The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Last year, I began a minimalist wardrobe project, with the goal of buying fewer items of clothing over the months and years to come. In the process, I found myself evaluating my clothes more meticulously, shopping for styles and fabrics with longevity and versatility. But there was one factor I didn't really consider: where do my clothes come from? 

Thanks to a reader's recommendation, I recently watched The True Cost, a documentary about "fast fashion" and its drastic ethical and environmental implications. Clothing production has increased by 400% in the last decade, largely due to the growth of fast-fashion sellers like H&M, Zara, Topshop and other retail giants offering an ever-changing selection of cheap, trendy clothes. The film takes us to sweatshops in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the site of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1,000 garment-industry workers. One female worker, who began her job with a monthly salary of $10, reveals that after she attempted to organize a union to advocate for safe and equitable working conditions, she and other employees were locked up in the factory and beaten. In a particularly emotional scene, she states, "I believe these clothes are produced by our blood."

The documentary also examines the frightening toll of fast fashion on the planet. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil. The toxic chemicals used to produce fabrics have caused a surge of health issues and birth defects. Donating our clothing, which often eases our consciences, is not a viable solution; the film reports that the majority of donated clothing ends up in landfills or is shipped out to developing countries, destroying their local garment businesses. 

One of the main reasons I took a huge step back from blogging and social media is that my blog was promoting a form of consumerism that I had come to question. The affiliate program I joined, from which I have since unaffiliated myself, is a huge advertising engine for fast fashion, perpetuating "haul culture" and incentivizing members to "create a sense of urgency" (their words, not mine) in marketing items to readers. I enjoy fashion. However, it's a little perverse that people are being paid handsomely to say "I bought this shirt!" while the people who made the shirt aren't paid enough to live with dignity. When I decided to live with less stuff, I realized that social media was constantly bombarding me with messages to buy more.

No love of clothing should override one's regard for human welfare or the environment. The True Cost offers few solutions to the issues it exposes, and from a little research, I understand that the solutions are far more complicated than simply replacing one kind of consumerism with another. We need to consume less, and policies need to change. We can't ignore the argument that sweatshops lift people out of extreme poverty, even if we question its soundness. But we are all consumers, and it's undeniable that the small decisions of many people -- shopping 10% less, demanding transparency, finding ethical and sustainable alternatives to fast-fashion fabrics and practices -- can make a positive difference. 

As I research more into these issues, I also hope to reconcile my love of fashion with my responsibility to reduce my own consumption. I highly recommend the documentary; its message is easy to ignore but, for me, impossible to forget.

Beyonce x Botticelli

What do you get when you mix classic art and hip hop? The blog and apparel line Fly Art Productions, whose graphic tees, tanks, and sweatshirts combine lyrics from Beyonce, Kanye, Fergie et al. with the masterpieces you studied in art history 101. Created by Gisella Velasco and Toni Poteciano, the mashups lead to some hilariously (ir)reverent spins on famous paintings and their subjects. Here are a few of my favorite pieces: though I'm not usually a wearer of graphic tees, I'm ordering the Beyonce x Botticelli sweatshirt and wishing for this Destiny's Child number in a canine-sized tee. #RenaissanceSwag

// Shop Fly Art at Rad.co and see more at flyartproductions.tumblr.com

The Wardrobe Edit: Season 1

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About three months ago, I cleared out my closet and decided to change my shopping habits. From that point forward, I would buy fewer, better-quality clothing and end up with a minimal wardrobe of classic, versatile, and well-constructed pieces. Here's a little update on how the wardrobe edit has gone so far.

My modus operandi is the 5 Piece Wardrobe method, which I tailored to my own needs. Strictly speaking, 5 Piece Wardrobe means purchasing just five items per fashion season (spring/summer = season one, autumn/winter = season two) in addition to your basics. But, because my wardrobe needed significant replenishing, I'm considering each season three months long. The trade-off is that I'm strict about what I include in the five items and what I consider a basic. The five items extend to anything wearable: accessories (shoes, jewellery, etc., outside of a few basics) count.

Over the past three months (March, April, May), I purchased:

1. Slouchy Grey Sweater
2. Lightweight Spring Parka
3. "Gizeh" Birkenstocks
4. Chambray Buttondown
5. "The Rocket" Jeans

Perhaps a couple of these could be basics, but I limited my "free-pass" basics this season to: t-shirts in neutral colors and a pair of black ballet flats.

