Twenty-five years ago, the thought of clothing being disposable was foreign to most Americans. Now, a trip to the mall (or a virtual trip to an online shop) every time styles change is as common as a trip to the corner store or local coffee stand. Enter: fast fashion.
Fast fashion, an industry-coined term, refers to any inexpensive–and dirt cheap–poorly made copy of a runway trend that goes out of style almost as quickly as it comes into style. In turn, fast fashion is sold at retail chain stores like Zara and Forever 21. [Source: LEAF.tv]
The garments are constructed haphazardly, in hazardous conditions in developing countries such as Bangladesh, which tend to have looser labor laws and can pay their workers (the equivalent of) just pennies a day. As Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed states, cheap fashion has a high cost on both the environment and human life.
The frequency with which Americans buy clothes is higher than ever. This is thanks to fast fashion. Americans once spent their money on clothing much more wisely; they bought far less, but the quality of their clothing was far superior than the quality of most clothing on the market today. And, most of it was made on U.S. territory in Manhattan’s—you guessed it—Garment District. Now, the Garment District is full of restaurants, hotels, yoga studios, bookstores and just about anything besides textiles.
Marked by faded advertisements, manufacturing-related businesses in the Garment District, such as Mood Fabrics (as seen on Project Runway), are difficult to find and even trickier to get to. While the mood inside Mood is peaceful, bright and of course, colorful, the route there—which includes a trip through a set of commonplace glass doors and an ambiguous elevator ride—is a different story, and one that is filled with ghosts of the Garment District’s history obstructed by 21st century businessmen and –women. According to CoStar, the high-rise in which Mood is housed, known as Bricken Arcade, is currently leased at 92.7 percent capacity, yet only 18 percent of lessees work in retail/wholesale or manufacturing.
Clothing sold in modern-day American malls comes from a much different scene than Manhattan’s Garment District. There are no briefcase-carrying, Armani-suit-clad men and women; there are only small children and women working–some may say “slaving”–in sweaty and downright dangerous and dirty conditions. They are at risk to tragedies like the May 2015 footwear factory fire in Philippines that killed nearly 80. While these foreign factories may be able to give Americans more garments for a lower monetary price, is this manufacturing strategy worth the lives it takes?
Eco-friendly brands like Reformation seek to combat this global crisis by constructing their garments responsibly in downtown Los Angeles from green materials. In fact, the brand is so transparent that their carbon footprint–which is measured by the sustainability research team using the RefScale–can easily be found on its website. They are a part of what American lawyer and fashion writer Julie Zerbo calls the “slow fashion” industry.
Following Reformation’s 2009 launch, blogger-turned-designer Rumi Neely created her namesake brand Are You Am I in 2014, which is made entirely in downtown LA. Both these brands gained popularity through new and social media, offering hope that America’s youth may be steering away from fast fashion in favor of more sustainable and prosocial practices.