Image: models dressed ironically similarly for a Zara campaign. Image source.
The blogging phenomenon has brought us many things, including the democratisation of the fashion industry. But unfortunately this democratisation has also gone hand-in-hand with the rise of fast fashion. As bloggers like Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine have extolled the virtues of a high-low wardrobe mix, for example, so have retailers like Zara and H&M experienced an uptick in their sales and visibility. But now we are much better informed about the ugly truth behind these brands and so we need to train ourselves to stop thinking of this clothing as ‘cool’ if we really hope to see the industry to change en masse.
Bloggers aren’t solely to blame, of course, although the Internet has certainly been instrumental in the overall popularisation of fast fashion. And now it has become such that even the more traditional fashion magazines are frequently featuring bargain pieces on their glossy pages, alongside designer couture. So what this does is to further obscure the fact that fast fashion is a very dirty business. Not just dirty in terms of pollution, either, but also in terms of the treatment of actual human beings. Disasters like Rana Plaza serve as evidence of this fact and yet, bafflingly, many people still manage to shop fast fashion without thinking twice about it.
The problem we have now is that, although people know fast fashion is bad for people and for the planet, they still aren’t all that motivated to do something about it. Part of this has to do with what Psychology Today refers to as “the diffusion of responsibility. Simply put, when a task is placed before a group of people, there’s a strong tendency for each individual to assume someone else will take responsibility for it—so no one does.” In the case of fast fashion, some people are content to remain blissfully unaware of the facts, while others take comfort in the notion that someone else will tackle the big issues for them.
Of course, this sort of thinking is only exacerbated by a secondary problem: the fact that blogs, magazines and popular culture continue to position fast fashion as ostensibly ‘cool’. This isn’t an overly difficult task, when you think about it, given that most cheap clothing designs originated on the runways, from which they were stolen. When framed in this way, though, there is something inherently ‘uncool’ about copycat designs trying to pose as the real deal. So yes, people may be trying to keep up with the relentless trends of today, but does this really represent true style? I would argue not. But until we start questioning the cost of those trends and start thinking of homogeny as inherently anti-cool, then legitimate change will be virtually impossible.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should be bullying our friends and relatives when they tell us that they bought something from Zara. But it does mean taking the time to perhaps educate them about the harsh realities behind this kind of clothing. And, on a more personal level, it also means thinking twice when you find yourself drawn to an alluringly shiny garment that’s hanging on the racks of your local H&M. By making small adjustments to our habits and helping those around us to do the same, we can each have a more positive impact on the planet overall.
It might sound like a long shot, given the pervasive nature of trend culture today. But then again, stranger things have happened in fashion. Think about the great ugly shoe revival, for instance, whereby Birkenstocks made their valiant return to the runways a few years ago. Or even look to the most recent collections in New York and London, where Tevas made their way into the fashion landscape and proved they are no longer just for dads who hike. Similarly, vintage clothing was once considered the musty realm of eccentric aunts, before it witnessed a boom of spectacular proportions. So shifting our feelings towards fast fashion shouldn’t be an impossible task either.
We simply need to train ourselves to think of the industry as uncool. Or, more importantly, to think of rampant trend chasing as the very antithesis of cool— which shouldn’t really be that difficult. Because here’s the thing, there is nothing original about looking the same as everyone else. And if the Zara dress Tumblr proves anything, it is that fast fashion is a surefire way to strip all of the individuality out of your look. So if you, like so many other well-dressed women, would prefer to actually express yourself through your clothing, then developing a personal uniform is a far more realistic way of achieving that goal.
So don’t wait for the fashion magazines to tell you that fast fashion and trend chasing is ‘over’; make up your own mind about it. And if you truly do love fashion and respect the craftsmanship behind high-fashion houses like Céline, then you should also be able to respect their right to have their designs protected. Yes, accessibility and democratisation are important in fashion, but so is personal expression and saving the planet wherever possible. There is nothing less original than doing what the fast fashion brands tell you to do at the end of the day and, conversely, there is nothing cooler than just dressing for you.
This article originally appeared on our sister site Well Made Clothes, where you can buy clothes that look good and actually are good, too! Shop new arrivals by labels we think are pretty cool because they’re being responsible in their supply chains.