Imagine you are a college student who has saved every penny you could, paycheck after paycheck, to afford a timeless leather coat. However, by the time you’ve saved up enough, it was bought out from under you. A week later you find the same leather coat on a reseller's website for twice the cost you would have bought it for. That is the price of women’s fashion.
Thrifting has become increasingly popular in recent years and offers a more sustainable, and ethical alternative to fast fashion. Fast fashion is usually created in other countries and often involves labor from women and children that are highly exploitive, as they earn little wages and work in less than ideal conditions. This also makes fashion more accessible by allowing the trading and selling of clothes (with the bonus of store credit). However, in especially women’s fashion, there has been a rise in the commodification of thrifting. As fashion trends ebb and flow, trends fall on and off people's radars. Thus, the mad dash and systematic picking through thrift stores begin. Some never get the chance to be a part of this, because their local thrift store has been run dry by the resellers, who buy up vintage, trending styles and resell them for nearly retail prices. Although it is technically fair game for resellers to do this, it still feels like robbery to the young, often female, college students who can’t afford the newest microtrend.
In today’s day and age, a large contributor to microtrends is apps like TikTok, in which an item of clothing can quickly become popular in seconds if it’s worn by someone with a large following. It feels like, in a matter of weeks, stores like Forever 21 are flooded with the latest, trendiest clothes. It can easily feel exhausting trying to keep up with this, as these trends seem to change around twice a month. In an article titled “What Is A Micro-Trend And How Can It Affect Fashion Sustainability?” from The Lost, author Lizzie Reed, discusses the pace and impact of microtrends. “Micro-trends emerged from this rapid-fire fashion cycle. They come and go quickly, and are usually cheap to purchase, so they're meant to be thrown out when their stylishness has expired. Micro-trends are making fast fashion even faster, which accelerates the wastefulness of the fashion industry.” This high turnover rate can be very stressful for someone trying to keep up with trends due to financial reasons, a situation young working women are no stranger to.
There is then the ethicality of the labor used to create fast fashion, as it’s common knowledge that many corporations use sweatshops in other countries. Micro-trends are unethical because of the waste they create, but also because of who makes them. It is no secret that foreign labor is used by most large fashion companies because it allows them to pay less for labor. More often than not, clothing labels read, “Made In India,” “Made in China,” or “Made in Indonesia.”
Companies that use labor in countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, and Thailand, utilize the work of sweatshops and pay their workers little. The primary workers in these shops are women and children.
In the New York Times article “Made for Next to Nothing. Worn by You?,” Elizabeth Paton discusses the exploitation of the fashion industry in India. Many of these women and children work from their own homes, as opposed to working in a factory. According to the article, the youngest girl interviewed was 10 years old. 19% of these workers were between 10 and 18 years old. A quote from a 36-year-old garment worker truly puts the situation into
perspective saying, “We cannot leave this work even though we are treated so badly. If we leave this work, the company will never give us work again,” (Paton). This goes to show that the consumers of fast fashion are not the only ones that are affected by the inequity of women’s fashion. When we as consumers shop in these stores, do we think about who makes the clothes or how much they earn for making them? Do we consider what their working conditions are? This is just another form of exploitation of women within the fashion industry.
Not only is there the moral cost of creating clothing, but there is also the subsequent value of the clothing itself. In the article from Backdrop Magazine by Helen Widman “Thrifting Offers Affordable and Sustainable Alternative to Fast Fashion,” Widman dives into the history of thrift stores such as Salvation Army and Goodwill, and what they brought to their respective communities in the times they were created. “Time reports that in 1897, the Salvation Army started out of a basement of a men’s shelter, where people lived in exchange for collecting used clothes from their neighbors. According to Time, ‘By 1935, there were nearly 100 Goodwill stores nationwide.’ Thrift stores have only continued to go in and out of fashion ever since,” Thrift stores like this acted as a sustainable clothing option for citizens who couldn’t afford new
clothes all the time, and it still works the same today. However, in today’s world, even second-hand clothing has become a part of fast fashion. In her article, Widman also articulates the affordability and rise of second-hand clothing from the perspective of Trina Gannon, a professor of retail merchandising and fashion product development at Ohio University. Gannon says, “...when prices at thrift stores increase, it becomes more difficult for the people who rely on thrifting to afford it... prices in thrift stores have increased over the years…” Due to the recent popularity in thrifting, the value of second-hand clothing has increased as demand for a limited quantity has created an increased value. However, thrift stores look for the actual value of the clothing, meaning the price is based on the value of the item itself. Therefore, the price increase usually comes from the brand or the popularity of the item.
There then comes websites like Depop, which have become popular amongst re-sellers whose goal is to upsell trending clothes. This is by no means a new idea, as shown by the 34th Street article written by Rema Bhat and titled “The Gentrification of Fashion: Re-Selling on Depop.” Bhat states in her article that this was a popular trend in thrift stores when it was trending to wear tracksuits by brands like Nike and Champion. Apps like Depop make it more accessible to shop; however, there is an issue of ethicality and outrageous pricing. “Sellers buy entire racks of children’s clothes, label them as ‘tweety bird vintage, Y2K style, XS crop top,’ and then sell them for sixty to seventy dollars,” (Bhat). The baby tees should go to the children who would need them rather than being a selling tactic for a seller to make a quick buck. When I was younger, I felt ashamed to tell people that the clothes I was wearing came from a thrift store. I’d usually tell people it was from whatever store aligned with the label on the clothing tag. My mom had taken my sister and me thrift shopping as a more affordable alternative to our, frankly, excessive shopping habits. She made it fun by turning it into a game. The game started with “closet clean-out” where my mother, sister, and I would go through each other's closets and decide what was too old, what was worn out, or just what we didn’t like. Then we’d wash it all and pack it up to take it to the thrift store Crossroads, one of our favorite buy, sell trade stores. We’d try to guess which items they’d take amongst what we knew for sure they wouldn’t, estimating how much store credit we would receive. Once we knew how much we were getting, the shopping began. We combed through every rack to find what was in our size and what was going to be a part of the new look we were trying to achieve, all the while making sure it stayed within budget. It took away the shame of it and made it into a fun game. This is what women’s fashion could be.
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