As I was preparing to give a seminar on fast fashion, it occurred to me that I had never actually tried to shop for sustainable clothing in my own community. Since I own a clothing store, I haven’t needed to go elsewhere for the past seven years with the exception of buying a few special dresses for weddings, etc…
Let me begin this story by saying that I loathe going to the mall. The only reason I ever go there is to do style research or to shop for the afore mentioned special dresses. However, I knew that in order to sufficiently find out if there was sustainable fashion in Kennesaw, Georgia, I would have to enter the gates of….the mall.
I knew this was going to require asking the sales associates questions about their merchandise, but I didn’t expect to engage in such meaningful discussion with so many young women. Everywhere I went, I was warmly greeted and enjoyed lengthy discussions. No one I met had ever heard of Ecologie, and certainly did not seem to be aware of what the fast fashion industry was, but I left encouraged that there are smart young women out there who were ready to learn.
I did not go in to every boutique or store on this trip, but I am excited about returning soon to visit the rest. My goal was simple. Could I find sustainable fashion at Town Center Mall in Kennesaw, Georgia? Next, I wanted to know if the store employees knew anything about their company’s efforts to be sustainable (or if they even tried?). I can answer both of those questions by saying, “very little, if any at all.”
One store manager took me to a product that is made in the USA, and was sourced from a renewable bamboo. She worked at My Story, a locally owned boutique. Granted, there was only one product in the entire store, but she knew where it was, and more importantly, understood what I was asking for. I happily purchased that item, because I am a firm believer in putting your money where your mouth is. Talk is cheap right?
I also visited the two, big fast fashion brands at the mall, H&M and Forever 21. What I found was to be expected, cheaply made clothing that hit every new “must have” trend. I looked at tags, quality, and design and compared them to the clothing I had seen in the smaller boutiques. In general, if you are going to shop at non-sustainable stores, buy from the higher quality boutiques such as Francesca’s or Brooklyn’s. These stores do not support sustainability at this time, but the quality of their products is much superior to H&M and Forever 21, which means their pieces will hold up through washing and drying more than the one or two times. Also, some smaller boutiques are locally owned which is good for our local economy.
Overall, I was encouraged by the people I met while being disappointed in the merchandise I found, but there was one thing that defined my trip. In H&M and Forever 21, I saw shirts that said “girl power”, and “women are the future”. There is currently a movement in our country that is telling young women they can do and be anything they want. Many of these empowered young women will purchase “girl power” type clothing to express themselves. What they will not think about is the women who made that shirt: young or underaged girls slaving away in a sweatshop somewhere in Bangladesh, being paid less than a fair wage. Often, these garment workers are beaten if they complain or try to improve their circumstances. They are not empowered. They are enslaved by fast fashion.
I don’t blame anyone for being unaware of this issue. Most Americans are blissfully uneducated about the origins of their clothing and the costs it has on human and environmental health. We have a long way to go just to scratch the surface of fast fashion and begin the process of becoming a sustainable community. I hope you will join me in learning what we can do to be a part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.