Summer is a season tailor-made for indulging in fast fashion. Trumpet-sleeved peasant blouses, paisley-patterned jumpsuits, and perfectly torn jean shorts beckon from the windows of H&M and Old Navy, available at the pocket-change prices of $17.95 to $34.95. And since summer trends stick around about as long as the warm weather, it’s tempting to satisfy our impulses with pieces that require such little investment. I myself just purchased a pair of faux-patent-leather tasseled platform loafers from Forever 21 online for a cool $29.90. But at what cost?
First and foremost, so-called fast fashion supports an industry that often exploits workers who toil in uncomfortable and unsafe conditions. Two years ago, the world’s worst-ever garment-factory accident took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, claiming the lives of 1,129 people and injuring more than 2,500 more. The industry is also bad for the environment from both a production and waste standpoint: A single T-shirt requires 700 gallons of water to create; meanwhile, the average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing every year.
While some fast-fashion companies are dipping their toes into sustainable practices and eco-friendly items—such as H&M’s Conscious Collection, made from eco-fibers ranging from organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles, Tencel (derived from plant cellulose), and hemp—they’re merely scratching the surface of the problem.
At the same time, a new development in manufacturing is slowly but surely taking hold. “Slow fashion” is a sustainable fashion movement with a big-picture perspective: from slowing the rate of one’s fashion consumption to choosing classic pieces that transcend trends and are also American-made, sustainable, high-quality, and transparent in their design process.
Two of the movement’s newest innovators have local ties. Mavenhaus Collective is an e-commerce website that launched earlier this year by St. Paul–based PR and marketing professional Tara Schlosser, and her sister, the popular Oregon lifestyle blogger Traci French. Several times a month, Mavenhaus stocks its site with limited-edition pieces by independent designers—some of which only go into production when enough customers have committed to purchasing them.
“We wanted to help people change the way they approach how they dress,” says Schlosser, “and take inventory of what they have and realize it makes more sense to spend a little more—and in our case, wait a little bit longer—to have pieces that are well-made and last a lifetime, and be proud of knowing where they came from.”
Zady, a New York-based e-commerce site that sells goods that meet rigid standards of ethical production, promises transparency when it comes to where and how each product it sells is made. Last year, the company—founded by Minnesota natives Maxine Bédat and Soraya Darabi—launched its own private label.
“Some people slap on a label saying something is green without that being the case,” notes Darabi. But by going through the design process from start to finish, they were able to verify that their line met the Zady standards.
Though I won’t give up fast fashion completely, I have my eye on an organic cotton, American-made Zady pocket tee to go with my Forever 21 loafers.