Dear PopSugar, I do not really believe your recent article, entitled, “6 Reasons We'll Always Need Fast Fashion,” warrants a response. It is extremely poorly researched. It is insular, and it is generally quite nonsensical due to the number of glaring contradictions (such as its author stating that she “appreciates” the practice of high fashion and the struggle of designers and yet, she still “expect[s] fresh, new pieces” (read: copies) from fast fashion retailers on a “constant” basis). However, to promote fast fashion in such a blatant manner without at least making mention of some of the truly atrocious byproducts with which it is so closely associated is simply irresponsible. As a result, I will do just that. Let’s look to the six reasons that one of PopSugar’s "fashion editors" cites for why we simply “need” fast fashion, the practice of copying runway looks for low prices in a rapid manner …
1. You Can Re-Create Celebrity Looks in an Instant – “When Kendall Jenner wore this peplum-sleeved David Koma sweater out to fro-yo with Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevingne, my eyes widened. ‘I need that top,’ I thought […] Knowing that H&M made Kendall's look attainable, bringing it down to a $25 price point, is comforting. Even if I don't end up making the purchase, I could — and with zero buyer's remorse.”
The democratization of fashion - as we have come to know it - is a vastly complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. For the intellectually stimulated amongst us, it is based on the concept that a larger pool should have the right to consume elite fashion, that trend-driven clothing should be offered at relatively affordable prices. There are very logical grounds supporting the argument that the once inclusive fashion industry has evolved significantly since the days when haute couture reigned supreme and that as a result, fashion should be accessible to the general public. (Note: This argument can be pursued from a social rights perspective but also from a business one). Unfortunately, most retailers (primarily fast fashion retailers) have not found a way to sustainably and/or safely provide affordable garments in accordance with this larger notion.
With this in mind, there is simply not a sound argument that H&M replicating and offering a sweater for $25 at retail is in any way “comforting," as PopSugar's editor suggests. In positing such a sentiment, what said editor very obviously fails to take into consideration in a meaningful manner for the publication's readers is the crux of the democratic fashion phenomenon. Exactly how is H&M (and simply situated retailers) able to offer that sweater for $25?
PopSugar's article hints at one reason: The sweater is the result of design piracy. It is a copy of a sweater that designer David Koma created. Not surprisingly, it is much cheaper to recreate the designs of others than it is to hire legitimate designers to create original garments and accessories - or collaborate with Koma on a diffusion-type collection. As a result, fast fashion retailers heavily favor this tactic.
Design piracy, which most commonly takes the form of "imitation," as opposed to "inspiration," is an unethical practice that is immensely harmful to both established and emerging design brands. It serves to dilute the image of such brands and rob them of staple items - and often important brand-building garments and accessories - a topic about which Proenza Schouler co-founder Lazaro Hernandez testified before Congress several years ago. Legally, design piracy is problematic. In the UK, Italy and France (and in some instances, in the U.S.), the copying of others’ garments and accessories is a violation of intellectual property (namely, copyright) laws. (A quick Google search reveals this information, a testament to the level of irresponsibility associated with PopSugar's publication of such a flawed piece of writing). With this in mind, such widespread copying should not be praised (as PopSugar does in its article) - at least from a legal perspective, but instead, it should be deterred in favor of innovation and creativity.
Another reason that fast fashion retailers, like H&M, are able to offer garments for a fraction of the cost of other retailers: They purchase them from suppliers for dirt cheap. Remember that while H&M is charging consumers $25 for that sweater, the garment was certainly made and purchased by H&M for less than $5.
In order to compete with other suppliers, the foreign companies that serve as suppliers to fast fashion retailers (the ones based in far flung locales, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, etc.) routinely bypass important quality control and manufacturing health/safety standards. These practices are costly to implement and monitor and thus, are often bypassed, as such costs would affect the cost of the garments and accessories and thereby, cut into the bottom line of fast fashion retailers.
This bypassing over health and safety regulations is not merely a theoretical practice. Just last week, a supplier factory of sweaters for H&M caught fire. The top floor of a building that had previously been found to lack “adequate fire doors, sprinklers, fire alarms, and fire hoses, among other deficiencies" by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, caught fire, injuring a number of laborers (and according to sources, if it had not occurred very early in the morning, prior to the arrival of the nearly 6,000 individuals who work in that building, the blaze would have amounted to a full fledged tragedy). That fire, which came on the heels of the November 2012 fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in the nation’s capital of Dhaka, which killed at least 117 people, and after the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013, which killed more than 1,100 people, was so massive that it took firefighters over four hours to tame it.
So, while you, dear "fashion editor," may feel “zero buyer's remorse” when it comes to the price of a fast fashion garment, you are considering only the most topical facts of all. You are ignoring the root of the problem and the reason that the price tag is so darn cheap.
2. You Can Master a High-Low Look While Still Supporting Designers and Their Artistry
Here the writer seems to be reaching a new level of stating the obvious, asserting that by shopping and wearing fast fashion, you can mix high fashion and high street. This is, of course, true. As for why that is an actual reason to shop fast fashion in unsubstantiated. Moreover, how anyone is “supporting designers and their artistry” by shopping at stores that have built their entire business model on copying (yes, copying) the designs of others is also completely unclear.
