Rebroadcast: How fast fashion and social media fuel a high consumption, low quality world

Rebroadcast: How fast fashion and social media fuel a high consumption, low quality world

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This rebroadcast originally aired on January 12, 2023.

TikTok is full of influencers posting “fashion hauls,” unpacking huge boxes of cheap polyester clothing.

Clothes from brands like Shein might be ultra-fast, but they’re low quality.

Can consumers recognize a beautifully-crafted garment anymore?

Today, On Point: Clothes have gotten worse. And social media and ever-changing trends aren’t helping.

Guests

Danielle Vermeer, fashion tech founder. 12+ years of buying only secondhand clothes. Launched luxury resale at Amazon Fashion and now co-founder of startup Teleport, next-gen fashion thrifting app.

Mandy Lee, freelance fashion writer and trend analyst. She runs the TikTok and Instagram accounts “Old Loser in Brooklyn.” (@oldloserinbrooklyn)

Also Featured

Sydney Green, Gen Z shopper who feels conflicted about buying new clothes.

Transcript

Part I

@LEELEEGABRIEL: Okay. My Shein packages came in, so I’m going to check everything I got. I got a lot of stuff.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: This is TikTok user @leeleegabriel, in a video from February of 2022. She’s sitting on a bedroom floor with a box she bought from the ultra-fast fashion website Shein, and she’s holding each item up to the camera one by one.

@LEELEEGABRIEL: This is a leather oversized jacket. Smells like fish. We love Shein. Then I got this like satin blue button-up shirt that I’m going to wear off the shoulder. So I get this little bralette top that I’m going to wear underneath the blue satin button-up top. And then this is just a white …

CHAKRABARTI: Fashion haul videos like this one are all over social media.

The low price point means consumers can buy a lot of clothes for very little. And they can buy them very often, but they’re not really good quality clothes. Are they? Cheap fabrics. Poor construction. As you might guess, if you’re a regular listener to this program, we are endlessly interested in how technology, social media, and capitalism are shaping our behavior and perceptions of reality.

And the question really pops up in surprising places. Including the world of clothing, everything from daily wear to brand name fashion. Consider Sydney Green, a Gen Z On Point listener from Maine.

SYDNEY GREEN: I don’t know where to find clothes that are quality. I would love to find clothing that is more higher quality that would last me a longer time.

I don’t even know where to go, what stores to go to find those items.

CHAKRABARTI: We’re going to hear more about Sydney’s dilemma later in the show, but our guest today takes things one step further. She recently posted a provocative thread on Twitter, and to be honest, it feels weirdly appropriate that an hour about social media and reality was inspired by a social media post.

But the thread says, “Hot take. Most Gen Z consumers don’t even know what quality fashion looks and feels.”

CHAKRABARTI: Danielle Vermeer posted that she’s the creator of the secondhand fashion newsletter, Goodwill Hunting, and she joins us today. Danielle, welcome to On Point.

DANIELLE VERMEER: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so your hot take really got a lot of attention.

VERMEER: Yes.

CHAKRABARTI: On Twitter. I’d love to actually, in a sense, go through the thread post-by-post to unpack, to unravel what you’ve said. Unravel. Wow. I did not mean to use a textile pun there, but so let’s define quality fashion first. How would you define what that even is.

VERMEER: For quality fashion, there’s elements of both objective and subjective measures. For example, objectively there could be a quality garment that has great durability, it lasts a long time, or there’s great workmanship. The craftsmanship, the garment construction, the functionality of the materials and the material composition are higher quality.

Then there’s also subjective characteristics. It’s the look and the feel, how it wears over time. The aesthetics, the creativity. All of those combined create a higher quality or the inverse, a lower quality garment.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So with that definition on the table, then, your thread goes on to, first of all, point a finger at the fast fashion industry, but one company in particular, Shein.

Now for the olds amongst us, I include myself in that category. What is Shein and why did you  particularly focus on that company?

