Sartorial Sustainability Sunday: Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion

last week…

This morning I watched the documentary Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion. For those who are unfamiliar, Alex James is multifaceted but well known for being the bassist of the British rock band Blur. If you were in the states and out of diapers by the 90s, you will most definitely recognize their Song 2I distinctly recall Channel One news using it as the background in a few clips illustrating the 1998 El Nino. How fitting for today’s topic.alexjamesLike (some) bloggers, rock stars are sent boatloads of clothing. Alex acknowledges how outrageous it is. He even negotiated new socks and pants via Blur’s rider. He discusses that he is part of the problem and starts his exploration of fast fashion, commencing with a trip to farm and a ton of sheep.

Alex opens the documentary by hypothesizing that positive action is the answer; all we have to do is understand the fashion industry. Ask yourself the following when finding a too good to be real deal:

  • How can it be so cheap?
  • What is it made of?
  • Who made it?
  • How long will you wear it?
  • Where will it end up?

When it comes to fast fashion, the things we wear are disposable. Fast fashion garments are not designed or intended to last a lifetime, let alone the season. A brutal fact: fifty percent of what we buy ends up in a landfill. And why? More than eighty percent of what we wear is made of plastic, which is made of petroleum, which will never degrade. Landfills are not a renewable resource and as such, we need to change our strategies when it comes to outfitting ourselves.

Alex speaks with industry leaders and gets perspectives on the fast fashion epidemic:

  • Author Elizabeth Cline wrote Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion. Did you know that in the year 1990, half of the clothing consumed by America was made in America. As of these days, only two percent is made in America. Elizabeth and Alex go guirilla-style shopping and filming in a fast fashion store and note that a shirt is $4.95. A pair of pants clocked in at $9.99 pants. How does that happen? Garment workers in China are topping out at five dollars an hour and in Bangladesh less than one dollar an hour. All this is to say that the social (people) bottom line is taking a hit.
  • A fast fashion employee ponders that it is a chicken and the egg issue and hypothesizes that the responsibility lies on the consumer demands.
  • Psychologist Pam Nell likens fast fashion and more broadly shopping, as a quick fix, similar to a recreational drug. Consumer society says that we need X in order to feel accepted. Pam goes into how this starts in adolescence and this is something with which I particularly identified.
  • Editor of UK GQ Dylan Jones OBE says that male shopping habits are more akin to women’s and fashion fashion is unfortunate manifestation in the industry. With Dylan Jones as editor, GQ is keen to articulate investment dressing and to emphasize character, as opposed to idiosyncratic behavior and consequently, dressing. He stresses provenance, as it is as important as who designed a garment and the level of on-trend one is.

Alex directs the viewer to the KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE label on a garment. He then films a experiment in acrylic versus wool. He hands up two near-identical sweaters, one made of acrylic and one made of wool. When he lit them on fire, the acrylic version literally melted and stuck to the floor. Meanwhile the wool version burned but did not catch fire; clearly it was the sweater I would have preferred to be armored in, in a flammable sitch.

Per Alex, fast fashion is a trillion dollar business but also an environmental, social, ethical nightmare. Bottom line: what can the every girl (guy), like you and I, do about it? He provides us ideas:

  • Research provenance
  • Buy less and buy natural
  • Look at labels and know fabrics
  • Think about who made it
  • Think about where it will go
  • Buy quality, no matter the age
  • Repair the clothes you love
  • Buy from charity shops
  • Upcycle

I wrote about the quadruple bottom line approach in terms of the clothing industry in the last year and it bears repeating in terms of the clothing industry. In the quadruple bottom line approach, fast fashion has social (or people) and environmental (or planet) implications. Fast fashion suffices in terms of profit and albeit questionably, aesthetics.

Is it worth it?

Leave a Reply