Buyer Beware – The Dangers of “Fast Fashion”

The following is a guest post by one of my loyal readers, Deby.  This story was originally submitted as a comment to “Why Continue to Shop?”  Since it’s such a powerful story with some excellent points, I asked if I could use it as a guest post for wider exposure.  Deby graciously agreed!  

If you have an idea for a guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts. 


I have a recent shopping story to share. Always interested in new trends, I read several fashion magazines each month. Most recently, I thought it might be fun to have a sheer shirt to layer over a camisole for summer. Since I began downsizing my wardrobe, I decided I was only allowed to have one sheer shirt and it had to coordinate with at least three bottoms. Placed floral prints are very popular now, so this was what I was looking for (I often focus my shopping expeditions to look for very specific items).

Beware of "Fast Fashion"

Looks pretty, but sometimes looks can be deceiving…

A Perfect Find – or Was It?

After visiting several of my favorite retailers, I seemingly miraculously found the perfect shirt at Marshall’s. It was sheer, cut like a sleeveless collared shirt, and “flowy.” The colors of the floral could not have been more perfect to coordinate with my bottoms – it included every signature color in my seasonal capsule, and the looks I could create were far more than three.

You would think I would be fulfilled at scoring the perfect shirt, that this would be a happy ending. But, sadly, no…

You see, I allowed myself to be so seduced by the chase and the exhilaration of finding this more-than-perfect colored print – in my size and the only one in stock – that I swooped on it like a huntress, happily carrying my “booty” to the checkout.

A Sham of a Garment

Then I got home. True, the shirt coordinated dizzyingly well with my wardrobe, just as I thought it would. It fit passably well; I would give it a 7.  But there was something terribly wrong that hit me all of a sudden as I examined the shirt.

The shirt was a sham of a garment, all looks and no substance. Away from the high of the shopping experience, I examined the shirt more closely and was frankly shocked at the poor quality sewing.  I realized that beyond the superficial attraction of the print, the fabric was really substandard.

In a Factory Across the World…

All of a sudden, I felt ashamed for not paying attention to what I had bought. I thought about how, in a factory across the world, thousands of shirts like this are being churned out by toiling garment workers to stuff the forever greedy maw of the American consumer.

I felt disgusted at our appetite that creates the scenario of such shoddy goods being produced in the first place, creating a whole plethora of problems.  The problems range from changing social values to pollution from factories during production on down to what to do with these garments when they are no longer fit to wear.

The Afterlife of “Fast Fashion”

Because “fast fashion” garments aren’t designed to last more than a few wearings, then where do they go? Maybe they end up in the Goodwill, where they might be put out for sale.  But what is even more likely is they’ll be shipped in bales to poor countries where people need clothing. If those people won’t wear them, you guessed it, all that polyester ends up in a landfill or is recycled into carpet padding or similar products.  It is a tremendous production cycle that uses vast amounts of energy and resources.

We have created a huge global polluting industry over our lust for cheap accessible clothing that is such poor quality that even indigent people will not choose to wear it.  Instead, we should be scaling back and returning to manufacturing quality goods for a fair price, in our own country, and giving jobs to our own people.

I Should Have Known Better!

I am ashamed because I should have known better. My grandmother was a seamstress and an embroiderer in a time when seamstresses and garment workers were respected trades. She would have been appalled at the shirt I so mindlessly purchased.

It will be awhile before I go shopping again.  When I do, I will be far more mindful of where my clothes are coming from and the conditions under which they are being produced. Those of you who shop for the high or the temporary “anesthesia” it provides might do well to pause, as I have done, and consider the social and global implications of your next impulsive purchase. As for me, the cheap shirt is going back to the store, not to be repeated.

Want to Learn More?

I have to add one more thing. Around the same time as my shirt shopping story, I began reading this book, which I highly recommend to everyone who is thinking about their clothing:

Always looking for some bargain at Target or the like, what I learned in this book has been an awakening for me about the reality of being a shopaholic and return-aholic. I dare say, I may have taken a great step towards a cure!


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Comments

  1. Cornelia says:

    You bring up a very good point, and even though I have not read the book, I listened to an interview with the author on NPR the other day. It is hard to get the image of the collapsed building in Bangldesh out of one’s mind. We do vote with our dollar every time we spend.