VERMEER: Sure. Shein is an ultra-fast fashion brand. So Millennials grew up with Forever 21, H&M as fast fashion of rather than having two seasons a year, there’s 10 seasons, 16 seasons. Shein takes it to a completely new level, pumping out 52 plus seasons a year, and about 10 times more items than the next three fast fashion brands combined. H&M, Boohoo, and Zara.

CHAKRABARTI: 10 times more than all of those combined.

VERMEER: Yes. So that’s research from Business of Fashion, and it really points to the speed and scale that has accelerated in fast fashion, creating this new category of ultra-fast fashion.

CHAKRABARTI: So you have a graphic from Business of Fashion in your thread, and it says a number of new styles added in the U.S. to the company’s various websites, year to date. So this was last year, so I guess the 12 months of 2022. And Shein, according to Business of Fashion, added almost 315,000 new items in one year.

VERMEER: That’s right. Those are new styles. So there’s some nuance where one of Shein’s approaches is to do smaller batches. So really testing this more on-demand model of scraping social media, what’s trending, what styles are new and fresh, creating small batches based on that consumer demand and signal. And then pumping them out faster and faster, to really get that newness to consumers faster than almost any brand can do right now.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so you said scraping social media here, meaning they have, I don’t know, their own. I don’t know if they’re using people or computers, I guess, to go out and look continuously for stuff that’s popping on social media and then churning stuff out, churning new styles out based on that in, it feels like, in a matter of days.

That’s what you’re describing?

VERMEER: There’s definitely more of a social listening aspect, whereas traditional fashion industry has been very top-down, the brands, luxury houses. They create these two seasons, capsules, typically, and then that trickles down into mid-tier and mass fashion. Shein is really turning that model on its head to see what are consumers interested in?

Let’s do these small batches to start and then ramp up, if there’s greater demand. In theory, that’s great because you’re having less waste and Shein does report that they have less than 1% of unsold inventory, whereas in the fashion industry overall, the average is between 25% and 40%. So a lot of overstock.

And I think we as consumers see that with all these end of season sales, markdowns, clearance racks that are overfilled with things that people just didn’t buy and while on demand is a great start, there’s still a size and scale of how much you are creating as a brand like Shein that frankly is pretty low quality and is not built to last.

CHAKRABARTI: I see. Now we should note that Shein was founded back in 2008 by Chris Xu. It’s a Chinese ultra-fast fashion retailer. And I’m seeing here that according to some analysis, it may be the world’s largest fashion retailer now.

VERMEER: It’s very possible. It has grown astronomically and there are many others trying to replicate that success.

Okay. So then in terms of understanding, as I put it earlier in the show, this almost a triangle of social media fashion, and capitalism and how those are working together to, in your eyes, prevent or stop people from even recognizing quality. You go to what you call issue number one, and that’s accessibility.

What do you mean by that?

VERMEER: Exactly, so accessibility incorporates both price and affordability, but also things like size, inclusivity, keeping up with trends, convenience. And then after I read thousands of comments, particularly from Shein shoppers on social media. Twitter, TikTok Instagram. They also bring up things like nihilism, which is really interesting from a consumer insights perspective almost to say the world is already burning, so why can’t I look cute and buy this $3 top from Shein or from somewhere else.

But the biggest ones in terms of accessibility are where do you even find quality fashion? And can you afford it? Will it fit me? Will it actually be something that I like? And that’s cute. And for many younger consumers, Gen Z in particular, they have not been exposed to quality fashion and don’t have a ton of access to it yet.

CHAKRABARTI: And that would be because quality has gone down in other sort of mainstay brands as well. So we’ll come back to that. This isn’t just a ultra-fast fashion problem, but can we just go another moment to what you said about the nihilistic quality of some of this purchasing. Think that’s actually quite depressing and heartbreaking to me.

The idea that people are saying, we’re feeling like we’re living on a planet of doom anyway, so let’s go down looking good. Do folks really feel that way you think?

VERMEER: Scanning through these threads and other insights. It’s one of the reasons where there’s a lot of pressure that Gen Z feels where they feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, that they have to be the ones to fix some of these world issues.

