Alice Ridley runs Saikuru, a social enterprise aiming to change mindsets of consumer thinking around the waste our clothing creates. Below is her thoughts on the arrival of the fast fashion giant, H&M here in Christchurch.
This article came about after a work college asked if I am excited about H&M opening in Christchurch. I contemplated what this means for me, as someone who has dedicated a lot of my time to educate people about this realm of fast fashion.
First and foremost, this article isn't about shaming people who shop at fast fashion retailers. If you do not have any other option due to financial or accessibility reasons, then do what works for you as an individual (I understand that the sustainable world these days is sometimes more about your financial position). This article is focusing on educating people on the impact fast fashion has from an environmental standpoint. Many of these companies have substandard conditions for the workers but this will not be covered. I will focus more on why we, as consumers should avoid shops like H&M who use the fast fashion business model. People tend to not think about the environmental implications of these models. I myself, as a consumer did not know about these impacts more than two years ago. So I fully understand not everyone has had the opportunity to become aware of some of these things.
One of my favourite Youtubers, Tara E came out with a video about her current thoughts on fast fashion. She commendably said "Everyone is entitled to make their own decisions. It's good to be educated but aside from that, you have to stay out of what other people are doing - especially when it comes to finances” - an educated opinion is a valid one, (like understanding that eating one less meat meal a week will decrease the impacts of that industry - then that is an educated decision).
Additionally, not all fast fashion clothing is going to fall apart a few washes, like some anti fast fashion articles seem to claim. Tara again defends fast fashion with the quote “As of late, I don’t like to place all fast fashion in a villainous category… I am actually going to be interning with target this summer and I just want to say that unprompted I have heard a lot of people talk about ethics and sustainability. This isn’t just in their “sustainability” report, I do give the company the benefit of the doubt that they are at least trying.” Basically not all fast fashion is evil and trying to fill our landfills with badly made clothing. But they aren’t purely good either.
I own a fantastic secondhand Zara scarf which I adore. I have taken the advice of Erin from My Green Closet. She has a fantastic video tilted “Is it Ethical to buy Fast Fashion Secondhand?” where she argues it is ethical to buy second hand fast fashion but advises to avoid stating where she got it from when asked if you no longer support that company. By simply saying it's secondhand it doesn’t indirectly market the brand. Because if I say “Yeah I got it secondhand Zara!” people aren’t going to want to head to the op shop to find it but instead to Zara.
Now after that discussion about the framing of fast fashion: my thoughts. My first reaction to the opening is... wow, it's really here. H&M seems like one of those fantasy things that is happening overseas but doesn't seem real unless it's in your home city. And now globalisation has brought it here. The largest fashion retailer in the world that can churn out new fashion items in just two weeks. This is the infamous 32 seasons a year which feeds the consumer's need cheaper, faster and always on trend. The launch in New Zealand has now made it a reality that isn’t just a faraway thing. Those new intakes of clothing will be hauled all across the world from far away factories to Christchurch. This just makes it necessary for me to be talking about this topic, as it would be “harmless” just to pop in and have browse through the racks.
Now the big question... Will I dare enter the devils lair? Yes. 100% I will check it out, as I have read so much about this company and how it's business model works. I want to see first hand about what the fuss is all about. Will I be tempted? Unlikely. Another youtuber, The Un-materialist Girl has a video titled The Fast Fashion Trap, where she was tempted to check out a new H&M as well. She said “In the moment I get it; I get why people are really taken by fast fashion. [It] portrays luxury and grandeur but yet, at the same time, is so cheap and accessible just for $9.95. You can be a part of it to! It makes you feel rich for the cheapest price possible.” Leah did purchase something and she found it was the perfect example of what this monster of an industry creates. She posted her finding online and it completely backfired with people responding “Oh my god, where did you get it? It's a bargain, please tell me you got it!” When you see something so amazing and cheap - we’ve found something of value for a small price. Before you have the knee jerk reaction of jumping onto opportunity - pause - and think about what happened for this cheaply made item to reach these shelves. What was damaged in the process of its journey? My rule of thumb for these instances is would you wear it more than 30 times? If the answer is no, put it back onto the rack.
If you do to pop in out of curiosity, I urge not to be drawn in with the glitz and the glam H&M offers with it’s look too good to be true (spoiler alert most of the time they are). Stop and think about your purchases. Sometimes in the long run it is worth spending more on quality rather than the quantity of pieces. Trust me, I was a victim of buying jeans every 6 months; stuck in the cycle of them breaking and throwing them away. I would like to finish off with an image which has a lot of wisdom; a picture really can say a thousand words.
Learn more about Saikuru and Alice's work at her Facebook page or tune in to rdu 98.5 Thursdays 11am - 12pm.