Contrary to appearances, shopping is not my favourite activity in life. I know that many people, who think they know me better than they actually do, will gasp in shock when (and if) they read that sentence. I love clothes. I adore doing my preliminary research, the organizing of my wardrobe, the list-making. But then I should very much like to be able to conjure up, as if by magic, exactly the right item that I need and want for each identified niche in my closet. Ha. If only that were possible.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I decided that I needed at least one more sleeveless top for summer. Either white or a neutral colour that would go with all my jeans and pants. Even black would do. I already have a gorgeous, gauzy, layered black tank from Rag and Bone that I bought last spring to take on our France trip
. I wore it out for dinner a lot last summer, and even as part of a dressy outfit at Christmas
. But I don’t want to wear it for everyday dashing out to the library, or for lunch on a very hot day. Simply because I don’t want to ruin it.
I’ve never been much of a “fast fashion” shopper. I don’t usually shop at “fast fashion” stores like Zara, H&M, or Forever Twenty-one. I hate shopping at Winners, even though most of my friends swear by it. I never find anything I like, which fits me properly. But when I retired I thought I should use some of my extra time, now that I’m not working, to expand my shopping horizons, look further afield and maybe save money. So, off I went two weeks ago. In search of a not too expensive, sleeveless top, that flattered my shape, and could be worn with a lot of things I already own. This is the knitted tank that I finally found at Aritzia. Finally. Found. But let me begin the story at the beginning.
I started my search at Zara. They had a ton of sleeveless tops, many in white. I set aside the ones that were too short, too sheer, too girly, and the ones with makeup stains around the neck. Seriously, I counted five stained tops on the rack. Eventually, I drew this to the attention of the harassed-looking young clerk whose primary job, it seemed, was lugging tops out of the dressing rooms and putting them back on the rack. I gestured to one blouse, and said, “There’s makeup on several of these.” She sighed, and replied, “That’s because people pull them over their heads and smear their foundation or lipstick on the shirt.” “I realize that,” I said, “but I’m not going to buy a top with makeup on it.” I said this gently, even kind of apologetically. I wasn’t complaining, but I was flummoxed that they would restock a stained item. She just sighed, and said they could probably find me another one in the back if I wanted one. As it happened all six tops I took to the dressing room looked terrible. Even at a fraction of the cost of my Rag and Bone tank, I knew they weren’t worth the price. Not if I’d never wear them. I handed them to the clerk when I exited, glad that at least I hadn’t smeared blush or lipstick on any of them, and moved on to the next store. I tried two more stores before I gave up, bought a packet of English Breakfast tea, and headed for home. I’d much rather be drinking tea and reading my book on the deck.
As I was driving home, I thought ruefully that “fast fashion” wasn’t fast at all. Pretty slow in fact. What with having to trawl through racks and racks of cheap stuff I’d probably never wear, dragging five or six items into the dressing room, then when none of them fit, having to get dressed again and go in search of different styles or sizes myself because I couldn’t find a salesperson to help. And in the end driving home empty handed anyway. So if “fast fashion” is slow and frustrating… and often futile… I guess you could say I’m all in favour of its antithesis. In fact, I think I’ve been an advocate of “slow fashion” all my life. I just didn’t know it was a thing.
Apparently “Slow Fashion
” is a term coined in 2007 by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in the UK. The supporters of “Slow Fashion” talk about quality and durability of products, conscious consumption, ethical production, and sustainability. Kate Fletcher says that fast fashion is “about greed, not speed.” That fast fashion retailers make their money through sheer volume of sales, cheap prices, and the quick lead time from runway, through ‘knock-off’ design, to sales rack. And that quick turn-over and cheap prices are “only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources.” Another article
I read said that in 2013, fueled by the availability of cheap fashionable fashion, the average American purchased 70 items of clothing a year. Sheesh. Is it just me, or does that seem like a lot?
But let’s get back to my fast fashion adventure. I made two more trips before I finally found the black knit tank from Aritzia. It was more expensive than the ones I tried at Zara and at countless other stores the names of which I cannot recall. But I liked the split seams at the sides, the longer hem in the back, and the high neck. It looks good with all my jeans. And with these black crepe joggers which I bought at Aritzia last year. I like the tank and joggers with this grey cotton cardigan, bought last year from my favourite locally owned store Green Tree Eco Fashion
, and my flat sandals.
The new tank is long enough to make me feel covered and comfortable in these green stretchy, skinny jeans, below, which I bought at TNT in Toronto in 2014. And I can pull on my trusty Helmet Lang jacket from last spring if I want. I’m throwing in the names of shops and dates to emphasize that, besides the black tank from Aritzia, nothing I have on is new this year…. except for the silver stud earrings in the first two photos which I bought to go with my new haircut. Not to get sidetracked, but I’m finding that I prefer small jewellry with my new curly hair, and so I’ve lately eschewed my big hoops which I used to live in. The small green dangling earrings that I have on below are vintage. From my mum’s jewellry box. Thanks Mum.