But they also have grown up as digital natives, being bombarded and immersed in social media. And that’s why, according to ThreadUp, one in three of Gen Z feel addicted to fast fashion, and one in five feel pressured to keep up with the latest trends and buy, because they see it. They are engaging with it every day on social media.

And so they feel these really negative emotions like guilt. And in feeling addicted, feeling pressure and that is not what I think fashion should be about. I think fashion should be a vehicle for self-expression, creativity. It should be fun. It should be feel-good. And I don’t think feeling guilty or addicted is something that we should support.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So you say issue No. 2 is just the reality of textile manufacturing these days, that the majority of new clothes are made with man-made materials. We’ve got about a minute left before our first break here, Danielle, but go ahead. Tell us why that’s important.

VERMEER: Yeah. From Bloomberg Research, about 60% of new textile production now is polyester, and that’s because polyester is a cheaper material than natural fibers like cotton or wool. And as a reminder, polyester is a plastic-derived material, and plastic ultimately comes from oil, from petroleum. And so while polyester is cheaper and it’s more flexible. It can be woven into many different types of fabrics. By and large, it’s less durable and less quality than natural fibers.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. And you have this really compelling graph here that says, what, I would say roughly after 1990, the amount of polyester being used in new clothing starts skyrocketing.

Really, while cotton, cellulose and polypropylene stay roughly the same. So today we are talking about how technology, social media, and capitalism are shaping our behavior and perceptions of reality through clothing.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Today we are exploring how technology, social media, and capitalism are shaping our behavior and perceptions of reality. And we’re using the example of Gen Z culture and fast fashion to explore that question. And Danielle Vermeer joins us today. She is the creator of the fashion newsletter, Good Will Hunting.

And we’ll talk more about Danielle’s own clothing buying habits in a few minutes. But Danielle, let’s pick up on the issues that you lay out in this Twitter thread. About where you assert that Gen Z doesn’t even recognize, know how to recognize quality clothing. You talk about something called haul culture.

What is that?

VERMEER: Haul culture is what you see all over TikTok. So for example, Shein haul, that hashtag has almost 8 billion views. There are other hauls, thrift hauls even, which has 2.5 billion views. And it’s this idea of a creator showing a video of everything that they’ve gotten, usually massive amounts in a big bag or a big package.

And it’s something that contributes to this buy, buy, overconsumption mindset that Gen Z is being sold on. And so that two in five of Gen Z consumers have actually purchased a product after seeing it in one of these haul videos.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, is it possible to know whether these content creators are being paid by the company or if the these are clothes that they’re just getting for free from Shein?

What about the business aspect of that here?

VERMEER: It depends. If it is a business relationship, it should be disclosed, but for many of them, it’s a way to show off what they’re wearing, show off their outfits. And because these brands, particularly fast fashion brands, are much cheaper, you can get a lot of stuff for pretty cheap.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Now you say in that same post, why pay $40 for a 100% cotton shirt when you can buy 10 shirts for $4 each? And then after all, for one in seven items, you will only wear it once. Where did that come from?

VERMEER: That’s research from CB Insights where they asked consumers, particularly younger ones who shop fashion online what they think about re-wearing items, re-wearing an outfit, and one in seven said that they think it’s a faux pas to wear the same thing that you post on social media more than once. So it’s one and done for one in seven consumers.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So we have issue number four here. You call it dupe culture. And before you explain it to us, what it is, let’s use an example. Here’s TikTok user Shelby Shaye’s video showing a dupe of Lululemon shorts that she bought at Walmart.

SHELBY SHAYE: These are Lululemon shorts, and these are from Walmart. Completely unbranded. These are $60, these were like $12 to $15, I think. The drawstrings are the same, the pocket is the same, and the backstitching is also the same.

CHAKRABARTI: So dupe culture, what is it and how does it play into this inability to recognize quality clothing?

VERMEER: Sure. Dupe culture is what, back in the day for millennials, we call them knockoffs, and then there were others that were more true counterfeit or fake products. But dupes are intended to be the cheaper lookalike options, inspired by, often not completely identical, but enough to pass as equivalent aesthetic and quality. And so just like on haul culture, on social media, dupe culture is rampant, and it inspires younger consumers who may not be able to afford the real thing. So in that example, the real $60 Lululemon shorts, but they can buy the $12 ones on Walmart.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so you bring this all together.

