Contrary to appearances, shopping is not my favourite activity in life. I know that many people, who think they know me better than they actually do, will gasp in shock when (and if) they read that sentence. I love clothes. I adore doing my preliminary research, the organizing of my wardrobe, the list-making. But then I should very much like to be able to conjure up, as if by magic, exactly the right item that I need and want for each identified niche in my closet. Ha. If only that were possible.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I decided that I needed at least one more sleeveless top for summer. Either white or a neutral colour that would go with all my jeans and pants. Even black would do. I already have a gorgeous, gauzy, layered black tank from Rag and Bone that I bought last spring to take on our France trip. I wore it out for dinner a lot last summer, and even as part of a dressy outfit at Christmas. But I don't want to wear it for everyday dashing out to the library, or for lunch on a very hot day. Simply because I don't want to ruin it.
I've never been much of a "fast fashion" shopper. I don't usually shop at "fast fashion" stores like Zara, H&M, or Forever Twenty-one. I hate shopping at Winners, even though most of my friends swear by it. I never find anything I like, which fits me properly. But when I retired I thought I should use some of my extra time, now that I'm not working, to expand my shopping horizons, look further afield and maybe save money. So, off I went two weeks ago. In search of a not too expensive, sleeveless top, that flattered my shape, and could be worn with a lot of things I already own. This is the knitted tank that I finally found at Aritzia. Finally. Found. But let me begin the story at the beginning.
I started my search at Zara. They had a ton of sleeveless tops, many in white. I set aside the ones that were too short, too sheer, too girly, and the ones with makeup stains around the neck. Seriously, I counted five stained tops on the rack. Eventually, I drew this to the attention of the harassed-looking young clerk whose primary job, it seemed, was lugging tops out of the dressing rooms and putting them back on the rack. I gestured to one blouse, and said, "There's makeup on several of these." She sighed, and replied, "That's because people pull them over their heads and smear their foundation or lipstick on the shirt." "I realize that," I said, "but I'm not going to buy a top with makeup on it." I said this gently, even kind of apologetically. I wasn't complaining, but I was flummoxed that they would restock a stained item. She just sighed, and said they could probably find me another one in the back if I wanted one. As it happened all six tops I took to the dressing room looked terrible. Even at a fraction of the cost of my Rag and Bone tank, I knew they weren't worth the price. Not if I'd never wear them. I handed them to the clerk when I exited, glad that at least I hadn't smeared blush or lipstick on any of them, and moved on to the next store. I tried two more stores before I gave up, bought a packet of English Breakfast tea, and headed for home. I'd much rather be drinking tea and reading my book on the deck.
As I was driving home, I thought ruefully that "fast fashion" wasn't fast at all. Pretty slow in fact. What with having to trawl through racks and racks of cheap stuff I'd probably never wear, dragging five or six items into the dressing room, then when none of them fit, having to get dressed again and go in search of different styles or sizes myself because I couldn't find a salesperson to help. And in the end driving home empty handed anyway. So if "fast fashion" is slow and frustrating... and often futile... I guess you could say I'm all in favour of its antithesis. In fact, I think I've been an advocate of "slow fashion" all my life. I just didn't know it was a thing.
Apparently "Slow Fashion" is a term coined in 2007 by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in the UK. The supporters of "Slow Fashion" talk about quality and durability of products, conscious consumption, ethical production, and sustainability. Kate Fletcher says that fast fashion is "about greed, not speed." That fast fashion retailers make their money through sheer volume of sales, cheap prices, and the quick lead time from runway, through 'knock-off' design, to sales rack. And that quick turn-over and cheap prices are "only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources." Another article I read said that in 2013, fueled by the availability of cheap fashionable fashion, the average American purchased 70 items of clothing a year. Sheesh. Is it just me, or does that seem like a lot?
But let's get back to my fast fashion adventure. I made two more trips before I finally found the black knit tank from Aritzia. It was more expensive than the ones I tried at Zara and at countless other stores the names of which I cannot recall. But I liked the split seams at the sides, the longer hem in the back, and the high neck. It looks good with all my jeans. And with these black crepe joggers which I bought at Aritzia last year. I like the tank and joggers with this grey cotton cardigan, bought last year from my favourite locally owned store Green Tree Eco Fashion, and my flat sandals.
The new tank is long enough to make me feel covered and comfortable in these green stretchy, skinny jeans, below, which I bought at TNT in Toronto in 2014. And I can pull on my trusty Helmet Lang jacket from last spring if I want. I'm throwing in the names of shops and dates to emphasize that, besides the black tank from Aritzia, nothing I have on is new this year.... except for the silver stud earrings in the first two photos which I bought to go with my new haircut. Not to get sidetracked, but I'm finding that I prefer small jewellry with my new curly hair, and so I've lately eschewed my big hoops which I used to live in. The small green dangling earrings that I have on below are vintage. From my mum's jewellry box. Thanks Mum.
As has become my tendency when I write posts like this one, I've been chasing my tail for several days now. Reading way too many articles on slow fashion, fast fashion, ethical trade practices, exploitative labour practices, where to buy your clothes, where not to buy your clothes. It's all quite confusing. I just did a quick audit of my closet and found that out of the 36 items I checked, only 14 were made in Canada or the US. The rest were made for the most part in China, a couple in Vietnam, and one in India. All places where exploitative labour practices are legendary. Does that make me a bad shopper? A non-ethical shopper? According to some, it does. Then I read The Myth of the Ethical Shopper and felt a little better... but not much.
So what does a basically ethical person, who loves clothes, do about this whole conundrum? Well, according to some sources we should pay attention to where our clothing is made, and if possible choose to buy brands which use "ethical manufacturing practices." Which is all well and good if you can figure out how to reliably identify those companies. Good luck with that. But slow fashion proponents also say you could buy less, buy local, or buy vintage. And learn how to take care of your clothes to make them last, and how to mend things. I'd add to that to buy quality pieces, if you can. Owning a good piece of clothing (no matter where it was made) is the best motivation for caring for it properly, in my books.
I also know that my frustrating fast fashion experience has made me value my buddy Liz, who works at Nordstrom, sooo much more. Because while I love clothes and fashion, I don't necessarily love shopping. Not all shopping. And especially not frustrating, futile shopping. But when I can swan into Nordstrom and find something like my new blue dress so easily that Liz and I even have time afterward to go for coffee. Well... what's not to love about that?
Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Friday Finds at Forage Fashion.