  2. Great post, Deby! I have to second your recommendation for the book Overdressed. In the time it took me to read the book it changed my view of my clothes; how I feel about buying clothes, shoes, and accessories; and, consequently, my actions. I now only by second-hand and it’s done more for me than help me align my actions with my beliefs. I realized how easily I get caught up by the allure of new things, how I used to be a return-aholic, and how clothes shape my feelings about myself and whether that should be the case.

    There’s so much good information in the book and it really provides you with the opportunity for introspective thinking. I recommend the book to anyone interested in fashion, style, or the clothing industry!

  3. For anybody interested in this, I recommend “To die for – Is fashion wearing out the world?” by Lucy Siegle. We all know that fast fashion is “bad” but I had no idea how bad until I read this book. I’ll be much more picky from now on when buying clothes.

    • That book is in my “to read” pile. Can’t wait to get to it, especially after another good review about it!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      K, Thanks so much for this tip! I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m going to order it. I plan to add a “Resources” page to the blog soon and this one seems like a good candidate. I would love to help raise the visibility on this important topic!

  4. So, I’m in the market for a 3/4 sleeve black t-shirt and a black knit skirt. I find used and consignment stores to be somewhat unreliable for knits. Any recommendations?

    I was fascinated by “Overdressed” as well.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      L, I definitely want to learn more about this topic and will write about it in future posts. But for now, here’s a good site that grades companies on social and environmental responsibility: http://www.betterworldshopper.com/r-clothing.html There aren’t a lot of companies listed, but it’s a start.

    • Try the Everlane brand for t-shirts. Very high quality and in the “about” section of the website they discuss the sourcing of their products.

      • Debbie Roes says:

        Leah, Thanks so much for this tip! I remember reading about Everlane on a blog once, but I will give them a closer look now.

  5. Deborah says:

    I’m Deby, even though its says I’m Deborah, and I wanted to follow up with a few comments as a result of Debbie so generously allowing me to express myself on her blog.

    As conscientious consumers, what should we do in our immediate life? Given the current economics of clothing manufacture, it is impossible for us to completely avoid foreign made goods. Most of us have neither the time nor the expertise to sew our own clothes. I have a few ideas that anyone can implement immediately.

    First, I think a most important thing is to do exactly what this blog suggests: “trade your full closet for a full life.” You could start doing that today by really speaking truthfully with yourself about how much time and energy you put into shopping–and then figure out how to redirect your focus into something positive and creative to improve your sense of self. I’ve discovered that its amazing how much self analysis you can avoid by attempting to escape through shopping.

    Second, don’t be afraid to downsize and live with fewer choices. In the past 7 weeks, I have downsized my wardrobe by 58% and don’t feel the lack. In fact, I feel happier, because my clothing choices are more mindful. I no longer walk in my closet and wish I had something new to wear, because it has suddenly become fun to get dressed with clothing I really like. Having fewer options helps you be more creative. (And once you have downsized, don’t start shopping again to fill up the empty space you have created in your closet–switch your focus to a new interest that will help you feel fulfilled!)

    Third, when buying new clothes, pay attention to where they come from and make an effort to purchase from companies that promote ethical practices and manufacture quality goods. I’m not trying to point a finger and say that every piece of clothing manufactured offshore is shoddy or from a sweatshop, but we should be aware.

    I know its fun to buy cheap 3.00 tee shirts, because you feel like you got such a bargain–but to do so as a regular shopping fix is to promote the kind of rabid consumerism that has fueled the unethical clothing manufacturing practices that are so much in discussion today. And from a practical standpoint, can anyone truthfully say they feel good when a poorly made garment falls apart after a few wearings–maybe even before they get a chance to pay the credit card bill?

    Here is a website I came across today that has some very nice garments and accessories that are manufactured ethically:

    http://fashioningchange.com

    Last but not least, be openminded about buying and wearing used clothing. Just because a garment is new, doesn’t mean its better. If you have friends who are the same size, try swapping clothes with each other. Consignment stores can yield interesting one-of-a-kind, yet less crazy trend driven garments, because savvy consignment store owners know what the good stuff is, and you can make incredible finds. Plus, if you love a certain brand, buying a used garment may bring you a piece that you truly love that you might not have been able to acquire when it was new. Wearing used clothing is inventive recycling. It may not be new, but its “new to you”, and that could be very special!

    Thank you all for reading and responding to my thoughts!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Deby, Thank you so much for your excellent guest post and detailed follow-up comments! I am so pleased you agreed to be my very first guest poster. You raised an excellent topic that was on my “write soon” list. Since you stated everything so well, I thought you were the right person to start the conversation. I will definitely write more posts on the topics of fast fashion and ethical shopping and I invite other guest posts on these (and other) important topics.

