To follow up on my previous post, let’s discuss a few more things about Fast Fashion.
Who says women love to shop? It’s obviously not true that every woman everywhere loooooves to shop. Personally, I hate shopping. I think it’s boring; it’s time consuming, tedious and expensive. If I have absolutely have to, I prefer to do it online so I don’t have to interact with annoying store clerks and I can try things on in the comfort of my own home. Even women who don’t like to or, more importantly, cannot afford to shop still face societal pressure to do so.
Who defines “cheap”? If you have ever been to Forever 21 or looked at the website I shared, you’d know most of the dresses go for about $20-$30 dollars. Now whether you think a $20 dress is cheap or expensive is a matter of perspective, priority, and relative privilege, but in our current retail structure, a $20 dress is considered cheap both in terms of quality and pricing. I am reminded of German fashion designer Jil Sander, who told the New York Times earlier this summer “My mother always said that we were too poor to buy too cheap.” I also did not have a wealthy upbringing in West Africa (surprise! I’m a WOC!) and this is a philosophy my mother drilled into all her children. We rarely bought new clothes and when we did they were meant to last for years because my younger siblings and cousins would have to get mileage out of them as well. There were no Wal-Mart or Target equivalents in Africa when I was growing up, and the first “mall” in Lagos was built in the late ’90s. So unless you were wearing traditional clothes, western clothes were almost always imported. A lot of our clothing consisted of discarded items from the closets of Americans and Europeans just like you. I hated wearing someone else’s second-hand clothes because they reminded me every day I couldn’t have new clothes like the wealthier kids at my French private school. It’s ironic that, for both admittedly aesthetic and financial reasons, I now do the bulk of my shopping at thrift stores.
What about fat women? I did not address the size issue because I was planning to do so in another post. Just because I shop at vintage/thrift/consignment stores doesn’t mean I’m not aware their politics can be fucked as well. Just last week I had to scratch Mustard Seed, a well-recommended store in the DC metro area off my list because according to the woman on the phone they rarely buy clothes over a size 12. Yes, size 12 because that’s considered plus-size. I don’t have to remind you the average American woman is a size 14. I am bigger than the average American woman. (Surprise! I’m fat!)
What’s style got to do with it? Consumers at Fast Fashion stores are style-conscious. Yes, I know it sounds vain! But shopping at Wal-Mart and shopping at Forever 21 are not one and the same. Fast Fashion thrives on our desire for the latest clothes from magazines and the runway. Styling tips always tell larger women to “dress for their body type”, whatever the hell that means. Yes, I recognize that I am an able-bodied, childless woman and this allows me to take to time experiment with different lengths, patterns, and structures. And it’s still a frustrating process. Many things I try on don’t fit. I’m lucky to have a good friend who will hem my muumuus and turn tube dresses into skirts for me. Even when I go into straight size stores, I try on things that are not marked my size. (Yes, this is style advice, not feminist life advice.) More on fat fashion later…
Why don’t you just stop buying clothes? Take it from an African woman: Western women (and men DUH), in a global context, have unsurpassed buying power. Their choices affect people all over the world. This is not meant to shame anyone but rather to force us to confront our consumer choices. The reason I started this discussion is precisely because I don’t have a good solution to this problem. Actually, no one has a good answer. To those of you that say “stop shopping altogether” I’m glad that’s working out for you because you never have to buy anything ever.
This conversation about women and consumption is not a new one, and probably be culturally relevant for as long as we have to wear clothes. It is especially relevant this week as Inditex, Zara’s parent company, announced its aggressive expansion plans. The company opened more than 90 stores in 29 countries in the first quarter alone. This is American Apparel on crack. Also this week Uniqlo’s parent company, the appropriately named Fast Retailing, outlined plans to launch a non-profit initiative in Bangladesh, alongside Grameen Bank, that would create jobs for garment workers. This venture would produce high quality items that cost around $1. While they currently only have plans to sell to Bangladeshis, this and similar nonprofit approaches would go a long way in improving Western women’s cheap clothing options- allowing them to buy stylish clothes that aren’t quite as harmful to women in other parts of the world.
In the meantime, I am trying to make small, practical changes in my life. You can decide what changes work for you.