As has become my tendency when I write posts like this one, I’ve been chasing my tail for several days now. Reading way too many articles on slow fashion, fast fashion, ethical trade practices, exploitative labour practices, where to buy your clothes
, where not to buy your clothes
. It’s all quite confusing. I just did a quick audit of my closet and found that out of the 36 items I checked, only 14 were made in Canada or the US. The rest were made for the most part in China, a couple in Vietnam, and one in India. All places where exploitative labour practices are legendary. Does that make me a bad shopper? A non-ethical shopper? According to some, it does. Then I read The Myth of the Ethical Shopper
and felt a little better… but not much.
So what does a basically ethical person, who loves clothes, do about this whole conundrum? Well, according to some sources we should pay attention to where our clothing is made, and if possible choose to buy brands which use “ethical manufacturing practices.” Which is all well and good if you can figure out how to reliably identify those companies. Good luck with that. But slow fashion proponents also say you could buy less, buy local, or buy vintage. And learn how to take care of your clothes to make them last, and how to mend things. I’d add to that to buy quality pieces, if you can. Owning a good piece of clothing (no matter where it was made) is the best motivation for caring for it properly, in my books.
t took me three trips to the mall, and several hours of effort to find that black tank at Aritzia. I don’t know if Aritzia can be classified as a “fast fashion” store. They do carry some inexpensive items, but also others like brand name jeans that are quite pricey. I know that I have usually found their sales staff to be helpful and enthusiastic, and willing to do the running for more styles and sizes. Which I’ve never found at Zara. In my experience the poor girls at Zara are too busy restocking the racks. So I guess that my adventure in fast fashion has only gone to prove to me that I’ve been an advocate of slow fashion all along. I just didn’t know it.
I also know that my frustrating fast fashion experience has made me value my buddy Liz, who works at Nordstrom, sooo much more. Because while I love clothes and fashion, I don’t necessarily love shopping. Not all shopping. And especially not frustrating, futile shopping. But when I can swan into Nordstrom and find something like my new blue dress so easily that Liz and I even have time afterward to go for coffee. Well… what’s not to love about that?
35 thoughts on “In Praise of Slow Fashion”
Really interesting and thought provoking post. Especially interested to read The Myth of the Ethical Shopper which gave a really good outline of the complexities of addressing mass production cheap Labour practices. I do avoid chains such as Primark because of concerns about the cheapness and almost disposable nature of the clothes. Not adverse to the occasional purchase from Zara but it's hit and miss and requires a lot of rooting through vast displays of stock. Totally understand your logic of buy less buy better and you are lucky to have a relationship with a personal shopper who knows exactly what you like. Even allowing for an appreciation of quality I think budget is a constraint for lots of people and then there's the hamster wheel of always having to keep up with ever-changing fashion. Love your new top. You made the right decision. Also identify with your swimwear issues. You need a Liz equivalent in the world of swimwear. Iris
I found "The Myth of the Ethical Shopper" interesting as well. The issue is so much more complex than just avoiding merchandise from Zara and the like. After I read that article and several others, I couldn't help thinking of whomever made those stained blouses at Zara, and how they'd no doubt just be tossed out. Such a waste of resources and of the lives of the workers in whatever country makes Zara clothes.
I've been researching local swimwear stores and will check out a couple tomorrow. My new plan is to buy local if possible. We'll see how that goes.
Agree with you!
I didn't know exactly the facts about the slow fashion movement,but I buy less,am aware about quality,take good care about my wardrobe pieces.
Luckily,we didn't have a lot of things to buy when I was young and seamstresses were (and still are-for adjustements) very important person in my life. So,one had to think well in advance and had to make smart choices. Quality was important.
As you can see,shortage could lead to many good things 🙂
I like your top btw.
When I shop today,I make online search first and than go shopping ( not the great fan,too),looking first in local stores,if possible (mostly not,almost all our very good brands are lost because of fast fashion chains)
It has to fulfill quality criteria,to be mostly from natural fibers and produced in "fair trade"-as long as I could track it
It's funny that you should say that about growing up with less. My mum raised four of us as a single parent for many years. We had enough of everything, but never the amount of stuff kids have today. I wore my sister's hand-me-down clothes, Mum made many of the dresses she wore to work, and tried to alter and repair our clothes. I said to my husband this morning how lucky I was to have been raised with the ethic that I can't have everything I want.