Not convinced that brands like Forever 21, Nasty Gal, Target, Mango, and co. copy/offer copies of designers’ garments and accessories in a line-for-line manner? Here are some examples …
3. You Can Get Your Fashion Fill — Without Emptying Your wallet
This is true: You can buy fast fashion garments and accessories without breaking the bank. However, what our friend Sarah Wasilak (the author of this embarrassing article) fails to even suggest is that when you are paying $20 for jeans, someone else is paying the real price.
Fast fashion is cheap for a reason, and because consumers and retailers are not paying the price it costs to manufacture clothing in a reasonably responsible manner, that means, logically, that someone else is. Before we go any further, it is worth noting that Zara’s owner Amancio Ortega is the 2nd-richest man in the world, with a net worth of $57 billion; Forever 21’s owners have a net worth of $4 billion; and Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso has reportedly amassed upwards of $250 million. Garment workers in Bangladesh, who supply these exact retailers, make $73 a month, a jump from the $38 per month they were making before the Rana Plaza tragedy in April 2013 that killed 1,100 garment workers. That is the general divide upon which fast fashion thrives.
Accordingly, it is the laborers, many of whom are women and children, who pay the price, and not just in terms of low wages. (Note: that the previously cited $73/month figure remains below the average wages of textile workers in other Asian nations). Laborers also pay in terms of safety. Due to lax regulations, the clothing is rife with toxic chemicals, employees are frequently subject to hospitalizations, and the fires and buildings collapsing are not stopping.
But yeah, I love “knowing that when I spot a few loose threads or a stain on a sweater from the Gap or Target; I can always replace it.” Because why not take ten minutes, do your homework and focus on quality when you can always just buy more?
"Always replacing" garments does not come without a cost either, Ms. Wasilak. In addition to the human cost associated with fast fashion, in particular, (as discussed above), there is a very significant environmental cost. One fun fact? The textile industry is the third largest source of industrial wastewater in China, where as much as 70 percent of rivers, lakes and reservoirs are polluted, according to a recent Greenpeace International report.
4. High-Fashion Designers Are Actually Benefitting From Profitable Collaboration
5. A Lot of What's Produced For the Runway Isn't Ever Made For Stores
6. It's Changing the Way People Dress
I actually had to refrain from responding to the final three because I was staring dumbfoundedly at my screen unable to fathom how to respond to the argument that because couture looks are not meant for everyday wear, you should shop fast fashion instead (see #5) or the argument that because high fashion designers are benefitting from fast fashion, you therefore "need" to shop it or that we somehow "need" it as a result (see #4).
I would have respected (and provided guidance in connection with) an argument based on buyers' budgetary concerns and the relative lack of information out there about affordable options for ethically made garments and accessories. With the price of high fashion garments being simply too expensive for the vast majority of consumers, I would certainly be understanding of an argument that fast fashion is a noteworthy source of garments and accessories for consumers with limited funds. Note: This argument is not on PopSugar's list. I have, however, included links below to shopping guides for ethically made alternatives to fast fashion.
Before we move on, please note that I am not in the business of lashing out at other writers because as the editor of a small site, myself, I am intimately familiar with the fact that churning out accurate articles with little help at a rapid pace is very difficult. However, PopSugar's article was simply too grossly inaccurate and lacking in important context for me to hold my tongue.
To close, I have one final thought. Ms. Wasilak rather interestingly notes, “As a fashion girl, shopping is a big part of what makes me happy, gives me confidence, and motivates me to wake up and get dressed every day.” She is definitely onto something here. Fashion – ethically made fashion – is supposed to impart some sense of confidence or beauty or happiness upon its wearer. Fast fashion, however, is a vastly different story. I personally do not feel “happy” or “confident” or “motivated” knowing that I am wearing a garment that was made in conditions that I wouldn’t want for my mother or sister or myself. And frankly, I'm not sure how anyone else could.
Because I personally do not appreciate unsustantiated claims, here is a look at what some of those aforementioned conditions actually consist of: Garment manufacturers in far-flung locations, such as Bangladesh (the world’s second largest apparel manufacturer second only to China), Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam that serve as suppliers to H&M, Zara, Topshop, Nasty Gal, and even Nordstrom – just to name a few – are commonly cited [see: “List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor” U.S. Dept. of Labor (12/2014); “Fast Fashion Tied to Forced Child Labor” (12-2-2014)] as employers of child labor, and even forced child labor. The conditions employed in these workplaces are egregious. Individuals working in these garment factories are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals, given limited access to soap, water and working toilets, go without proper medical supplies, and lack proper lighting and ventilation. Factory owners and operators often fail to adequately compensate workers and to observe overtime-working standards, and often abuse labors verbally, sexually and physically. (If you would like additional links to such instances, please visit my website). That's not fashion. And that certainly is not something that mainstream websites like PopSugar should be promoting.