In Which I Make it Abundantly Clear I go to a Liberal Arts School

Sorry for getting preachy and wordy and not posting pictures with this one, but I just needed to get a little bit of a rant out of my system. You see, I have one mall-going quirk that consistently frustrates those I shop with: I refuse to go into Forever 21. I know I sound like a snob (remember: thrifting is my thing), but I have zero desire to give that store my patronage. The store lacks the organization necessitated by something that size and the racks are simply un-shoppable. Also, it’s destroying the environment.

Let’s focus on that last statement (I doubt I have to convince anyone of how overwhelming walking into that store can be—do it and you’ll see what I mean). I knew I didn’t enjoy the experience of going there, but I wasn’t able to validate my dislike until I did a bit more research on their manufacturing practices. Forever 21 and stores of its ilk (Zara, Charlotte Russe) are low-profit margin, high sales volume retailers. In other words they sell clothes at low prices, make a small amount of each individual item, but sell enough to still make massive amounts of money.

And this business model works. I can certainly testify to the dire reality of the closet-full of nothing to wear issue, one that can seemingly only be solved through wearing down ones credit card a bit more. Trends are constantly changing, which seems to necessitate a constant flow of new items into ones wardrobe. These retailers capitalize on this need, giving women access to trendy items being sold for low prices. This sounds like heaven, why is it an issue?

Well, for one, it’s the environment. When a woman buys a something she knows is big for that season, she only anticipates wearing it for a short period of time. She didn’t buy her high-low for its practicality, she bought it because she felt dramatic and maybe a little bit like a fairy when she wore it with that adorable crop top she got last week. Once she’s over it she’ll get rid of it.

Consumers don’t buy these things with the intention of wearing them every day, and the manufacturers don’t make them to allow them to do so. In order to have high enough sales-volumes for these chain stores to make a profit, their factories need to churn out a huge amount of clothing. When their concern is speed of production, quality inevitably suffers. We think about it every time we throw away a candy wrapper, but we don’t consider the waste created when throwing away a piece of clothing.  We try to recycle plastic bottles, and re-use materials, but these poorly made garments are made to fall apart before they can be re-used. People aren’t about to go to a tailor to have their 10-dollar skirt fixed. It just ain’t gonna happen.

These factories are creating waste and smog along with the acid-wash cutoffs (I knew they looked evil), creating further environmental degradation. To meet the high demand (and to keep the price of the item low) the factories also pay their workers next to nothing and make them work insane hours.

Obviously I’m not the first person to mention human rights violations in the same breath as the manufacture of clothing, and excess in manufacture is clearly not so good for the health of things like forests. I get why these stores flourish. I don’t go to Forever 21, but I somehow find myself in Zara on the weekly, and I will admit they are perpetrators of the same problem (the Spanish retail giant only takes 2 weeks to get a design from the drawing board to the store). For those of us interested in fashion, being cognizant of the effect our habits have on more than just our bank account is essential.

The more consumers are made aware of the issues surrounding the impact of what they buy and wear the more retailers will be forced to respond, and maybe change their ways. Consumers can attempt to buy clothes considering the potential for further use, and make sure they at least have that in mind. We gotta stay current, obvi, but maybe using some methods to make our clothes last a little longer is just what we gotta do.

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