Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Mystery

On Thursday of this past week, an H&M store opened on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.  People stood in line overnight to be some of the first to enter the store and, as one of the first 100 shoppers, receive an "all-access fashion pass" valued up to $300 off a shopper's entire purchase.

I have to confess, I find this to be a mystery as to why people would do this, much less be excited that an H&M is now in Old Town. Actually, I guess I don't find it a mystery.  Here is what I understand is good about it:

- The sales taxes it generates for the City will be good for everyone.
- It will draw a shopper type to Alexandria that might not normally come here but would instead go to Pentagon City or Georgetown.
- The landlord has an international tenant that it knows will pay the rent and has deep pockets.
- They sell clothing at a price point that makes it attainable for many people.

As a businesswoman, I get all that.  But I remain unimpressed and not enthused.  And I'll tell you why.

The book "Overdressed:  The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion", does a very good job of outlining the problems with stores like H&M and their counterparts like Zara and Forever 21.  If you haven't read it yet and do enjoy understand a behind the scenes look at fashion, I highly recommend it.  Some key points directly from the book:

- Rather than following typical seasons, fast fashion retailers receive new shipments regularly and lure shoppers into their stores on a continual basis.  Never mind the time and effort and creativity that go into designer's lines - the fast fashion chains rip them off, mass produce them, and have them in stores almost as soon as they are off the runway.  What I see in September, I won't have in the store until at least February or March.  You'll probably see it within a matter of two months or less at H&M

- The quality is shockingly bad.  Items purchased at fast fashion chains are throwaway items.  The author notes that buyers do not even consider "How long will this last?" or even "Will I like it when I get it home?"  Because the consumer assumes that if they don't like it or if it falls apart they can still throw it away because they bought it for a low price.  Quality today means something quite different than it used to.

- Think about how clothing is put together, what it's made of and visualize the journey to your closet.  Wouldn't you rather have garments that are unique and made with a level of skill and good materials that cheap fashion simply can't provide us? (this is quoted directly from the book).

- Fast fashion chains (such as H&M) produced 500 million pieces of clothing a year in 2004.  One would assume their numbers are much higher today   Designers such as I carry at Zoe have to have a certain number of orders or they don't produce an item.  And they usually only produce what has been ordered - if an item arrives damaged or I sell through items quickly, it is difficult to reorder simply because they can't afford to make things that they don't know that they will sell.

- We're completely in the dark about what fast fashion has cost the environment and American jobs.  From an environment standpoint, the natural resources that go into fiber production every year now demand approximately 135 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water.  This doesn't even take into account the toxic dyes dumped into water supplies or pollution generated from garment manufacturing factories in Eastern Europe and Asia.

- As the spouse of someone employed in the US manufacturing industry, I'm especially sensitive to the loss of these types of jobs.  In March 2011, the New York Times reporter Nadia Sussman documented the lives of New York City garment workers in a video segment called "Struggling to Stitch."  Sussman interviewed Hispanic day laborers lined up in the early morning hours on Eighth Avenue at West Thirty-eighth Street in the Garment Center, vying for scarce jobs sewing, packing, ironing, or cutting loose threads.

- When a fashion designer is getting their start, using foreign manufacturing isn't an option.  Most don't have the travel budget or big enough order sizes to make it possible.  Yet they tend to put the most care into their garments and create the most unique pieces.  Items made in New York and Los Angeles give the local designers control to make last-minute adjustments and to monitor quality.  Zoe's US manufactured designers will often allow us to change an aspect of a garment that we believe will make it more attractive to our customers.  You'll never get that from a fast fashion store.

Take the time some day to add up what you've spend at fast fashion stores.  And how much of it you are still wearing a year later.  And let me know the results.


  1. Spot on, Susan! I read the book and it has definitely changed my buying habits. I'm trying to read labels more and make sure it is something that I *really* want and will wear. I do this for my kiddos' clothing too.

  2. I totally agree. I've been making a conscious effort to buy less and what I do buy is high quality and if possible, made in the USA. I've cleaned out so much stuff I wore once or twice over the last year and frankly it disgusted me. I do wish there was some happy medium so that folks on a smaller budget could get nicer quality items without having to drop $200 on a shirt.