You say Gen Z doesn’t understand quality fashion due to accessibility, manufacturing, haul and dupe culture. And again, the framework that we’re trying to understand this through is again, is social media, technology, and capitalism as well. So in terms of clothing and quality, why does all this matter?

If people are just enjoying wearing new fashions literally every day. Why should we be concerned?

VERMEER: There’s massive implications in terms of the environmental impact and also the cost. When you think about these very poor-quality garments, it’s essentially like throwing money away after wearing them a few times. Because you might have some vintage Forever 21 garment that you bought 15, 20 years ago, but the fast fashion then was even way better than it is now.

And so are we going to have Shein or new Zara products lasting more than a few washes, lasting 10, 15 years? Probably not. That’s my bet.

CHAKRABARTI: They’re going to end up where?

VERMEER: They will end up in a landfill or in the chain of donation to then liquidation, warehousing. But ultimately it does 85% or so of clothing ends up in landfill.

CHAKRABARTI: Huh. Okay. Danielle, hang on here for just a minute because I want to bring another voice into the conversation. Mandy Lee joins us. Mandy’s a freelance fashion writer and trend analyst, a content creator as well, and runs the “Old Loser in Brooklyn” account on TikTok and Instagram. Mandy, welcome to On Point.

MANDY LEE: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m going to assert that you’re not that old. (LAUGHS) So —

LEE: Yeah. I’m in my thirties, so it depends on who you ask.

CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, respond to what Danielle is putting forward here that she says that Gen Z doesn’t, because of growing up in this culture of not just fast fashion, but social media as well, that members of Gen Z don’t even recognize what quality clothing is.

LEE: Yeah, I really agree with a lot of what Danielle is saying, especially the research that she’s bringing to the table. And I think the only thing that I’ve noticed in, on my side of the business, is it’s not as much of a priority to Gen Z and to just consumers in general to prioritize quality.

It may be a lack of knowing or recognizing what that is, but it’s also not as much of a priority as it used to be.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so tell me more about that, that there are other things that are more important to Gen Z consumers than the actual quality of the clothing.

LEE: So again, what Danielle was saying about the accessibility factor in the price point for fast fashion, for example, that accessibility is very attractive, and it creates this idea of abundance.

You can buy a lot of things at one time with the same amount of money you would put towards a higher quality, maybe one piece of clothing and this sort of abundant mindset creates this almost revolving door mindset when it comes to your wardrobe. Meaning I can replace pretty much everything in my wardrobe for a very low price.

I’m going to just keep rotating in and out, depending on what’s trending or how my taste is evolving over time. And that I think is really part of the root cause in this sort of ever revolving cycle of buy, buy, buy. Throw away, or because garments made by Shein, and other fast fashion retailers are not good quality.

They may just disintegrate, literally disintegrate in the wash over time.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Okay. So you just said something which is so compelling. You said that this sort of cycle is creating the idea of abundance. So the reason why I draw a line, or highlight that is because again, we, I don’t know, me, this show, On Point, we’re like really obsessed with how technology and social media and capitalism play together to, as I said, at the top of the show, shape our perceptions of reality.

So when you say creating an idea of abundance, does that mean that if there were no social media. Now I know that’s a ridiculous question because this is a hypothetical. But that we wouldn’t see the same kind of behavior with fashion.

LEE: I don’t think so. No. I think it plays a massive role and is a huge driving factor in this abundant mindset that we’re talking about and what Danielle was talking about a little bit earlier, about haul culture. These videos perform extremely well, and they provide almost a polarizing, it’s polarizing content. Some people may be very against it and add engagement.

Comment like, “This is bad, blah, blah, blah.” So that end and then other people will fight about it. So it creates this really polarizing piece of content. And then the user who has just purchased, 20, 30 garments from Shein is getting a dopamine hit because their mentions and their notifications are blowing up.

