Have you shopped at Forever21, H&M, ZARA or any similar large mass-market fashion retailer in the last month?
Before I read Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of fast fashion by Elizabeth Cline, my answer would definitely have been a “yes”.
The topic of production and consumption in the fashion industry can be quite a touchy subject, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while – both as an industry professional AND a consumer – and truthfully, it is something that affects anyone who has ever purchased a piece of clothing for themselves.
Cline’s book takes a scrutinous look at the history and development of the industry itself, and she thoughtfully chronicles her frank and very personal realizations and thorough research as she goes. I was a little hesitant to read this book, because I had a hunch that I’d end up feeling pretty convicted about the pieces hanging in my closet, but it was actually quite the opposite. The first paragraph instantly drew me in with the it’s relatability (packed closet, nothing to wear, anyone?), and then the rest of the book deftly held my attention by it’s captivating account of how “budget-friendly” apparel and accessories can have an irreversible effect on our society, our environment, our self esteem, and our economic well-being.
A quick look…
- The problem: Mass production and mass consumption of poorly constructed pieces and fleeting trends have done a number on what was once a thriving and respected fashion industry.
- The solution: There are numerous ways that we can work towards hopefully someday reversing the damage, and the best news I gleaned from the book was that we CAN make a difference even just by implementing a few small changes to how we shop and how we treat the clothes that we currently own.
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview Cline, and our chat confirmed something that I already suspected from reading her book: Her honest and open look at this topic stems from a realization that she first saw by looking at her own habits/attitude, and the self-searching tone combined with an encouraging optimism left me feeling much more hopeful than I had expected. Her desire was not to come across as sounding preachy or judgmental, but instead wanted to begin what she believes to be a much needed conversation among our generation.
Since finishing the book and then having our heart to heart, I’ve found myself craving more quality clothing and less junk, and I’ve noticed that a genuine interest in caring for my existing garments has been renewed. Though I know some will strongly disagree with me, I’ve personally come to see “fast fashion” as something that I’d simply rather try and avoid. I’ve come to believe that it can be a blatant assault on both the environment/economy, a waste of hard earned money, and I have also realized what a traumatic blow it is to the livelihood of mid-market and smaller independent retailers and businesses (many of whom I’m honored to have as industry colleagues and friends). Full disclosure, I’m not promising that I’ll never set foot in any of those stores again (either online or real life), but reading Overdressed has given me a new perspective and it’s one that has already taken my shopping decisions in a much more intentional direction.
Going forward: As a follow up, I plan to put together a list of the ways that I’m trying to be a more thoughtful shopper, and you’re welcome to share your own thoughts and ideas with me in the comments section below. I’d love to have a healthy discussion here, so feel free to weigh in, and I’m truly looking forward to hearing what you have to say!