From SHEI Magazine–Ethical or Cheap? The Problem with Forever 21 and Modern Shopping

Thing 1 wants a new skirt. Specifically, she wants a black fitted stretchy skirt sold at Forever 21, so while we were at the mall today picking up some foundation that I needed, I let her take me into the nearby Forever 21 store to show it to me.

They had it. The price was only $8.50, which sent up a red flag rather than making me whip out my wallet. How can a store produce a quality product and pay its workers a fair wage for a garment that is priced so low? The answer is simple–they can’t, so they don’t. They produce practically disposable trendy garments at rock bottom prices by stealing designs and treating their workers poorly, as summed up nicely here:

SHEI Magazine » Ethical or Cheap? The Problem with Forever 21 and Modern Shopping.

But here is where my problem lies.  Anthropologie and Diane von Furstenberg are way over my budget, as they are for many college students.  And even if I had endless money, I wouldn’t necessarily abandon cheap knockoffs for high-end designers, as many of the companies suing Forever 21 have themselves violated numerous labor standards and intellectual property rights.  Furthermore, while buying from green and fair trade companies is certainly the ideal, it’s often not the most convenient option, price or location-wise (many times these companies are solely online, adding in shipping costs, sizing uncertainties, etc.).  And although I am a diehard vintage fan myself, I understand that thrift stores are hit-or-miss for many people (only one item of everything means it either fits or it doesn’t).

So what is an ethical consumer to do? I find myself wondering if buying a cheap knock off made by workers who are virtually slaves any worse than buying a department store brand manufactured by workers who are virtually slaves. It’s not like there is a clear good option, where good design meets sweatshop-free manufacture at a price a mere mortal can afford. Fair Trade is not a concept that has been adopted by the fashion industry. The best I can do is make mindful purchases of items that will at least last, avoiding swiftly ending trends, and trying to do with quality over quantity.

That is a hard for an 11-year old girl to absorb, when what she really wants is to wear the same trendy skirt that many of her friends are wearing this month. We talked about it a little and left the store without the skirt, but her desire to dress like her friends, most of whom aren’t bothered by the ethical impact of their wardrobes, is still strong. I remember being that age and having the desire to fit in through fashion–when I was in sixth grade I begged and pleaded with my parents for a stupidly expensive pair of Guess jeans that looked like they had been attacked by piranha just so that I would fit in. I feel guilty for not letting her get her $8.50 skirt, and I know that I would feel a different guilty if I had let her get it. I guess that the best I can do is ask her to look into it and make her own decision consciously and carefully, because in the current fashion market that is the best any of us can do.

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