Come on, even the Devil wears Prada. You can pay a little more for a pair of sustainably made jeans.
Recently, I bought a denim jacket from H&M. Loose fitting, boxy frame, a light acid wash. It’s a style stolen straight from not only the 90s but fresh off the runway. In a recent trend, designers like Gucci, Moschino, Miu Miu, and Stella McCartney have started to craft pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot. And my jacket is no exception.
Well, except for the fact my jacket cost me £19.
Similar jackets produced by high fashion labels can be found for anywhere £126 to an exorbitant £1200. And yet it’s no accident that something so “in vogue” can be found for the approximate cost of a takeaway pizza.
In one of the most iconic moments of the fashion-based film, The Devil Wears Prada (dir. David Frankel), Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly properly dresses down newcomer to the fashion scene, Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway). The monologue (linked below) begins with the now infamous “Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you,” and continues on as Miranda explains just how trickle-down fashion works, how Andy’s cerulean sweater “filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic ‘casual corner’ where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.”
While the collections Miranda name drops in the speech are fictitious, the truth in the cerulean speech is not. The things we wear are not accidental and neither is the price point. With trends ever-evolving in our modern world of Instagram influencers and Kardashian fashion, modern retailers are falling over themselves to keep up. This is “fast fashion.”
Defined by Merriam-Webster, fast fashion is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Stores like Primark, Zara, Topshop, and Forever 21, as well as online-only retailers like Shein, Romwe, exist to crank out high-fashion items at increasingly low qualities and price points.
The issue with fast fashion isn’t that the general population shouldn’t be allowed to partake in the trend of the moment, but rather that the companies involved don’t care about sustainability and neither do individuals.
In the United States, approximately 6.8 million kilograms of textile waste is thrown out each year, a figure that has grown exponentially over the last twenty years. According to a McKinsey article, between 2000 and 2014 the number of garments purchased by a consumer increased by 60% while the length of time they keep the garment has been nearly cut in half from the figure fifteen years ago.
We’re buying more and we’re buying cheaper with our clothes becoming all but disposable after a few wears. Due to less expensive materials, companies can charge consumers less, but as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” And so the clothing often comes with an expiration date of sorts, a “wear this five times before it rips and becomes useless.” So, the garment gets thrown in the trash despite the fact it can take hundreds of years for synthetic materials like polyester to decompose.
Not only does the clothing wear out in record time due to the flimsy materials, but the trends give out as well. Traditional retailers such as Zara and H&M both release upwards of ten new style collections each year, while online giants ASOS and Fashion Nova in particular release hundreds of new styles a week to keep up with the newest trends.
Oftentimes, these trends aren’t even from the runway itself, but rather social media/celebrity influencers and street fashion, both of which are more accessible now than they were in even the recent past. If Kylie Jenner posts a photo of herself in, let’s say, a lime green tube top, you can expect to see a similar product popping up in online fast fashion shops within the week.
Our culture moves quickly, and the fashion industry is rushing to keep up with the times. But in the process, quality and sustainability have been neglected for cost effectiveness and speed. While high-end designer brands products often have a longer shelf life, a pair of leather Prada pumps are going to last longer than the faux leather heels you bought on Shein, shopping with a higher price tag isn’t the only way to allow yourself access to fashion.
Fashion is a key part of expressing identity (“Are you wearing the-” “the Chanel boots? Yeah. I am.”) and can go so far as to act as a political statement (see- Camp fashion and even Melania Trump’s infamous “I really don’t care, do you?” jacket), so it’s unfair to ask the average consumer to give up that right. Alternatives to fast fashion that won’t bankrupt you do exist!
For example, thrift shopping is increasing in popularity and offers a perfect opportunity to recreate the current, trendy throwback styles, often with clothing that is much better made to begin with. There are also a growing number of “ethical fashion” brands making moves to try and lessen the carbon footprint and textile waste the industry produces that offer fashionable products for reasonable prices.
And if neither of those suit your tastes, you can always learn to mend your own clothing. Given that the planet is dying and we’re about, oh…. fifteen years from a Mad Max hellscape, learning to sew will definitely give you an edge in the dystopian nightmare world. As Tyra Banks would say, our planet is dying, but then make it fashion.