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Sustainability>>Built to Last>>Slow Fashion - Part II

This week’s blog focuses on the other questions posed by Kendra Pierre-Louis in her article “How to Buy Clothes that are Built to Last ” which appeared in The New York Times last month.  In case you think that fast fashion is still trending, consider the news that Forever21, one of the brands that has been closely identified with the fast fashion trend, filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of September and is closing many of its stores.  Forever21 was built on the idea that the company would be THE STORE by being able to spot new trends and work with vendors to bring products reflecting these trends to its stores as fast as possible and sell merchandise for very reasonable prices.  Alas, Forever21 did not anticipate that shoppers would seek out fast fashion bargains in online stores instead of malls where the chain established their stores and that shoppers would ultimately get tired of buying cheap merchandise that would not last.

So here are some more questions to ask yourself as you shop this season. Remember last time I focused on Pierre-Louis’s top question:  Will I wear it again? This time, I will discuss questions related to the quality of the fabric.  Pierre-Louis highlights this topic by posing these questions:  Does it feel good to the touch? Can I see my hand through it? Does it pass the tug test? and is it a good blend? All of these questions relate to the idea of whether this garment is well made and “built to last”. 

Let’s examine each one of these questions. How something feels when you put it on is very important because it has to do with whether you feel comfortable wearing a piece of clothing.  How many times have you bought a pure wool sweater only to discover that it is so itchy you dread wearing it? Of course, the most comfortable fabric by far is cotton but as Pierre-Louis points out, the trade-off to buying cotton garments is the effect that growing cotton has on the environment.  Cotton requires large amounts of agricultural pesticides and while organic cotton uses fewer pesticides, organic growth is dependent on growers using more water. 

The next question is essentially about the thickness of the garment. Thicker is better than thinner but it is often hard to judge this especially when you are buying a stylish T-shirt. Pierre-Louis suggests that you stick your hand between the top and bottom layers of the T-shirt. It will not be “built to last” if you can see your hand through so if this happens, walk away and don’t buy it. The tug test is another way to judge the fabric.  Try pulling on the buttons and stitches to make sure the garment is not going to fall apart immediately after wearing it once. This may sound ludicrous but I have seen people pull T-shirts or dresses over their heads only to discover that a seam has split.

Finally, the quality of the garment is directly linked to the blend of the fabric.  Clothing shoppers should look at what the garment is made of.  For example, if a garment is made of synthetic fabric, it might pill more than natural fibers such as cotton or wool. Also, polyester which is often in a blended fabric, does contribute to environmental pollution since polyester is essentially plastic which can gum up our waterways.  Deciding what blends to buy can be complicated. Some experts suggest for example that you buy jeans that have some polyester content which helps the garments last longer. 

My sense is that the garment industry is still figuring out how to address these questions and make it relatively simple for a clothing shopper to buy a garment that is made of fabric that will last and look great for a good long while as well as being environmentally friendly.

The final question that Pierre-Louis considers is maintenance which has to do with how you care for such delicate fabrics such as silk. She also points out how sustainability is linked to being able to make simple repairs on a garment such as replacing a button. Her article ends with a brief discussion of the impact that all of the changes in how you go about shopping for clothing may have on the future of the industry.  I will discuss these issues and more next week. Look for my weekly blog which will appear each Monday morning at I welcome your comments and invite you to shop my handcrafted slow fashion coats, jackets, capes and accessories at my store - !


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