Because their video is going viral. These pieces of content perform very well, and it reminds me of, if you buy something online and you’re waiting for it to come in the mail, you’re floating on this dopamine hit of getting something new. And it really reminds me of the same feeling as watching a video or an Instagram post or Twitter, thread that you posted go viral as well.

They’re connected and I feel like those feelings are very similar and have a lot of overlap.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Okay. Danielle would love to hear what you think about this.

VERMEER: I agree, Mandy. I think there’s this dopamine hit and rush that feeds into that stat around Gen Z feeling addicted to fast fashion. And feeling like even though they know they want to, they’re trying to shop more sustainably.

They don’t either know where to go or they don’t know how to stop or they can’t afford it, and I think that’s a really negative cycle, to get into. That I’m on a mission to break.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. To be really fair, we’re talking about a generation of Americans who, they’re not just digital natives.

I feel like in a sense their lives are digital first, right? Because they have been born into a world that was already extremely connected. They were very young when social media took off. And on top of that, it’s not just ultra-fast or fast fashion that has driven the desire for higher levels of consumption and lower quality goods and garments.

We heard from a lot of people about how quality’s just been going down everywhere, and one of them, and so that like puts folks who are in the Gen Z cohort into a bit of a pickle. And so at the top of the show, we heard from Sydney Green. Okay? She is a member of Gen Z from Maine.

She’s twenty-five years old, so she calls herself right on the Gen Z millennial cusp. She’s a second-year med student, as I said in Maine.

SYDNEY GREEN: I actually called because I had just like a recently experienced problem where I had bought a pair of jeans a couple, maybe two years ago, and I just knelt down yesterday, and the knee just completely ripped.

I haven’t had these for very long. I don’t do anything really crazy in them. I just wear them. Doing casual everyday things and yet they are not lasting for more than a couple of years.

CHAKRABARTI: The jeans were from American Eagle, the same brand she’s worn all throughout high school and college, but she noticed the fabric wasn’t as durable and Sydney by the way, I’m just going to put an aside here.

I recently bought a pair of flannel pants from my favorite Maine-based outdoor clothing company, and the flannel was really thin this year. It was disappointing, but anyway, Sydney has to replace her jeans. She just got them, and she has to replace them, and she says she feels stuck.

She’s a student with some hefty loans, so she doesn’t want to spend too much, but she also doesn’t want to support the fast fashion industry and buy another pair that’s going to rip.

GREEN: It’s hard to feel like you’re not part of the problem. When I need another pair, how am I going to make sure that I can purchase another pair that isn’t going to be overly expensive while also finding a way to make sure that they have some element of quality in them.

CHAKRABARTI: But Sydney says she does use social media to try to stay somewhat up on trends.

GREEN: I’ve watched a lot of those like how to modernize your wardrobe, like that you see on Instagram or TikTok where they’re like, Wear this and not that.

But what matters most to me isn’t really being as trendy, but trying to find clothing items that I feel comfortable in and that are, they aren’t trendy, but they’re not unfashionable. They’re just somewhere in between where I just can get by and cannot feel like I am on the outskirts.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Sydney Green, an On Point listener from Maine. So Mandy, talk to me about your response to what Sydney is saying about how she uses discerning trends on social media.

LEE: Yeah, I think I can really relate to that, that kind of struggle and back and forth you may be feeling, and I think a lot of people would maybe point to spending more money, right?

Because if you’re spending more money, you must be getting better quality. But I don’t necessarily think that’s true all the time because even designers in luxury fashion are cutting corners with quality as well. You buy a pair of leather shoes, and you need to get them resoled right away.

The heel isn’t stacked, it’s completely hollow and these are just examples of even in luxury brands cutting corners in regard to quality, I think. I’ve been working in trends, and I’ve been a trend researcher for seven years. I’ve seen pretty much, I’ve seen it all, and I’ve also seen the cycles come back as well. It’s been interesting. You reach a certain age and then you watch things that were cool when you were a teenager that were so not cool, come back again. And I’ve watched this cycle happen and I think the most important thing that folks can do is have conviction in what you’re buying and what you’re wearing.