      Congrats on downsizing your wardrobe by 58%. That is an amazing achievement and much faster than I’ve been able to do, though I’m well on my way. Doing Project 333 is teaching me that I don’t really need a large wardrobe, so I know I will downsize more in the coming months.

      Thanks for the tips and website reference. I will add that link to the “Resources” page I will add to the blog soon and I will post your tips above to the “Recovery Tips” page. I echo your endorsement of secondhand stores. I plan to write some tips for shopping such stores soon, as I know the experience can be a bit daunting. One can find some one-of-a-kind finds at such stores, though, and it’s definitely a more sustainable choice to shop secondhand.

  6. Since the factory collapse in Bangladesh I have been thinking quite a bit about my clothing choices. I hate to feel that my quest to stretch my dollars could contribute to such a disaster. I needed to replace a couple of tees for summer and went to several stores and examined labels hoping to find clues to know which choices would be more social responsible. But it truly is overwhelming. Plus you must consider the fabric and how it was manufactured as well. I finally made some choices but I’m not satisfied that I know my decision is a better one in terms of being socially responsible.

    I do agree that it is important to truly examine what we buy to make sure it is a quality product. But so many times we are in a rush and don’t realize until a few wearings later that the fabric pills easily or that the stitching is crooked. All I know is that I’m trying to do better.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Kirsti, I have similar feelings and experiences to what you described. I think the fact that we are trying to do better means a lot. It will take time to educate ourselves on how to shop more ethically, but wanting to do so is an important first step! I plan to do more posts like this one and share more information, but I’m glad we’ve gotten the conversation started!

  7. Deby, I also want to thank you for your excellent guest post and detailed follow-up comments. I sincerely appreciate your deeply personal candid glimpse shedding light on something we all know to be true but wish to avoid thinking about. The time has arrived for us to all think and pay careful attention. Thank you for beginning this conversation.

    Debbie Roes , thank you for your continued stellar posts, your willingness to be candid, sharing your journey, and for providing this platform as a gathering place for us all to learn and grow together.

    Truth to tell, I participated in two cycles of Project 333 before I finally found my rhythm. But paring down was only a first step. Your honesty and willingness to share your story is providing me with the courage to peel back the layers to understand some of the reasons that caused me to seek an over abundance of clothes in the fist place, so that I can make lasting changes. And I sincerely thank you.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Terra, Welcome and thank you for your comment! I’m so glad that my blog is helping even a seasoned Project 333 participant. I encourage others to read your excellent post on your Project 333 experience: http://terratrevor.blogspot.com/2013/05/project-333-small-wardrobe-for-lithe_17.html. I plan to share it in my next Project 333 update as well, as I believe my readers will definitely benefit from your wisdom!

      I appreciate your taking the time to let me know that my blog is meaningful for you. I wish you the very best of luck with your continued journey!

  8. Hi Debbie, this is a fantastic guest post and the comments are also really interesting. I would love to see a permanent links page to ethical clothes traders – you could then maybe chose one to blog about once a week or once per month – this would also help you get your blog out to a wider audience. Louise

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Louise, Glad you liked this post! I’m happy to get more conversation going on this very important topic. Your suggestion for a post series on ethical garment producers is an excellent one and I think I’ll take it on! I would love to play some role, however small, in the solution to what has become quite a dire situation.

  9. This is an excellent post and a topic that needs to be repeated addressed. Even though there is already a lot of information out there regarding the negative impact of fast fashion, there isn’t enough info regarding the real cost of buying local. We’ve been so use to paying so little for our clothing that we forget how much it actually costs to get clothes made in our own country. For example, if a t-shirt that is locally source, designed and made in the USA costs $50, most people would not buy it because it would a lot more than what we are use to paying. If you think about all that is involved to get the shirt made and the various sectors that are being paid a decent wage to make the product, $50 is not much. It makes perfect sense when explained in detail to someone that is not aware but to convince them to actually buy it is another thing. Of course buying second-hand and via thrift store is really the best way of using what’s already out there and affordable for most, but for people that want to buy new, getting them to plunk down $50 for a t-shirt will still be a stretch.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Wendy, Welcome and thanks for your comments! You raised some excellent points. You’re right… People have gotten used to the $10 t-shirts and it will take a lot to shift more of us to buy locally made t-shirts at 5 times the price. But many people don’t even know the issues. Once they know better, some may do better. Maybe not right away, but the more the message gets driven home, some will opt to shift their actions. I definitely plan to do more posts on this topic!