My new shopping strategy means picking quality over quantity, sticking to a plan, and resisting the urge to impulse-buy. My plan for the five items changed a few times, but in the end I was extremely happy with the items I purchased. (Also, by some miracle, there's color in my wardrobe!) I did have some moments of temptation: recently I wanted to cheat on my 5 Piece Wardrobe resolution in order to buy this, these, and this. The advantages of shopping this way? I only buy things I know I'll wear for the long-term, I think more about constructing outfits when I go shopping, and I feel truly satisfied when I add an item to my closet. As I continue building a solid wardrobe, I hope to purchase fewer items each season and become more informed about where my clothing comes from.

So now we switch seasons: onto warmer, no-coats-required weather and the hunt for the perfect day-to-night skirt. What have you been wearing lately?

Defining Your Style

If you're trying to streamline your wardrobe, it helps to define your sense of style and stick to it. That's one of the main challenges I've faced so far in my Five Piece Wardrobe mission. There's little room to flirt with fleeting trends -- with a strict limit on how many items I can add per season, I can't really afford to purchase an item I won't wear more than a handful of times. In fact, ideally every item I purchase coheres with the other items in my wardrobe. (This is slightly easier when you remember that basics are your best friends.)

There are a few tips that have helped me define my sense of style and ensure I'm satisfied with every item in my closet.

1. Know which cuts, shapes, and colors flatter you, and which are better in theory or on others. This takes a bit of trial and error and a lot of honesty. I know that no matter how much I love them when I see them, I generally avoid riding boots, pastels, collared button-ups (with rare exceptions), and anything too frilly.

2. Collect your ideas. Create a board on Pinterest dedicated to defining your style. Pin only things you'd really wear on an everyday basis to this board (save those fabulous evening gowns for a different board). Look for inspiration by searching your favorite brands and style icons. Look at everything in unison, and edit accordingly. When I'm shopping, I keep this board in mind; if the item in question doesn't fit into the aesthetic I've defined via the board, it's probably a no-go. Lately I've been pinning away to my style board on Pinterest: it's currently filled with black, denim, stripes, and probably a bit too much knitwear for my own good. The picture of Doutzen Kroes in REPEAT makes me want to head to the beach with a giant cashmere scarf/wrap, an item for all seasons. Too much to ask?

3. Deliberate. Love at first sight might truly exist (at least, when it comes to clothing!); nevertheless, these days I rarely purchase an item the first time I see it. And if I do, I don't snip off the tags and wear it straightaway. Sometimes, after trying it on a few times with the other items in my closet, I find it's not the best fit.

Any helpful tips for defining your style? 

The Wardrobe Edit

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I'm currently in the midst of annual wardrobe spring cleaning, in which I go through all my clothes and donate the items I no longer wear. I always feel a bit of buyer's remorse when I realize how much I clear out, so from now on I've promised myself to stick to one style resolution: "Less is more." A minimalist wardrobe makes a lot of sense to me because I gravitate towards a simple, clean look, and even though my closet feels cluttered, I tend to reach for the same favorite pieces over and over again. Conclusion: I don't really need that much stuff, just good quality things I'll wear until they're worn out.

There are a couple of different "movements" in the blogging community that have inspired me to edit down my closet and adopt a more minimalist attitude towards wardrobing. First, Cuyana's Lean Closet Series spotlights bloggers at various stages of creating and maintaining a "leaner" closet. Another idea you might know is the 5 Piece French Wardrobe, popularized by Sabrina from AFTERDRK. The 5 Piece Wardrobe entails some strict rules; most importantly, you cannot buy more than five items in a season. Practicioners of the 5 Piece Wardrobe define "season" either as a fashion season (six months!) or a calendar season of three months. Basics like socks, tees, underwear and gym attire don't count; everything else does. As you can imagine, editing down your wardrobe means really planning your purchases... no impulse buys allowed! It also means being pickier about what you purchase, always choosing quality over quantity.

I started 5 Piece Wardrobing at the beginning of March (for now, I'm using the slightly more forgiving rule that a season = three months). The sweater you see above is item 1/5, so I have an allowance of four more items until the start of June. Next on my shopping list is the perfect pair of black ballerina flats, to wear with ankle-skimming skinny jeans in the warmer months ahead. I want to invest in a pair that I can keep for years; Repetto is on my radar, and although these Unützer ballet flats from Peter Hahn are a pretty penny, I love the fact that they're made at a small, family-run workshop in Italy. Buying fewer goods gives you a little more room to invest in higher quality fabrics and ethical production practices, something I am admittedly very ignorant about.

I'll be sharing my minimalist style adventures here. Anyone else doing something similar? And if you have suggestions for the perfect ballet flat, please send them my way!