Your statistic about the average woman buying 70 items a year is pretty shocking, especially if you consider that many women like my sister-in-law don't care about fashion and rarely purchase new clothes. That probably means that some 'fashionistas' purchase hundreds of items, most cheaply made. Meanwhile quality goes downhill in favour of low price. It's getting harder to find items such as tops that are not semi-transparent. Your find looks like a good one!
I know… who needs 70 new pieces of clothing??? I'm going to try to add up what I bought last year to see how many items I purchased. I wonder… does a pair of socks count as one or two???
I read a suggestion by Livia Firth in relation to her recent-ish film on fast fashion that really stuck with me. If you won't wear it 30 times, don't buy it. I find I ask myself that when I'm tempted on something and it works. If it's cheaply made, which I tend to avoid (and do realize I am very fortunate to be able to make that choice), it won't last 30 wears. If it's too distinctive or trendy, most likely I won't want to wear frequently enough, thus 30 wears would be stretched out over a lot of years and can I see myself wanting to wear that item in, say, 10 years time?
In my own effort to go more green with my wardrobe, I am buying some second-hand (which doesn't necessarily mean used – most of what I buy still has price tags attached and the rest looks unworn.) What I have found is that, with care, quality clothing in natural fibers like cashmere, wool, silk and linen holds up to repeated use and still looks as good as the day it was born. Making 30 wears an easy possibility. 🙂
Overall, I couldn't agree more with your entire post. Your new top is lovely and puts me in mind of Eileen Fisher pieces. Have you got access to her clothing in Canada? She's really making an effort to be an ethical and eco-conscious company and her clothing really holds up – I have EF pieces from 20 years ago still in rotation. -Catbird Farm
Thanks for mentioning Livia Firth. I read about that documentary a while ago. Love the "30 wears" formula. Maybe we should put a little slip of paper in the pockets of all our items and check off each time we wear. Wonder how many things would get to 30 wears???
EF is my favorite, glad to see on Ethical/slow fashion list. And yes we need to be aware of 'free trade'. A lot of food for thought.
I'm glad that Eileen Fisher was mentioned. I saw that she made the list of "ethical brands" in one of the articles I linked to my post. Good for her! Her clothes definitely have longevity.
Hi Sue. A really interesting and thought provoking post. As always, I'll enjoy reading the links. Thanks for sharing your research.
I really like your new top. It hangs well and I can see you incorporating it into various outfits. I tend to shop or at least do my initial research on line or in smaller shops locally and occasionally when travelling. Rarely in a large department store. Although I think I definitely would if I knew someone like Liz. The attitude of staff both in store and in the Customer Service Department, if I'm shopping on line effects how often I shop at a particular company.
With regard to Zara, as an example I find their stores in the Uk somewhat chaotic and "jumble sale" like, with untidy piles of clothes, ion contrast I find their branches in Spain a much better shopping experience and generally the quality seems better too, which is strange, My daughter has a lovely quality trench coat and jacket that she bought from Zara in Spain. I notice "Eileen Fisher" being mentioned a lot on blogs. Good to know it's on the "ethical brands" list. I'll have to do some research into stockists in the Uk. I think the "30 wears" is an interesting concept and definitely something to consider when shopping. Good idea to make a note of how often we actually wear something …
Rosie,I was in EF store in Marylebone High Str in London last year ( more basics) and Fenwick,London, has some of her beautiful things,too
Thanks Dottoressa, that's really kind of you! I'll have to visit both of them next time I'm in London. Hope you're having a good weekend.
Gosh I love it when you guys talk amongst yourselves:)
Very thoughtful post Sue. I do try to spend more than half my clothing dollars at re-sale shops, but buy some retail too. I think if we are all just a bit more discerning, as you suggest, it will add up to a meaningful movement. And great top, btw! Thanks for linking, xo
Thanks, Patti. I know you are the best "thrifter" ever. You set an example for all of us.
I'll go pay some attention to the Ethical Fashion link. My thing is, I like goods made in China and Indonesia, by well-run Western companies, because I feel that by modelling good management practices we can spread concepts of justice. But the environmental impact, yes, I try to buy organic fabrics and I should try even harder. Thanks for this post, much appreciated. Glad to know you are as ethical as you are gorgeous:).
Ah shucks… you're makin' me blush ma'am. The idea of well-run western companies in Asia makes me feel a bit better. Some of my really good pieces which were not inexpensive were made in China. Can't see that happening in a sweatshop… but what do I know? Not much really. Guess we're all just doing our best to do the right thing.
I don't do fast fashion at all and totally agree with your quote by Vivienne Westwood ~
Popped by from Visible Monday.
Thanks for stopping by, Tami.