  10. Deborah says:

    Yesterday I did a followup visit to to return the awful shirt I spoke of earlier. This time, I decided to do different sort of shopping–in an investigative mode. I perused through the store and looked at where clothing was manufactured. It seems that the big three are China, India and Vietnam. Nothing was made in the U.S.A. A lot of the clothing was polyester, although there were items made of natural fibers (which are at least biodegradable when consigned to a landfill), but in the main, the quality was lacking.

    As an aside, while in the store, I came to the realization that the wrinkly boho style that is so popular is nothing more a cheaper way of producing clothing, because it eliminates the finishing steps that add the final polish to a garment. Meanwhile consumers are duped into believing the wrinkled look is the latest thing they should adopt because its “in style”. So add insult to injury, we create a population who swans around looking like they slept in their clothes. I guess its great for people who hate to iron, but I think wearing deliberately wrinkled and distressed clothing has a negative psychological effect on a person’s self esteem, whether the realize it or not, because it looks so slovenly. “Look like a slob, feel like a slob.”

    In the entire store I found one pair of shoes not made in Asia– but in Spain, and they happened to be one of a handful of shoe styles that were actually made of leather with quality construction. Also, in the shoe exam process, I discovered the newest way to fake out consumers into believing that the shoes they are purchasing are made from leather is to line the interior of the shoe with real sueded leather, but the outer portion is made of vinyl of such meticulously replicated leather grain that at first glance you think you are holding a nice leather shoe in your hand.

    After about 30 minutes of examination, I had to get out of there. It was too disheartening to look across a vast terrain of racks, 90% of which was poorly constructed and of “iffy” fabrics (as in, “if I wash it, will it survive?”), even the “designer” brands. The truth was clear, but there is something I don’t understand. If you are a designer who has built a respected reputation over the years, how can you now, in good conscience, put your name on shoddy garments like these?

    • The bottom line is, we live in a capitalist society where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Designers only become part of a marketing strategy after they become famous and they lose control of the production of their products from the large corporations that have bought their name. I have seen plenty of young designers that started out producing well made items, all aspect of the garment production was within their control. Then once they become famous, the quality reduces greatly but they sell more than ever. A large firm buys them out and ‘take care’ of the production. The designers end up having little say if they sign with a corporation. It takes a lot of struggle to stay independent and resist ‘selling out’. I think they just get tired of struggling. Plus marketing always wins in fashion. People get easily seduced with the glitz and glamour presented in advertisements and fashion blogs. There’s really only a small population of people who consider quality over quantity and even a smaller population that look at the company’s ethical stance before buying a garment. Then the most difficult part is convincing someone to pay 5 to 10x more for a single piece of clothing. Since there’s no clothing manufactures that can make clothes nearly as cheap as China or other poorer countries in Asia, they have to charge more to compensate for labour costs. If only it was easy to convince the rich in the fashion industry to share their wealth for the better of mankind…..

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Deborah, As usual, your comments are informative and insightful! I love the fact that you did some investigation when you returned the poorly made top. Great point about the boho look! The same thing was true of the “tissue tees” that came out a few years ago. Manufacturers wanted to save money by using less cotton, so they convinced us that those flimsy tees were the latest fashion. I bought a few and hated them. They didn’t stay in place and didn’t wash well, either. Not good!

      Regarding your point about the designers putting their names on poorly made goods, Wendy already responded with some excellent points! I also wrote a post on the Target Designer collections which you might want to check out: http://recoveringshopaholic.com/thoughts-on-the-target-designer-collections/

  11. I have realised that all the expensive clothing I buy, hilst very well sewn, is crappy fabric! Well, not that crappy but I am sick of polyester! Practically everything I own is plastic because I buy a lot of knits, being a plus size. I have resolved to only buy natural fabrics and there are a lot around that are also knitwear. I am horrified by the working conditions for women in some countries and refuse to support the fast fashion industry any longer. I do support their right to work though to make a living and would gladly pay more for my clothing if this helped them to have better conditions

    • Debbie Roes says:

      June, thanks for your comment! I know the options for plus-size are limited and I really wish that weren’t the case! I’ve shopped with a number of plus-sized clients and we’ve had to work hard to find good options for them. In truth, there is a lot of polyester out there for all sizes and even the natural fiber clothing quality has really declined. I’m with you in that I would pay more for my clothing to be manufactured under better conditions. There are no easy answers, but I definitely will revisit this topic again.

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