Tam­ing a fast fash­ion habit

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By Lindsey Kauf­man

It’s af­ford­able, trendy and ex­acts a big cost on the planet.

In­ever thought I’d have an epiphany in my closet. But af­ter the shame­ful dis­cov­ery that I was re­peat­ing the same five items while ig­nor­ing the rest of my mam­moth wardrobe, I chal­lenged my­self to wear ev­ery­thing I own (with a few ex­cep­tions like cock­tail at­tire) within six months or lose it for­ever. I posted each out­fit on so­cial me­dia. I even asked for help de­cid­ing what to keep (fi­nally) and what to do­nate. I had no idea my Wear Your Whole Closet Chal­lenge would for­ever al­ter the way I feel about shop­ping and fash­ion.

Month 1 — Au­gust — was pretty straight­for­ward. Pull some­thing out of my closet, wear it, post about it, de­cide its fate, re­peat. Septem­ber was com­pa­ra­ble. But by Oc­to­ber, I’d come to a star­tling re­al­iza­tion: Fast fash­ion was my dear friend and my mor­tal en­emy. I’m re­fer­ring to wildly af­ford­able, trendy stores like Zara, H&M, For­ever21 and the on­line killer, ASOS.

Shop­ping has al­ways been a high for me. That lit­tle jolt of adren­a­line I get from buy­ing or wear­ing some­thing new is ab­so­lutely le­gal, a hit I can get as long as I can af­ford it. In my 20s when cash was tight, fancy bou­tiques were not an op­tion, but the fast fash­ion out­posts were. Now, in my older, more suc­cess­ful years, I haven’t bro­ken the habit. When I can find an Is­abel Marant knock­off pant or a blouse that’s prac­ti­cally iden­ti­cal to one I saw walk down the run­way dur­ing Fash­ion Week but for a quar­ter (or less) of the price, who can blame me?

Then again, maybe like me you’ve suf­fered the hu­mil­i­a­tion of dis­cov­er­ing a gar­ment in your closet that was pur­chased a year, two years, even a decade ago, with the price tag still in­tact. In Month 3 of mak­ing my way through my closet over­flow, I came upon two pieces, two days in a row, taunt­ing me with their damn­ing, un­cut price tags. A crisp white but­ton-down from Zara: $35. A print For­ever21 dress that prac­ti­cally blinked $15.50 at me like a neon sign. I wore them both in the spirit of the chal­lenge, but it was still a re­tail rev­e­la­tion: Fast fash­ion equals some­thing close to zero com­mit­ment.

I’m into the last month of my project and, so far, I haven’t found any tag-on items that cost $100 or $200 or more. Those pur­chases re­quire thought. If I’m go­ing to pay that amount for some­thing, it means I’m ded­i­cated to it; I wear it. But a gar­ment that costs less than $50 I may just grab and hope it works out, like that fuzzy Mup­pet-like sweater I adore to­day but will end up hat­ing in a few months. It’s not ir­ra­tional, but it is quite tax­ing to your closet, not to men­tion the planet.

I thought this prob­lem might be lim­ited to peo­ple like me, with a love of fash­ion and a pos­si­ble shop­ping ad­dic­tion. Or for those like my hus­band, Dan, who be­fore a trip an­nounces he’s “go­ing to do laun­dry,” which I know means buy­ing half of a new wardrobe at Uniqlo. Turns out, we’re far from the only of­fend­ers. A Newsweek ar­ti­cle from last year de­tails how fast fash­ion is “caus­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis” as Amer­i­cans throw out a shock­ing 14 mil­lion tons of cloth­ing each year — 80 pounds per per­son — most of which ends up in land­fills or an in­cin­er­a­tor.

I’ve al­ways done reg­u­lar cloth­ing purges and felt good about mak­ing do­na­tions to non­prof­its like Salvation Army or Good­will. Some­times I re­sell gar­ments in con­sign­ment shops or on sites like the Real Real or Posh­mark. How­ever, char­i­ties are only able to sell around 20% of such do­na­tions. (The other 80% prob­a­bly end up at a tex­tile re­cy­cler.) And sec­ond-hand shops and con­sign­ment sites re­ject fast fash­ion be­cause the qual­ity isn’t great, the re­sale value is low, and there’s just too much of it out there.

Ac­tu­ally, fast fash­ion is made to not last, en­sur­ing per­pet­ual shop­ping. Zara, my per­sonal fash­ion kryp­tonite, has an un­con­ven­tional busi­ness model that cre­ates even more de­mand: Un­like other re­tail­ers that up­date their stock once a sea­son, the Span­ish-based brand re­stocks with lim­ited sup­plies of new de­signs twice a week, en­cour­ag­ing cus­tomers to come back often and buy im­me­di­ately or risk los­ing the op­por­tu­nity.

Sev­eral brands have rec­og­nized their role in this throw­away cul­ture. H&M cre­ated a “Con­scious” line, made from re­cy­cled tex­tiles. They also offer a 10% dis­count to cus­tomers who bring in 5 items to do­nate. Levi’s is work­ing on jeans made of re­cy­cled cot­ton from old Tshirts. But that barely scratches the sur­face of the waste cri­sis.

I am no role model when it comes to cur­tail­ing buy­ing. But my wear-it-or-lose it ex­per­i­ment has had a huge im­pact on the way I think about con­sump­tion. “Min­i­mal­ist” will never ap­pear on my grave­stone, but I now have a deep de­sire to own less. I can’t say I won’t ever in­dulge in im­pulse shop­ping again, but I do think we can all make an ef­fort to buy con­sciously.

Ask your­self, “Do I really love or ac­tu­ally need this?” Then, pic­ture that top or skirt in a land­fill over­flow­ing with cloth­ing, and ask your­self again.

Lindsey Kauf­man is a writer in Brook­lyn. You can vote on what clothes she should keep or jet­ti­son on In­sta­gram @weary­our­w­hole­closet or weary­our­w­hole­closet.com.

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