If you’re buying things to fit into a trend, remember a lot of fast trends are a blip in time, and if you’re buying something to signal that you’re part of this trend, it may go away faster than you’d like. So building confidence and conviction is really important.

CHAKRABARTI: Can it even be considered a trend when it’s so short and also algorithmically amplified?

LEE: Yeah, there are different technically different words, especially like on the business side to describe these phenomenons. Fads are one, microtrends are another. It really depends. But what’s happening now is less singular items going like viral and everyone buying them, more of the microtrend route.

And what’s happening now is really niche aesthetics are replacing that. So cottage core, for example. And these aesthetics will have like even smaller like niches below them, an umbrella term. So that’s what I’ve been seeing happening over the last maybe two years, this sort of phenomenon evolving.

But yeah, it’s a tough place to be in. And to go back to Sydney’s original question. It’s tough with denim personally for me, because I don’t wear jeans. But even if you look at Levi’s, which has been a leader in denim for decades, their denim now doesn’t even compare to their vintage denim.

And it’s hard to tell somebody, “Hey, maybe look into vintage denim.” When jeans are such a personal piece of clothing. The fit is really important. It’s hard. It’s hard to try to steer somebody in that direction when the access isn’t necessarily there.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. And that says something about a company who gave the world the copper rivets and jeans that were supposed to be tough enough for gold prospectors in the California Mountains.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: We are talking about how technology, social media, and capitalism shape our behavior and our perceptions of reality.

And today we’re tackling that question through the issue of do Gen Z Americans even recognize what quality clothing is anymore? And if not, why not now? We got a lot of feedback from On Point listeners about clothing in general. Because both Mandy, both you and Danielle accurately noted that the quality of clothing, fast fashion or not seems to have been degrading over time.

So let’s just listen to a couple of things that folks shared with us. This is Susan Knaack. She lives in Arlington Heights, in Illinois. Excuse me. And she says she brought what she thought were well-made clothes at Brooks Brothers and Eddie Bauer in the ’80s and ’90s, but in the past decade or so, she’s noticed a big drop off.

SUSAN KNAACK: I’ve had more seams give way and buttons fall off easily. The bottom seams of T-shirts seem to roll up when you wash them, and the sizing is more inconsistent as well. But my biggest problem though, is the smell of the clothing, manufacturers are treating the material or the finished clothing with something.

I’m not sure what it is. And that’s probably my main reason for returning clothing.

CHAKRABARTI: And here is On Point listener Arthi Sullivan from Philadelphia.

ARTHI SULLIVAN: What I’ve personally noticed when I try to buy clothes in store, like things like Forever 21 or H&M, they’re so much more expensive and the quality is not as good in comparison to really being able to thrift and you’re able to thrift good quality clothing for a way more affordable price.

CHAKRABARTI: We’ll talk about thrifting more in a few minutes here, but here is one more listener. This is Ivan Gates from Reno, Nevada.

IVAN GATES: I find a lot of brands that are mainstays in American fashion like Levi’s or Pendleton or Woolrich. I find those to typically have gone down in quality over time to find myself seeking out old vintage clothes because I know that even if they are 20, 30 years old, they’ll still last me longer than stuff that I can go out and buy the department store.

CHAKRABARTI: Just a few On Point listeners, they’re lamenting and I’m right there with you about the decreasing quality of all kinds of clothing. Now, Danielle Vermeer. I want to explore with you and Mandy here, how to break this cycle. It seems like a very much a cycle of like hyper consumption. You talked about that dopamine hit, the social feedback that people get from getting those new clothing, those new pieces of clothing, and then sharing them on social media and the general sort of culture that surrounds people now, this seems to be a pretty strong feedback loop.

Where would you try to start breaking it down?

VERMEER: Mandy mentioned building your own confidence and conviction. And I think that’s so powerful, because it really does stem from that. If you have confidence in your personal style, you know what you like, you know what works for you in your unique body, then you’re likely going to be less susceptible to those pressures from social media, from fast fashion to just buy, and consume things that you might not really and that are not going to last. So I think it starts there, of figuring that out, and that can take some time and experimentation, but I think that’s where the fun of fashion is.

