Yes, it’s true that trendy looks can be found for super cheap at fast fashion stores and large chain retailers like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M. However, it is important to think about what is being perpetuated when people choose to give their money to these types of retailers over supporting more small time, independent designers. Fast fashion and large chain store retailers are focused on one thing and one thing only: the bottom line. Getting fads out as quickly as possible at the cheapest price is their main business agenda, and in doing so they promote a destructive shopping culture and seriously hurt the success of independent designers who promote innovative design and positive business practices.
– Forging Authenticity –
Forever 21 has been sued over 50 times for copyright infringement; the fast fashion retailer has blatantly knocked off designs from big name brands like Diane Von Furstenburg and Betsey Johnson to smaller, independent designers like Trovata and Foley + Corinna. This is one of the many unethically sound ways these types of retailers are able to keep their prices super cheap. Knocking off from other designer’s work allows these companies to avoid having to pay a creative team of designers, thereby allowing them to charge less for their products. What’s worse is that the courts almost always side with the copycat. Since copyright laws are so complicated when it comes to fashion, the stealing of designs is really hard to nail down. By buying into these cheap knockoffs, design integrity is compromised. What was once a gorgeous, highly detailed design with amazing drape and feel becomes a low quality look-a-like with shotty craftsmanship, void of almost all stylistic detailing. The originality and innovation that went into the design is diluted when cheap knock-offs become representative of the original look – hurting the success of the designer who exerted time, energy, and dedication to creating the concept. The mentality of, “If I can get the same look for $100 less, why buy the real thing?” is detrimental to an independent label.
– Lacking in Longevity –
Fast fashion retailers and chain stores make products from the lowest quality materials they can get away with, resulting in a super short lifespan of the product. Ingenious from a strictly business perspective: the cheap products last just about as long as the trend and when they fall apart, consumers simply throw them away and replace them with next weeks cheap fad… a never ending cycle of robotic (ergo thoughtless) consumption.
Purchasing from an indie brand, however, you can be sure that true thought, time, and energy went into every aspect of the design. Materials are hand chosen and each stitch is placed with precision. Independent brands are focused on creating products that last. Yes, they will be more expensive, but that is because they are made from quality materials that will not fall apart after a few wears and washes. So, even though it may feel like you are spending less by opting to buy cheaper items, in the long run you save more by investing in more expensive, higher quality items that last.
– Humanitarianism –
It is no secret that big chain retailers use large factories, usually overseas (even though Forever 21’s factories are actually in LA), where workers are paid practically nothing for their labor and forced to work long hours in horrible working conditions. This is another major way they are able to keep prices so low, and so long as people’s buying choices revolve around the price tag, these retailers will continue to get away with exploitive practices.
Smaller, independent designers are much more in tune with the consequences of their business practices. Because the designer plays multiple roles in the business, they have a hand in each step of production from design, to manufacturing, to the end sale. Independent designers have a focus that is lost in large retail corporations – they make it a point to be responsible with their business. Many even take it a step further by using their business to give back.
– Voting With Your Dollar –
The next time you are choosing where to shop, remember that you are really voting with your dollar. Do you want to promote mass-produced, low quality fashion fads that rely on the exploitation of workers, or do you want to support original designers who use their business for good? The choice is yours.