If you attended L’Oreal Fashion Week and absolutely loved one of Joeffer Caoc’s new off the shoulder dresses for spring 2009, don’t worry, fast fashion retailers around the city are already hard at work manufacturing them. Fashions that we see on the runway are now being transformed into money makers for the masses. Consumers no longer have to watch their favourite designer’s items be paraded down the runway only to think I will never be able to afford that. Retailers like H&M, Joe Fresh, Zara and Top Shop are bringing the catwalk trends to a store near you at affordable prices. These retailers have a large team of designers who are copying and modifying these trends into items that will then be manufactured in low wage countries and churned out rather quickly. It’s no surprise by now that we all know the success of these retailers and according to an article published in WWD: Women’s Wear Daily on April 4, 2008 by Miles Socha “H&M plans to inaugurate 190 stores this year.” In collaboration with H&M, Comme des Garcons has designed a line for the retailer that will be unveiled in November 2008. Designers are catching on to the success of bringing their high street fashions down to the masses. H&M has had a series of boutique brand names create affordable lines for their fast fashion retail operation, with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Roberto Cavalli and Vicktor & Rolf. In 2007 Proenza Schouler collaborated with Target’s Go International program and launched a line of clothing available at Target locations. These high fashion designers are bringing affordable fashions to the masses and making a statement that high fashion is no longer just for the elite.
With this fast fashion movement, stores carry a variety of trendy pieces that will be replaced by even trendier pieces in a matter of weeks. By the time fashion innovators have adopted a trend, the masses have popularized a newer version of this trend sold at cheaper retailers causing anyone to become a fashion innovator. Fashion is no longer about creativity and innovation but about who can sell the clothes the fastest. Shopping at these fast fashion retailers has turned quality into quantity. In a June 2008 article on usnews.com, Maura Judkis points out that “those who can afford the designer versions of a shoe or purse won't wear them once middle-schoolers in Ohio can buy them at the mall, and the knockoffs are made cheaply and won't last more than a season or two. So, the companies churn out new lines, and women wear them and dispose of them.” This fast fashion obsession is causing our closets to burst at the seams. We no longer purchase basics but we do purchase large quantities of the latest trend only to replace it in a couple of months with the “new” latest trend. But with the turn around of apparel at retailers like Zara and H&M are we potentially damaging the environment? Clothing at these retailers is very cheap and consumers feel as though they can buy an item and if it only lasts one season it’s okay because they can afford to buy a new one next season. Fast fashions may fall apart in one or two seasons whereas expensive designer items will last for several. Consumers are simply throwing away these cheaper clothes to make room for new ones. It’s a bit contradictory that fast fashion retailers like H&M are offering organic cotton items that will be sustainable and benefit the environment and at the same time they are selling 20$ sweaters that you will chuck out next season.
With fast fashion retailers being so popular these days, our clothes are being made in low wage countries like Turkey, China and Romania just to name a few. One can only imagine what the vigorous working conditions must be like in those factories in order to turn out a line in a matter of weeks. As Adrian Joffe, the head of Comme des Garcons, said in a September 21, 2008 article in the International Herald Tribune by Suzy Menkes about the presence of H&M in their factory, “their control of my factory was unbelievable.” One can only hope that in all cases of offshore sourcing for fast fashions the factories are monitored with such control and compassion. Campaigns like Labour Behind the Label (labourbehindthelabel.org) are in place to support garment worker’s rights around the world.
Of course we all fall victim to the allure of fast fashions. We all know that a Chanel jacket will last longer in quality and fashion than the one recently purchased at Top Shop but it’s a small fraction of the price so we can have several. As consumers we want variety and in that aspect the retailers have not let us down. With all this talk about corporate responsibility isn’t it time consumers started to take part in this responsibility and limit their purchases. Next time you buy something think about why it is so inexpensive and if you still can’t resist than buy it, but when you’re done with it, donate it to goodwill.