I was only barely paying attention to the term “fast fashion” when I first read Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed. I’d heard about several Bangladesh garment factory fires in 2013 and a few others more recently. But I didn't really understand the connection between clothes I picked up on the Target sale rack and those tragedies.
Thanks to Cline’s research, dot-connecting and understanding of human psychology, I began to wrap my head around the complicated issues related to the making of what we wear (and why I couldn't resist a good deal). Soon, I began having second thoughts whenever I ventured into my beloved Marshalls and wandered the aisles looking for the amazing deals I’m so good at finding there (total #humblebrag).
I was curious what Elizabeth has learned in the years since Overdressed hit the world (2012) and she was gracious enough to chat with me back when I was just starting to figure out what it meant to try and create an ethically-made product. Is she hopeful? Can the rest of us be?
So about that hope thing…
Elizabeth Cline: I do feel hopeful. I’ve seen so many things change since my book came out. People getting involved, talking about all these different pain points. Makers Row is connecting people to U.S. Manufacturing. Shannon Whitehead created an accelerator program for developing US fashion brands. The True Cost documentary came out in 2015. It’s already changing. When I think about what’s going to happen to H&M, that’ll depend on what happens with labor—unions, a living wage. I hope they run out of places that will work for $40 month.
Update: H&M has started up a recycling partnership, which is good! And complicated.
How will the idea of slow fashion extend beyond those who just have more expendable income?
Elizabeth Cline: I always look at what’s happening in the food movement as a template for how to move forward. It has has to be affordable and convenient. This is proven time and again with food movement. Not many people ate locally or organic until Whole Food’s existed. Now, Walmart has expanded their offerings. Options are becoming more plentiful.
With fashion, people are really focused on what consumers can do and giving consumers an alternative. I have a friend building a slow fashion app that will help people be more intentional about buying habits. Once we build it up and make it accessible—that’s the beginning of real change. We’re also seeing more hardcore activism, things like Fashion Revolution Day.
Has anything changed in your perception or opinion since Overdressed came out?
Elizabeth Cline: I think i feel even more critical of this idea that we’re entitled to ultra cheap consumer goods. There are much larger social goals that stand in opposition to cheap goods. I would rather live in a world were we can pay attention to what matters and afford things that really matter like education, healthcare or rent.
Consumer psychology in the US is pretty simple. If you present things with deals, people are going to buy it. I’ve also come to understand that this is uniquely American. A lot of places in western Europe still have the idea of saving up to own nice things. They are less seduced in buying deals.
What’s one thing we consumers can do now?
Elizabeth Cline: The WRAP council in the UK found that the thing with most impact on the supply chain is holding on to your clothes for 3-9 months longer. Instead of buying that new thing that you’re probably not going to wear, look in your closet for what you have and wear it just a little bit more.