CHAKRABARTI: Mandy, what do you think about that? Because I am very sympathetic to the fear and the risk that Gen Zers might feel that they’re taking by opting out of that social aspect of fast or even ultra fast fashion.

LEE: Definitely. Of course, I totally agree with what Danielle is saying. That’s been my main advice because this issue is so nuanced, right? Everyone has different set of circumstances that they’re working against, and I think it’s hard to give blanketed advice on how to break the cycle.

But I do think that’s an amazing place to start because another thing that I’ve noticed. My line of work is the cycles are getting faster. So what used to be a 20-year trend cycle has been definitely shortened. And trends happening so quickly, like in the blink of an eye, and I think something that may be attractive to folks who may want to try that path of just building their personal style. Is remember that everything comes back.

So you know, if you love ballet flats. Lucky you because they are back in fashion at the moment, and they’ll be back again. Everything will filter in and out and it’s a lot easier just to lean into what you know you like, and you know you are going to end up being a trendsetter at some point because things cycle so quickly.

That’s my thought on the matter and the folks that I see really taking risks and experimenting end up being trendsetters. Whether that’s their intention or not, I see that happen. So much on my side of the business. And when you think about it from a manufacturing standpoint and just from a fast fashion standpoint, what do you think they’re going to cut first?

Do you think it’s going to be the quantity of the garments they’re making? The design, the price point? No. It’s going to be the quality. The quality is going to be the first thing to go. And I think remembering that also might help in being able to distinguish what you like and staying away from brands that are cutting these corners so much.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. It is heartening to hear you say that still the that sort of beautiful alchemy of human creativity is something that machines cannot recreate, so people can still start trends of their own, even if they don’t mean to, but Danielle I totally hear what Mandy’s saying about even though trend cycles are getting shorter, or maybe because trend cycles are getting shorter, something that you already own will come back into fashion.

But folks are in a pickle though, aren’t they? Because of what we talked about a little earlier that back to that quality question, the quality of the actual garments has diminished so significantly that they maybe won’t even last until that trend comes back.

VERMEER: That’s right. Brands just really don’t make stuff like they used to.

And some of the anecdotes from those listeners point to that, where brands that maybe they purchased in the ’90s, 2000’s, they buy those again and they’re not lasting as well. And so one recommendation I do have is if there is a style that’s available secondhand, the quality is likely to be far greater than what you can buy today.

CHAKRABARTI: And that’s something that you don’t just preach, that you practice it as well.

VERMEER: Yes, I am going on over 11 years now of buying no newly made clothes, just thrifted, secondhand, vintage upcycled or sewed it myself. And then in very small instances, if I can’t find what I want, try to support an ethical or sustainably made brand.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So tell me then, how has choosing that path had an impact on your life? Because I know that you have this very successful newsletter, Good, Will, Hunting, but I keep going back to what both you and Mandy said earlier about this, the cycle between social feedback communities, online trends in fashion.

Stepping away from that. Has that been, has that carried any negative consequences for you? Danielle?

VERMEER: No. If anything, it’s helped me feel more confident in exploring my own style. And I think as a teen, now, they’re being so overwhelmed with greenwashing messages on one hand, or the pressure of social media on the other hand, and they are looking for a place where they can figure out their own style and build that confidence and conviction we talked about.

And so that’s what I’m working on now.

CHAKRABARTI: I want to actually share some thoughts from some On Point listeners who are also right there with you, Danielle, in their love of thrifting. First of all, here is Zoe, an On Point listener in Felton, California who goes thrifting two or three times a month.

ZOE: I don’t always buy clothes, but it depends like what’s there.

And then I might go to a shop and get something like once a month and I get like baggy jeans or cool hoodies or any like type of cool like sweater or shirt that I find.

CHAKRABARTI: And here is an On Point listener sharing the same love of thrifting, who’s in Sunset, excuse me, sunset Hawaii.

LISTENER: I’m almost 75 years old, and I absolutely know the difference between shoddy work and quality work.

