Eco-Friendly Living, Natural Living

The Business of Fast Fashion

I always get depressed when I shop.

I go into it excited enough. I like keeping up with the trends, I like looking good, and ever since I ditched the big cities of my past life (Toronto and Calgary) I feel like I am hyper-aware of how I present myself lest I come out looking like a country bumpkin. Seriously some days I look in the mirror and think to myself, “Jesus Madeleine. Get it together!”

So I do get excited about shopping – I talk about these boots or this shirt, or how all I want in the world is a thick chunky cable knit sweater for fall. I save my pennies and plan the trip and then when I go, when I find myself in a mall or in a clothing store or wandering in and out of dozens of shops on a congested downtown street I buy…nothing.

I find myself overwhelmed and angsty, the whole thing – the chaos and noise and pounding music, the racks upon racks of clothing, the people around me in jeans so crisp they look like they’ve only been worn twice – it subsumes me and I run and I never buy anything.

I think this is why online shopping appeals to me, I can take three weeks to make my decision and there’s no line up behind me impatiently tapping their feet, no friend surreptitiously checking their watch to see if it has really taken me eighteen minutes to decide whether to pull the trigger on this purchase. But I am a strange body type – all broad shoulders and no hips, long in the limbs but short torso-ed. Small busted but wide ribbed. I mean I never know how anything will look and basically what I am saying is that, for me, shopping is the opposite of cathartic.

For me, clothes shopping is an exercise in frustration, middle class guilt, first world guilt, environmental guilt, in depth questioning of ethics and morals and jesus, I just wanted a sweater, dammit!

One day on my last trip to Victoria, I found myself in this exact conundrum. I was wandering through the aisles of a behemoth H&M store in a daze, gazing at mounds of $5 tee shirts and racks of shoes that looked like they’d fall apart in the rain. I think my sister was buying a shirt dress or something so I was standing in line with her, internally bemoaning the state of our world:

We are screwed. I mean we, as a society, are so hugely, terribly fucked. How is a tee-shirt five dollars? How is that even possible? The fabric alone! And then the labour, the packaging, shipping, tagging, stocking, advertising, selling… How is that five dollars? This is so wrong. Look at those seams. This was totally made by a child. A child in a sweatshop. Making five dollar tee-shirts for twelve hours a day, all so someone like me could wear it for six months and then donate it to goodwill. But everything I’m wearing was probably made by a sweatshop. Oh, god we are disgusting. I hate the world. I need some refined sugar.

You know. Your fairly typical Madeleine internal monologue (my head is a delightful place).

Then at the cash register I saw a brochure promoting a Garment Collecting Initiative. You can bring clothes – old clothes, any clothes, non-H&M clothes, whatever – to your local store and the clothes are sorted and graded and either repurposed into new items or recycled into new materials, or burned to create energy.

I mean, that’s something, right? Maybe we’re not all so terrible after all! I took a brochure intending to write about it and never did because I don’t have a memory anymore. It’s horrific. And embarrassing.

Did I tell you how we almost missed our flight to Ottawa because I thought it was 4pm and it was actually 3pm? Then we missed dinner with my uncle because I told him “tomorrow” on Friday thinking it was Saturday so I thought dinner was Sunday but he made it Saturday and we missed it and I felt so terrible that I cried? That is the state of my memory these days.

I blame Olive.

Anyway, I never told you about this initiative, which is right up my alley because it marries my extreme fashion-neuroses with my extreme love of environmental initiatives and recycling and here we are today, finally talking about it!

What reminded me was a sweet lady named Zoe, who contacted me to see if I would share a video about the business of fast fashion with my readers, since it seemed in line with my interests. I said, “Sure!” and then never did. Because I forgot.

And then Zoe contacted me again and I apologized profusely and promised again to watch it and share it with you, and again I forgot and no video was shared, nor was it watched. THERE WAS NO VIDEO WATCHING TO BE HAD. DAMN YOU, OLIVE!

Zoe is possibly the most persistent and patient lady I have ever met, because thank god she emailed me again today and it wasn’t even to say, “For god’s sake Madeleine, get it together!”, but instead to gently inquire if I had the chance to watch the film yet.

Zoe, I am so sorry. And, yes! I watched it! It was only a minute long, and featured the same whiteboard drawing-style explanation as one of my other favourite edu-shorts, The Story of Stuff (also a must-watch, and the genesis of much of my current consumer-neuroses, thanks so much).

It is exactly what I worry about, and exactly what I wished more people would worry about, and possibly do something about because I feel crazy being the only one so conflicted about a $5 tee-shirt. I talk about throwaway fashion in my book, along with suggesting some simple ways to combat it, and this little film does a great job of explaining why that is important.

So here it is! Just like I promised Zoe approximately four weeks ago (again, so sorry.)

[ If the video isn’t embedding you can watch it here]

Currently 300 retailers have signed on to the sustainable clothing action plan, and honestly it makes me feel a little bit better. H&M is taking a step in the right direction and you must have hope in situations like these, right?

Maybe if I think about the positive effect of this initative enough I will even be able to buy myself a sweater, finally!

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  • Reply Romina October 4, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    Great post. Clothing exchange parties are fun! What’s better than some wine, food, girlfriends, and new clothes? 🙂

    • Reply sweetmadeleine October 14, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      Ooh, I need to get some of these going!

      • Reply Romina October 15, 2013 at 7:25 PM

        I think this would have been a favourite Party Gang activity 😉

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