The Truth Behind that 10 Dollars Dress

For some reason, the issue of sustainability in fashion has been popping up everywhere in my life lately. Not that I was completely unaware or unconscientious about the issue previously, but for some unseen force of attraction, I have been gravitating towards the topic through multiple informational interviews and fashion podcasts.

Sustainability: To keep a ecosystem or an industry working in such a way that the environment is not depleted in natural resources for the long run.

The conversation sparked in a coffee chat between me and an Art school grad, Peter, who went to NYC to pursue fashion design. My lovely art adviser connected us via email, and the click was almost instant. Peter shared his intern experience in NYC and touched upon the amount of waste produced in the fashion industry and how it has been corrupting the entire ecosystem. He reflected that although clearly he is passionate about fashion, merely designing for the sake of producing collections to sell is not his calling. He suggested me to listen to the American Fashion Podcast during my downtime to learn more.

Listening to his advice, I tuned in the podcast while working over night alone in my studio. An episode featuring Simon Collins, the former Dean of Fashion Design at Parsons, pointed arrows at the vicious cycle of fast fashion.

While Collins is a fan of H&M and a consultant for their sustainability strategies, he reflected that the brand is in no means a savior to the problem. He also mentioned the undeniable convenience of fast fashion for people with lower income (aka. college students).

Fast fashion and cheap clothes has been so ingrained in our daily lives that it is extremely difficult to change our shopping habits at once. Being constantly broke college students, most of us can only fuel our passion for fashion and style through shopping at H&M, Forever 21, Zara and maybe occasionally sale at Aritzia and Nordstrom Rack. We are glad that these stores exist to offer that $10 party dress when we are in need, while we throw the issue of sustainability behind the back of our heads.

So we can’t just blame it on the factories or the designers. We as customers hold responsibility. Bloggers and Influencers who encourage a completely different outfit every 3 hours hold responsibility. We as millennials shopping online excessively just because shipping was free hold responsibility.

So, what can we do?

  1. Well, first thing is the dilemma between NEED vs. WANT.

Ask yourself candidly do you really need a new $20 dress for this party tonight? Or can you move your creative juices and assemble an outfit. Are there at least 3 occasions you can think of wearing this particular garment? Are you impulse buying after work because you spilled coffee all over your MacBook? Are you blindly following trends?

2. Then, while trying the dress at the fitting, ask yourself again.

Does this satin navy mid-calf dress really look that much different from the midnight blue velvet skater dress you bought 2 weeks ago? How is the fit? Are you lying to yourself that maybe after losing 10 pounds, it will fit just right? Does the material even feel nice or does it just look nice and won’t even last 2 machine washes?

3. Lastly as you approach the cashier, think about your depleting savings and poor children.

Your bank account is bleeding. How much you will save by refraining to buy a $20 dress in a year (say, twice a month, then it’s $480! That’s enough for enrolling in a online course at Parsons). Then think one last time about all the crying children in Bangladesh trying to sew up this dress late at night…

Thinking about our shopping habits is just as important as spreading the knowledge about sustainability. After all, every social change start with ourselves. Not everyone is an outspoken activist, not everyone has the platform to express our views, but the littlest thing like not buying a dress can spark unexpected ripple effects in your community and beyond.

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