And you just have to recognize labels and you have to look for finished seems on the inside. If it’s really high-quality cotton or silk or linen, those are going to be quality products. Rayon, polyester are horrible. You might as well wear a Saran wrap and after you thrift shop for years and years and are very savvy, you immediately, you can look even in the pattern. And that’s also an indication of the quality of the garment.

CHAKRABARTI: And here’s one more. This is Stephanie Fonzo from New Haven, Connecticut, who says that she started shopping for clothes in thrift stores because it was better for the environment, but it had other advantages too.

STEPHANIE FONZO: As I went through thrift stores and found myself really loving the fashion from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, I also found that the clothes were such high quality.

You could feel in the fabrics that a lot of them are natural fabrics. A lot of them are handmade. A lot of them have labels that say that they’re union-made. And to me, the fact that they have lasted till now is a testament to their quality.

And so I’ve been pretty committed to shopping second-hand for some time now, not only because it’s better for the environment, but because I love the fashion and I also love the way that the clothes feel, knowing that and giving them a second life and that they’re not being made by unfair labor practices on the other side of the world.

CHAKRABARTI: So several On Point listeners there and sharing their thrifting practices. Now, Mandy Lee, one thing that I want to just explore as we head towards the end of the conversation here is that this isn’t just like thrifting, while I totally support it and I think it’s a wonderful way to attack this problem.

It’s also not going to be enough, right? Because we’re talking about global companies. Shein is what, a hundred-billion-dollar company now, whose entire business model relies on continuous consumption, right? That is what they’re in the business of doing. And then that is being dovetailed with the absolute ubiquity of social media.

So do you foresee any sort of changes or pullback by the fashion industry itself from this, these practices?

LEE: Oh man it’s tough to answer this because from what I’ve observed and experienced in the industry, luxury and fast fashion, I do not see an end to this problem in the near future.

And I think the efforts of the individual are really admirable. But I think a lot of people blame individuals for this problem. Where if you’re buying from Shein, yes, you are contributing, but that is not who is running this machine. It’s so much bigger than the individual and it spans through the entire industry.

It’s not just a Shein problem, it’s an everyone at this point problem. And if you pick up on what the guests just now were talking about. They’re, what they have in common is practice. They have put the effort and time in to identify what is good quality and what is good, what is not. And you need to have that experience for yourself.

It’s not something you can really watch online and know how to touch and feel and exactly what to look for in person. That is an experience that you earn almost. And I think that a lot of folks do not want to do that. Because again, this like instant gratification that comes with buying fast fashion.

Even, you know, what influencer sort of push is like, monkey see, monkey do, buy on the spot. Trust me. It really does take time and effort to build those skills into how to identify clothing, and I think that practice has really been lost over the last, 10, 20 years. And I just think it’s so human to want to do that, so I honestly am not sure how we get back to that, if that’s even possible.

I like to think I’m optimistic, but at the current time, I’m not sure how this problem will end.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, so I will go so far as to say that if you feel, not you specifically Mandy or Danielle, but the general you of people who are listening out there. If you feel like you absolutely have to have a new shirt every few days, or a new outfit every few days because you’ve seen it on social media, then that is just proof that technology and capitalism are, indeed, it’s shaping our behavior, it’s shaping our desires, it’s shaping what we think we need to be, full, whole and complete human beings. That, as both of you has said, is a very hard thing to deprogram ourselves from there, there has to be some other source of emotional satisfaction or cultural approval that we get.

So I guess I’ve asked this question already, but Danielle give me another way to start, for people to help build that, a new culture around fashion.

VERMEER: I think consumers, particularly younger ones who haven’t been exposed to quality fashion yet, I’m excited for when they do have that ‘Aha’ moment of when they can touch and feel and try on and even smell what a well-made item is.

And that’s likely going to be through secondhand, in vintage, because those clothes were built to last.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. We also then need to like create groups or more groups that help folks go out and find that stuff. Because I’ll admit, whenever I go to secondhand clothing stores, I look through all this stuff.

I’m not sure I have the knowledge, so maybe Danielle, I got to read your newsletter even more.

VERMEER: Or we can go thrifting together.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s the thing that we need to do. Then we also get that social part too.

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