You're right of course but how can we tell ? I know someone who works for a major cheap fashion chain & visits India to check their working practices but it is all arranged well in advance . The company has plenty of time to get ready & my friend wonders what happens after she leaves . She also says high end stuff is produced there too . Expense doesn't guarantee fairness . It is complicated business . I do like the top , a lovely cut .
Wendy – ' Somewhere in Italy '
I know… how can we tell? I guess that we can cut down on how much stuff we buy. But I would guess that most of the readers of this blog already shop "consciously"… not that I can imagine what unconscious shopping might look like. haha. Maybe conscientiously would be a better word.
It's never too late to take up sewing. Total control over color, style, fit, fabric. And based on your recent shopping experience, quicker.
Hahah. Oh my.. if you could see the last thing I sewed…an A-line wrap skirt in university, when they were all the rage and I had zero money. I think my mum was more happy that I finished it than I was because I was a right royal pain in the butt while I was making it … on her sewing machine.
Great top! I love that 30 wears parameter. If an item is worn 12 times a year that's a 2.5 year time span. The items that I love reside in my wardrobe longer than that and the workhorses get more wear than once a month so now I can feel virtuous, haha. I'm the sort who loves having specific fashion math rules and the 30 wears was new to me,so thank you:)
Ha…you see fashion math is not just for spring. I'm going to crunch the numbers for some of my favourites and join you in feeling virtuous:)
Hi Susan: First off, I'm quite enjoying your blog as an alternative to other, more "mainstream" fashion forums/blogs . I came across you by accident on a comment left on Alyson Walsh's blog – I think? As a fellow Canadian, I'm also liking references to brands/lines we can find here , without having to order from Nordstrom ( horrible with today's exchange rate anyways). I'm in my mid-50's…..still happily working, but loving your clothes. Do you ever provide links to the pieces (where you can) so that we can see exactly what , for example -this great Aritizia tank-it is? Thanks again for writing some interesting pieces, and I look forward to being a regular reader!
Thanks for the kind comments, Lisa. I occasionally provide links to items. I know other blogs do, but I haven't because I don't advertise on my blog..,at least not at the moment. I'm still considering if that is something I want to do, or not. I should probably a try adding links more often though, when it's possible to find the same item on-line. Thanks for that suggestion.
A great, thoughtful post and thanks for the link to the Ethical Shopper article. A good follow up for me on the book Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline. Like many other respondents on this blog I do try to buy locally and conscientiously and always appreciate a fellow Canadian's take on fashion and where to buy.
Thanks, Christy. I haven't read that book but I have read about it.
Hello Ms. Burpee! I was a student of yours at Nepean High School, and a huge fan of your Writer's Craft class. I've loved writing since, and recently started to take creative writing courses again. Your name came up in an exercise I did on teachers who inspired me and I decided to look you up and found this blog. I just wanted to say hello and thanks for being such a great teacher – I am a high school teacher now myself in large part because of your influence. I'm also really enjoying following along here – you're just as stylish and funny as I remember.
What a lovely tribute Sue – if that doesn't give you a warm glow then nothing will .
Wendy in Y
Sarah Hammond… how are you! So lovely to hear from you. I remember you very well from Writer's Craft and even from grade nine English. I remember when you played Cesario opposite Hilary Busing's Olivia in the play we entered in the grade nine drama festival. That was so much fun doing that unit.
Funnily enough I was just talking about you last week. I was attending a retirement party and got into conversation with your uncle Barry. I taught your cousins (Laura and Peter) at McCrae. And I asked about you. I was sorry to hear that your dad is not well. Please give your mum my best; I know it must be hard for her at the moment. I'll always remember my last day at Nepean High, when I ran into your mum in the hall when she was chair of the Parents' Council and she said she was going to give Neil (our principal) a piece of her mind for "letting me go." That was high praise indeed. I always chuckle when I think of her saying that.
Hope you are loving teaching! Although I know the stresses and demands seem to increase year by year…. do they ever!… sometimes you just have to forget about all the other "stuff" and focus on the kids. How great that you are taking creative writing again. Teaching will give you lots to write about!
Thanks for stopping by; this blog is my little retirement project. xox
First, I love your tank, it has interest and detail that make it above a generic.
Second, I'll be posting on the same topic very soon, with similiar sentiments, and mine was spurred by watching "The True Cost", a doc about fast fashion (Netflix). Fast fashion refers to the merchandising cycle, something new in the store every week or two, not like when I was young and the summer stock showed up in May and nothing new came in till mid-August.
Thanks, Duchesse. I will definitely check out your post. I knew the term fast fashion referred to the quick cycle…I just thought how funny it was that shopping for something decent in a fast fashion store was anything but fast.
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