In the world of fashion, you get what you pay for, and that's exactly the point Britain's House of Lords has taken issue with. Clothing chains like H and M, or Forever 21 epitomize this trend of ?Fast Fashion?- where it's in one day and out the next. Does this simply foster a culture of irresponsible waste- or is this what being ?fashion forward? means in the year 2008. The Takeaway talks to their own personal shopper of sorts, The Takeaway contributor Mary Elizabeth Williams.
Contributor's Notes: Responsible fashion: Doing good while looking good
I usually don't take fashion advice from the British House of Lords, but you know, they may have the best perspective on shopping this season.
Last week, their Select Committee on Science and Technology issued a report on our "throwaway society" and the culture of "fast fashion" that "encourages consumers to dispose of clothes which have only been worn a few times in favor of new, cheap garments."
On the one hand, esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the House of Lords, I wouldn't criticize anyone else's sartorial choices until I'd walked a mile in her Payless shoes.
On the other hand, it's not surprising that the fashion and feminine blogospheres have lit up on the subject. As Jezebel pointed out last week, "Of the 2.5 million Bangladeshi garment workers, 75 percent are women and children, who earn approximately $5 a week."
Speaking as one who at this moment is wearing a Guatemalan-made T-shirt, I am starting to think more now about who and what went into getting this $5.99 shirt on my back and how my choices affect other people and the planet.
If you've been in a Forever 21 or H&M more than once, you know the merchandise turns over at a breathtaking rate. How better to lure consumers in again and again, than with the novelty of the new, at Happy Meal prices?
Then again, maybe not. Retail sales were down overall for July, a portent that does not bode well for the back-to-school and fall fashion industries.
Part of it is the economy. But there's something else bubbling up here too. Just as we've begun doing over the last few years with our food, we're going to have to start thinking about the footprint we're leaving in those stylish but inexpensive boots. What's the point of carrying our groceries in a hemp tote if our $15 jeans have a less savory provenance? How can we buy our tomatoes locally when our underpants originated in an Indonesian sweatshop?
I was in Target yesterday with two tykes whose talent for growing and getting dirty is bottomless. I'm on a minuscule income myself, which is why I also enthusiastically scour thrift shops, prowl eBay and do clothing exchanges with friends. I'm not a guilt-trippy, finger-waggy type -- though, hairshirts are never in style. I also won't patronize certain big retailers whose budget-friendly clothes seem to fall apart before my kids can get them buttoned. And, my children will not wear clothes other children made. Those are choices we can make.
Resources like Freecycle can be another great way to shop without spending. And I've bookmarked sites like Sustainable Style for other ideas on doing good while looking good.
The bottom line, for retailers and consumers alike, is money. We're clearly already voting with our wallets -- the numbers show that the current cheapcheapcheap moremoremore business model isn't wowing the crowds. All of us, not just members of the House of Lords, deserve a wardrobe that fits our consciences as well as our bodies. My kids need clothes for the coming cooler days. They also need to grow up with enough respect and care for the things in their closet that they want to keep them around a while. And I want them to live in a world where corporate responsibility, to the planet and workers of it, is good business.
? Mary Elizabeth Williams