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On fast fashion, shopping addiction, and “retail therapy”

Retail Therapy, Traci Pryde of Pryde Hantverk

(Note: this is a guest post for Maggie Greene Style, and was published on her site in a slightly different format.)

Hi, I’m Traci Pryde, and I’m a retail addict in recovery. 

From a very young age, shopping became a sort of “hobby” for my mom and me. 

Visiting relatives in Portland? Gotta hit Lloyd Center and Clackamas Towne Square. Bored? Go wander the aisles at Target. Anxious? Scroll Amazon. Need a distraction from your big feelings? Time to hit Buckle.

I only, finally, realized my addiction around the age of 34. 

My rock bottom was maxing out a credit card with an alarmingly high line of credit. 

There I was, worrying about my first born son’s impulse control issues and how his distractibility was affecting him in school, and, at the same time, I was shopping uncontrollably and had this credit card debt with a balance I swore I’d never reach. 

I cut up that card, closed the account, and closed a couple of other cards with lower lines of credit.

While I’ve been far from perfect since that time, I work hard to put more thought into what I’m buying and I am so much better able to control my spending. 

I’m happy to say that, 13 years later, I slip sometimes, but have never accrued that level of credit card debt again.

I confess, I’ve shopped retail clothing my entire life and only in the last couple of years have I really started paying close attention to the world of fast fashion and the damage it inflicts on humans and the environment. 

I now work daily to cut back on overconsumption, and the most significant change I’ve made is in my fast fashion habits. When did you first hear the term “fast fashion?” 

Merriam-Webster defines it as:

 “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” 

That seems insufficient at best. Fast fashion is so much more than that. 

Fast fashion is one of the most grossly unethical industries on the planet.

Even if you haven’t done a deep dive on this topic, it is hardly a secret that the overwhelming majority of garments for the retail industry are made in deplorable conditions. “Sweat shop” is the general term that comes to mind. 

According to Garment Worker Center, “Approximately 85% of garment workers do not earn the minimum wage and are instead paid a piece rate of between 2-6 cents per piece. Most garment workers work 60-70 hour weeks with a take home pay of about $300 dollars. Workers are not paid overtime and toil in unsafe, cramped, dirty, and poorly ventilated factories.” 

As if inhumane working conditions and abysmal wages weren’t enough, the fast fashion industry is also devastating to the environment in more ways than one. 

From production to landfill, it is one of the most wasteful and largest polluters there is.

It involves mass production, a profit-over-people mentality, cutting environmental corners, the use of toxic materials, exploitative labor practices, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a compelling statistic for you: 

“The number of garments produced annually has doubled since 2000 and exceeded 100 billion for the first time in 2014 and an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually from the fashion industry. 

“Shockingly, every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned globally.”  

So, yeah. We’ve got a problem.

Now let’s spend a moment on the myth of “Ready to Wear.” 

The phrase implies that when we shop fast fashion, we go to a retail store, find our preferred section, search for something that catches our eye, and then hope to find it in our size. Our next stop is the fitting room. 

How many times have you tried on a garment and it immediately fit like it was made for your body? To be fair, once in a while we find a brand or a fit or a certain cut that just works for us, but that’s the exception. And, more often than not, after a period of years, even those styles and sizes change. They’re discontinued or the brand cuts some operational corner and the result just isn’t the same.

Why do I call Ready-to-Wear a myth? 

None of those garments were made for your unique body. They were made for a “straight size” body (usually a US “women’s” size 8) based on arbitrary and inconsistent measurements. And since the majority of folks don’t fit into that “straight size” range (for example, my bust, waist, and hip measurements vary from a 10 to a 16, according to US standard “women’s” sizing), often we are out of luck when shopping. 

We end up walking away with a garment that fits some parts of us and then we have to cinch up that waist with a belt because, let’s say, we need a size 22 for our hips and an 18 at the waist, or we are forced to wear a tank top to conceal the dreaded gap that happens when a button-up shirt meets a fuller bust – see where I’m going with this?

If you’re new to this discussion you might be thinking, “OK, but what the heck can I do about it?” And I get that. In fact, I’ve asked that of myself. I still do.

It’s hard when you feel like you’re just one individual in a world of billions, so how much does your effort really matter? 

And that’s the exact mentality that fast fashion preys on – “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” But there are alternatives. And reducing your fast fashion footprint is worth it. Every single person who makes a change in their consumption habits adds up. 

Will those committed to sustainable fashion change the entire world? 

It depends. 

We are witnessing a revolution of sorts in terms of people paying more attention and pushing back against overconsumption. 

Every time one of us commits to making a small change, the movement keeps rolling – it’s a lot like the Snowball Effect. Well, I say, winter is coming for the fast fashion industry and I don’t know about you, but I love a good snow storm!

Now, back to what you can do about it. 

The following are some actionable steps, many of which you can take immediately:

Buy less. 

It’s really that simple. Ever get to the register and realize that half your cart is the stuff you actually came for, and the other half is other stuff you saw and thought was cute, or maybe it was a ridiculous markdown, so you just tossed it in? I’d never be able to count the number of times I threw something in my cart without even thinking about it. Buying less simply means taking that extra second to check in with yourself:

Take care of what you have. 

Another no-brainer, right? Turn graphic tees inside out to reduce fading or cracking on the graphic. Wash clothing in lower temps, and hang garments to dry if the fabric is delicate (read: cheap, poor quality). Check for stains and pre-treat to avoid stains that stay forever.

Buy only items you love and will actually use. 

I am more than willing to admit that there are countless times I have purchased something because it was dirt cheap, even when I wasn’t in love with it. In my case, 9 times out of 10, that garment might get worn once or twice, then it hangs in my closet for years, after which point I finally admit defeat and ultimately donate it. 

Note: donating clothing is not on this list, because it’s fraught with almost as much waste as tossing your clothes in the trash. Maggie will tackle “mindful rehoming” in another post.

Shop secondhand first.

When we are intentional with our consumption, thrifting is a great option. Confession: I didn’t previously have the patience for thrifting. I really wanted to be a thrifter, but to me it just felt like going into the big box thrift stores, feeling overwhelmed, and then freezing. 

But now I have a secret weapon. 

My secret weapon goes by the name of Maggie Greene. 

Maggie has taught me how to thrift in a way that is so much less overwhelming, and I frequently enjoy regularly popping into local thrift shops and using online platforms to source garments secondhand.

Mend and tailor your clothing. 

When you buy only garments that you truly love, or commit to getting as much wear as possible out of cheaper, previously-purchased fast fashion items, take the time to mend them. Fluctuating weight (hello, welcome to the club)? Tailor those clothes to give you a better fit. Don’t know your way around a sewing machine, or maybe even a needle and thread (no judgment if that’s you)? I’ve got you. 

More and more people are realizing that mending their beloved clothing is so worth it in so many ways, and it doesn’t get much better than seeing a happy client who thought their garment was doomed for the landfill, or seeing  them smile in the garment I altered to fit.

The last two actionable steps bring me to the exciting collaboration Maggie and I have been working on. If you follow Maggie you probably already know about this, but if you haven’t heard yet, get all the deets here.

I am pairing Maggie Greene Style’s magical Fairy Godthrifter skills with my expertise in mending, tailoring, and alterations to bring you some AMAZING services. 

Learn more here!