Staying Ahead of Fast Fashion
Not so long ago, my favorite Saturday afternoon pastime was to scour the malls, hunting for the hottest trends at big-name retail stores. A $20 dress was a score and one I would flaunt as another testament to my fab shopping skills. But, about four years ago, around the time my son was born, something changed. I didn’t really have the time for weekend fashion hunts and at the same time, my favorite stores began to speed up their production – every time I did get a chance to visit, it was an entirely new line-up of merchandise. As quickly as I tried to keep up with the inventory, I couldn’t and what I was buying wasn’t lasting as long as before, looking worn after one or two washes. A $10 top was no longer a steal, it was money down the drain. Fed up, I became a more conscious consumer, doing my research on the fashion industry and looking for alternatives.
What I found out was that the true cost of fast fashion was far greater than any bargain. For starters, if there’s a new “season” of clothes every week, you’re bound to be out-of-style before you’ve even worn your new find. To keep up you have to buy more and toss more – the average American throws out more than 68 pounds of textiles per year! That’s just the beginning of the environmental cost. In order to keep costs down, manufacturers don’t adhere to safety standards and some of your fave inexpensive accessories contain lead, in addition to all the other chemicals – pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, and flame-retardants – that are routinely used in mainstream fashion. The most tragic cost of all is the human cost, with up to 60 percent of fashion being produced by ‘informal’ workers, there’s no way to regulate their working conditions.
The good news is that fashion-conscious consumers don’t have to compromise. A simple rule that I’ve adopted is to buy less, but more high-quality, items I love. To that end, I’ve found brands that are both conscientious and stylish like Zady, Amour Vert, and Mina + Olya. These brands are made in America success stories of sustainable fashion – no toxic dyes and chemicals, no unaccounted labor, just high-quality, high-fashion. In a chat with Zady co-founder Maxine Bédat, we discussed the value of being a conscious-consumer:
Urbanette Magazine: What advice do you have for the fashion-conscious and eco-conscious consumer?
Maxine Bédat: Buy clothes that you love and nothing else! Look for natural materials, for example, the form of polyester that is so common now is actually toxic, made from petroleum. And always ask questions, like with bamboo products being marketed as green, when they are actually toxic!
Urbanette: Bamboo is toxic? We didn’t know that one!
Maxine: Yes, even though it starts with natural bamboo, it’s mixed with so many chemicals that it becomes toxic.
Urbanette: How can our readers tell if the clothing they’re buying has toxins in it?
Maxine: That’s a tough one. We’re creating the Zady collection because right now it’s really hard to tell. Even if a brand uses “organic” cotton doesn’t mean they’re using non-toxic dyes. As a start, you can avoid synthetic fabrics (and that includes quasi-synthetics like bamboo), as the dyes used in these materials are particularly toxic.
Urbanette: Will washing clothing remove the toxins? (If not, when will it and when won’t it?)
Maxine: Washing clothing does not thoroughly remove toxins, but it does spread the toxins to our local water.
Urbanette: What inspired you and Soraya to start Zady?
Maxine: It started with us falling in love with the process of how things are made. At that time we didn’t know how our favorite things were made – our clothing and accessories were a complete mystery. With Zady we set out to change that.
Urbanette: What part of this process did you love, and why?
Maxine: It’s the process itself that is so magnificent. I mean just think of all the steps it takes to turn a little cotton seed into your t-shirt or the wool on a sheep into your sweater.
Urbanette: In a sea of fast fashion retailers, how does Zady stay relevant?
Maxine: By not being attached to fake and manufactured trends. I used to think to myself: ‘Why do I have a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear?’ Zady sticks out by producing quality, beautiful clothing that are great for wearing around the city and ultimately timeless.
Urbanette: Why is the brand’s mission valuable in today’s consumer market?
Maxine: We are already seeing the impact of global warming. People don’t realize just how connected the clothing industry and global warming really are… 20% of all water pollution comes from the apparel industry. What hasn’t occurred to us is that if we change the way we shop we can make a huge impact.
Urbanette: So Zady produces and sources classic designs, but how do you make sure that the items will look new longer than fast fashion pieces?
Maxine: Of course everyone’s tastes evolve with time. But our natural taste evolution happens at a much slower speed than fast fashion brands would like. So to build their businesses they manufacture trends, that’s called “manufactured obsolescence”. You ever notice how one season is hot pink, and then the very next season it’s goth or something. That’s just to get us to buy more stuff. The clothing that feels and look the best, we have found, have quality, soft, natural materials and are cut to fit your silhouette. The silhouettes we chose are universally flattering.
Urbanette: How do you make sure all the products sold on Zady.com are sustainably sourced, from the start to the end of the manufacturing process, including the textiles that are purchased?
Maxine: Unlike most brands, we’re in direct communication with all parts of our supply chain. From the farm to the mills, to the dye houses through to cut and sew.
Urbanette: How can consumers know if clothing they’re buying was sustainably sourced?
Maxine: Right now it’s really hard because there is a lot of ‘green washing’ out there. Bamboo for example, sold as “green” is a highly toxic fabric. There are some certifying companies such as Oekotex or GOTS which cover parts of the supply chain, so you can also look out for those certifications.
Urbanette: Can a brand claim that their clothing is made in the USA if they buy textiles from China and assemble in the USA?
Maxine: There is a lot of haziness in the law, since it’s a standard rather than a rule. Companies take advantage of that and put a ‘Made in USA’ label when the component parts are not actually American made. There’s even a class action lawsuit going through the courts right now on the issue.
Urbanette: I guess that’s why we, as consumers, should keep asking questions!
Following Maxine’s advice of only buying what you love, another way to stay ahead of the consumer cycle is by buying vintage. While you can’t be sure the vintage piece was ethically made, by purchasing a vintage piece you’re breathing new life into something that might have been discarded into a landfill. Here are some vintage websites to find those one-of-a-kind pieces to covet:
Vintage Vixen is the ultimate vintage high-fashion retailer with all the top brands (Dior, Gucci, Kamali). Rare couture fashion and accessories will have you falling for the old-world charm of each find.
Boasting a vast collection of 1940s to 1990s fashion, The Rusty Zipper is a good place to start any vintage hunt. Snag a 1960s mod dress or maybe a 1940s cocktail dress, and a few period accessories to complete your classic look.
Mystique Vintage (on Etsy) makes vintage shopping exciting with unique jewelry and handmade era pieces. Spend some time browsing to find hidden treasures, like a 1950s beaded statement necklace.
And here’s Urbanette’s guide to getting great deals on eBay.
I will always love to shop, and my closet is now stocked with timeless pieces that I will wear for years to come. And I still browse the major retailers and am sometimes pleasantly surprised by their sustainable efforts (like H&M’s conscious collection) but I no longer try to keep up with the pace of fast fashion, I simply stay ahead of it.