it is entirely logical that the market for fast fashion has also grown just as rapidly in recent years. Logical yes. Ethical?…. Well not necessarily, and it is the ethics of fashion – that I would like to discuss.
Trade and consumption. Since the beginning of time, these two elements of human interaction have underpinned the essence of human existence. Our survival as a race has depended upon it. It has funded numerous empires and established civilisation as we know it. Trade and consumption. I’ll keep repeating that phrase until it is imprinted upon your memory. When you dissolve the long and convoluted definitions that surround the study of ‘Economics’, that is what it boils down to. The trade and consumption of limited resources. In fact if you want to take it all the way back to its roots, ‘Oikonomia’, as it was first coined by Xenephon (Ancient Greek philosopher) was literally the study of the Oikos – the home. His study denoted the transactions – every transaction the mother – (buyer in chief) made – was for the financial profit of her household. His objective in his treatise Oikonomia, was to suggest this picture of domestic hustle – whereby both the vendor and the household benefit via mutual exchange – represented the microcosm of an ideal state and cohesive society.
The Business of Fashion
For business to be ethical (in other words fair) it has to be of mutual benefit to all parties involved. If something is made well, of good quality, produced in decent working conditions: then according to the current cost of the standard of living (wages) and production, the law of economics dictates it will not, nay, CANNOT be cheap. It’s just the price of doing business. For any retailer to tell you otherwise, implies that somewhere, someone is being exploited or a corner is being cut. Whether that person is the poor worker in a sweatshop in the far flung corner of Asia, or whether that person is the consumer – fooled into buying an inferior product that will eventually need to be replaced (thus ensuring the consumer spends twice) – someone – somewhere is getting robbed.
In my earlier post ‘Functionality vs The Aesthetic’ I took great pains to argue – that I believe fashion is not a close cousin of fine art, but one in the same thing. If we look at it through this prism, treat it with the same level of reverence as we do the masterpieces we see hung in the galleries, it becomes difficult to be as dismissive of the concept of ‘ethical fashion’.
The heightened level of caution that comes with not wanting to be bankrupt while being fashionable opens one’s senses to a whole new dimension within fashion. The next time you pick up a garment, feel the material in your hand, consider for a moment the time and effort that was spent constructing this work of art. Take a moment to consider the craftsmanship. The stitching. The dye. The texture. What material is this made from? If its cotton, is it organic and pesticide free? When you try it on, what does it do to your silhouette? Does it compliment or insult your figure? How does the item make you feel?
You see, if fashion is indeed art, then a transaction – must be taking place that transcends the price tag. In my last post ‘Abstract Impression’ I speak of an exchange – that takes place – an intellectual transaction that occurs between the artist and the viewer. Whether you are aware of it or not, these conversations are taking place everywhere all of the time – not just in esteemed art galleries. You are a work of art, with many characteristics, preferences, traits, textures and layers. What you choose to put on, to frame these elements, will ultimately be a reflection of the sum of your character. Whether you realise it or not.
Why should you care about this? The ‘function’ of fashion – as a concept and an industry is to help you, the individual consumer to ‘build your brand’. That means, to find, curate and display on your person – items that you feel represent you and your tastes. Hold that thought. Do you want to be associated with ‘cheapness’ ‘poor quality’ ‘slave labour’, ‘exploitation’ and ‘unethical means’? Well that is exactly what is emitted when you choose the ‘fast fashion’ option.
Fakes, imitations – may provide some temporary fiscal relief to the consumer, but did you know that every time you buy fake or a cheaper copy, you are funding mass robbery – via plagiarism? Some poor designer – (they are not all rolling in it) has gone to great pains to find the right material, colours and cut – to create a stunning work of art. Their work is then copied by a much bigger and more powerful corporate machine who undercuts them at every turn – to create a cheaper more competitive imitation. The poor designer may never get the recognition they deserve and what’s worse – they are denied the right to profit from their endeavours – thereby abusing the universal law stating that trade ought to result in mutual benefit.
You might not be the owner of the sweatshop, but it is your money that is keeping the lights on, the wheels turning and subsequently the whip lashing in the abusive cycle that has made ‘fast fashion’ possible. I see it every time I walk through the West End. As I draw closer to Marble Arch, I see more and more paper bags with the notorious label of a budget brand (who I won’t name and shame) emblazoned upon them. Now let’s be clear I am not here to judge, I know only too well that when times are hard the cheaper option often feels like the only option. However, it worries me, when I see the floods of people pouring in and out of such ‘fast fashion’ retail stores, rabid in their search for a bargain, at just how little human suffering, matters – truly matters when they have been seduced with convenience and cheapness.
This brings me back to my original statement: ‘If you buy cheap – you buy twice’. What is perceived as a bargain – is in fact a myth. In order to produce the items at such a low cost, cheaper materials must be used in addition to a cheaper (poorly paid) labour force. The outcome is that the end product – despite the sexy advert – is inferior. Prolonged usage will result in dramatic degradation – causing a necessity for the item to be replaced. Who really benefits in this transaction? The consumer? I think not.
What my Father was trying to show me – with all my teenage naivety, is that when you by cheap, poor quality goods – for the sake of a temporary fix, you only end up robbing yourself. So am I suggesting every one relocates to New Bond Street and Harrods? Absolutely not! By all means – if you can afford it knock yourself out… but for the ordinary man what is my solution?
#Invest #Invest #Invest
Pater was only trying to make me business savvy about my wardrobe. As part of my wider education, I was being encouraged to treat my wardrobe as an investment portfolio. Real works of art, do not come cheaply nor should they. The same applies to fashion. Each item you purchase, consider the process that was undertaken to deliver it to you. Has fair and ethical trade taken place? The next question you need to ask yourself is will it last? If you are going to spend any of your hard earned money on anything – let it be worth your while. You may find that you spend more, but buy less as a result. But do not be perturbed. Woe to the profligate heavy-laden with shopping bags.
What’s fun about fashion, is that when you purchase an item, it should be a privilege to be able to take that work of art home with you. Each time you put it on, you will appreciate the love and the care that went into every sketch and every seam. You will remember that both you and your money in exchange for the item, played a vital role in the trade and consumption model. By resisting the temptation of cheap counterfeit goods, you have ensured that neither artist nor manufacturer will go hungry.
Considerate, careful, charitable, – ethical. Fashionable, fair and sustainable. These should all be adjectives that people associate with you when they see you. It is your responsibility and that of your credit card – to see to it that this will be the case.
Until Next Time…
Work In Fashion
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