It has been three years since the tragedy that took place at Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza, the home of a handful of fast fashion garment factories, which collapsed in April 2013. The details that emerged shortly after the tragedy were harrowing: over three thousand people were in the building at the time of the collapse, over two thousand were injured by the collapse, and over one thousand lost their lives. Some of the factories located in Rana Plaza manufactured clothing for brands including Primark, H&M, Wal-Mart, Joe Fresh, Mango, and Benetton.
In light of the annual Fashion Revolution week, which began on Monday, we will be running an array of fast fashion-retailed articles, as well as those dedicated to sustainable/ethical manufacturing. We present some of our favorite industry insiders’ thoughts on fast fashion, responsibly-made clothing, and what simply is not working. Here's what they had to say …
Matthew Orley, designer: A garment that is made with an emphasis on quality generally is reflective of a supply chain that is equally so. Every person that touches the garment through its creation is putting in their best effort because their life and work are being respected through the process. A garment of low quality is generally indicative of the opposite, that being an unsustainable supply chain. It is important for the consumer to understand that when they choose quality over quantity they are also making a statement that they support manufacturing processes that are both ethical and sustainable.
Dries Van Noten, designer: With houses that do a lot of publicity, a look is far more identified with a certain period and that is a little strange when you wear a look again one year later. It’s a bit like, “Oh, she looks like an old newspaper.” For me that is luckily not the case, we have quite a lot of people who collect pieces of our collection. They know that they can wear it for a long time. It’s not like garments where you say, “Oh, this is so last season.”
Vanessa Friedman, fashion director for the New York Times: "I think we forget that clothes are things that are special. Recently, we've gotten into this skewed cycle where people just think you just get more stuff, and if you don't like that stuff, then you get rid of that stuff. It's a very contemporary way of thinking, not just about fashion, but anything. And it's not very healthy for anybody.”
Joseph Altuzarra, designer: I think it is important to take the care to design and manufacture garments properly. Right now there is too much product and a culture of consuming it quickly and not investing in something. So, I take my role seriously as a designer to think about desirability and what women are going to want right now but also what they are going to want to keep in their wardrobes for a long time.
Safia Minney, founder of People Tree and author of Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics: There's so many different levels that by slowing it down, by paying a little bit more attention to the provenance of the product that we're buying, asking the questions in store, maybe choosing not to buy new; buying vintage or second hand or asking your mum or a best friend if they'll lend you a dress. There's a real opportunity here to look at how we do fashion and living differently. And I think if we look [ethical fashion] concept stores, they're a beautiful celebration of real texture and fantastic fibers and things that actually make us feel a lot better, not just about the environment.
Umit Benan, designer: I think it’s time for the brands to slow down a bit. As long as the big brands serve in such a fast way, the consumer gets spoiled, wanting more and more and faster, newer things every two weeks. So yes, it’s too much!! Too fast! Change? Hopefully. How? I have no clue!
Katharine Zarrella, founder Fashion Unfiltered: With Pre-Fall, Resort, Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer, fast fashion, all those capsule collections, etc., there are so many clothes and accessories being produced. Judging by department stores’ overstuffed sale racks and the overflow of discounted wares on sites like Yoox and The Outnet, the fashion industry is producing too many products. We don’t need all this “stuff”, and I think that, as we reorganize the fashion cycle, more reserved and eco-friendly approaches to production need to be taken into consideration. Maybe we don’t need four to six pseudo seasons every year.
Furthermore, I’d challenge consumers to think before they buy. Yes, the fashion business is built on selling clothes, but it’s worth it to spend a bit more on one thing that will last a decade, if not a lifetime, rather than buying a bunch of $15 dresses or t-shirts that you’ll throw away in three months. Dressing is an incredibly intimate activity in which (most) people participate every day—take some time to understand the clothes and materials that you’re putting on your body.
Emma Allwood, Fashion Features Editor at Dazed Digital: I think working in fashion gives you a new perspective on the value of clothing – I'd rather spend money on one item of real quality than purchase lots of cheap (and cheaply produced) garments. I've gone from regularly dropping cash on high street clothes that would sit unworn in my wardrobe to making occasional purchases of pieces I know I will treasure for years to come. I'm not totally exempt from fast fashion but I think that an awareness of the issues surrounding our consumption of clothing is vital. It's easy to turn a blind eye to suffering that you don't see, because realizing how complicit we are in systems of oppression makes us uncomfortable – rightly so. I think facing up to how we're implicated in these issues, and being honest with ourselves about that, is the first step to creating meaningful dialogues for change.
Rachel Kibbe, founder of Helpsy: With quality comes a host of positive attributes. Quality clothing implies better materials, better design, and usually better fit, which all lend to keeping the garment useful to you, or the next person its passed to. The alternative, is fast fashion garments quickly wind up in landfills because they fell apart, or were never great looking and very wearable in the first place.
The other, less obvious aspect of quality, is the level of craftsmanship that goes into making the garment. Often higher quality garment making takes a lot more skill. These are skills are passed on from generation to generation. With fast fashion, cheap and easy design shortcuts are made, which not only decrease the quality and durability of the garment, but eliminate the need for workers with special knowledge. With them, these skills are dying out. On a personal level, I think buying higher quality gives us more pride in what we wear, increases the possible history and meaning of a garment to us, because we will be able to have it around for a long time and it will become a special object to us that we might even be able to pass down to a loved one. That is priceless.