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The Rise of Disposable Fashion

With two new H & M stores opening in Sydney within the past few weeks (Broadway and Bondi Westfield) it's got me really thinking about the rise of disposable fashion… It was only a couple of years ago that I remember being really excited about the first Top Man (Shop) and Zara coming to Sydney. For me it meant really accessible fashion and European runway trends at an affordable price. But is this really a good thing? … Is disposable the way forward?… It's got me really pondering - can disposable really be stylish?

First let's define disposable fashion. Disposable fashion is the clothing designed to be worn very few times before throwing it out from too much wear. It is fashion from the style of the moment, usually very cheap and of poor quality. Disposable fashion is everywhere, in Target, H&M, Kmart etc.

For me (and I admit I'm a victim here as well as a perpetrator) I love these stores because it means that I can fill my wardrobe, stay on trend from week to week and achieve a different and unique look each time I step out to an event. I love being seen in something new and fresh all the time. On the other hand, I also value most the pieces in my collection that are quality designer items that never fade, never go out of shape and never lose their style. So which is best?

Photo: Deb Carr's Versace Tee (new via The Iconic)

Fashion from these chain stores for want of a better word may seem like a great bargain at the time, but as it wears out quickly and you find yourself buying the same thing again you're actually still spending probably the same amount of money. Most times it actually costs the buyer more or the same money as it would have in the start if they had bought good quality, expensive fashion. However, I would also add that not all of the cheaper items are necessarily poor quality. Sure, I've had loads of t-shirts that have shrunk from Zara before and I've also had a pair of $1200 Versace pants that are still like new today, but they no longer suit me or fit for that matter - they are far too big and unflattering.

Fast fashion is now part of our contemporary vernacular. It begs the question, what are we doing to this next generation of fashion savvy consumers?

Will this phenomenon jeopardise the fashion industry at a wider level by training us not to be "designer" appreciative? Will designer fashion belong only to the rich or just as an interesting topic of conversation and photos on runways amongst fashionistas, editors and bloggers?

“Fashion to me has become very disposable; I wanted to get back to craft, to clothes that could last.” Vera Wang

Fast fashion companies tend to see it differently of course. From their point of view this trend is about making fashion accessible and affordable for more people.We want to surprise the customers,” Margareta van den Bosch, H&M’s international style adviser was quoted as saying . “We want to have something exciting. And if it’s all the time hanging the same things there, it is not so exciting, I think.”

Now back to me ~ Disposable fashion gives me a feeling of instant gratification. I love to shop, every week if possible! I know its not as prestige as that designer Armani piece I've been eyeing off but I can get it now and I can look fabulous in it now - especially with the right styling and accessories. So yes, I'm one of the bad people perpetuating this phenomenon.

Photo Vintage 1970s Emilio Pucci

Millions of dollars are being spent worldwide in stores like Zara, H&M and Top Shop. It's not about bespoke but more about pieces that come in a range of sizes to suit more people who want to look on trend - its aspirational, but it does alter the concept of "fashion". They are mass manufactured, probably in overseas factories, perhaps even by cheap (illegal?) labour. Although we pretend to care, do we really?

Let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum; iconic investment pieces, luxury items, the ones that are coveted and copied.

Photo: Vintage Chanel classic 2.5 and vintage 1970s crochet lace dress from New York

While you might think these brands are on the decline as fast as disposable fashion rises, this is not the case. Why? Because these are the true fashion brands.They spend more time, and money growing their reputation and brand to make sure consumers invest, but its not the same customer and that's the point. We all know that luxury retail, and in particular, fashion is experiencing a boom globally. Companies such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton are all reporting double digit growth in revenue. But who is that customer… It's my feeling that the younger generation are in fact not being cultured to value high end fashion over disposable alternatives which must surely threaten its future?

In my research I see a lot of experts and commentators of the opinion that although younger consumers now are happy with this deposable fashion, its still positive because it trains them to fashion-savvy and when they are older and more established with higher incomes they will then switch to luxury designer pieces and labels. Hmmm… interesting.

What fast fashion companies would probably not dispute is that their affordable prices require them to manufacture in countries where the wages are low and sell high volumes of items, to be profitable. And this is where the problem lies. In Australia, although Zara and Topshop only arrived in 2011, many local retailers have been following an accelerated fashion cycle since the early 2000's.

Valleygirl releases 65 new styles per week, Supre has daily deliveries, and the mid-market Witchery boasts 400 new styles per month.

So what is the solution? Buy vintage!

Vintage is a great way of buying great quality clothes at a very reasonable cost. Clothes from the 1960s (for example) which have lasted until now are much better quality than anything you’ll buy in a chain store, and if you know where to shop you can buy vintage for a great price!

Liz seen here at Franck Provost Paddington (110 Boundary St Ph 80637086) wearing wearing vintage Chanel tweed jacket and vintage 90's Chanel skirt with rubber banding.

Meet my friend and client, the lovely Liz Rosenberg. Liz runs a little shop on Oxford St Paddington called "Love Story."

Love Story prides itself on the quality of the vintage designer clothing it stocks. There is a large variety: from museum quality 1960s and 70s Emilio Pucci pieces to Chanel, Gucci, Valentino, Courreges, Yves St. Laurent, Escada. “I always have a large range of Chanel pieces. Prices vary from $350 up to $2,000 for a Chanel Lesage tweed jacket that would have retailed for between $8,000-$12,000,” says Liz who has a real love of vintage and designer labels.

Love Story also has a great stock of designer and luxury accessories. The Chanel bags in store are between 50-70% off retail prices and are hard to value as the rare vintage bags are no longer available and extremely collectable.

Fashion today is extremely disposable, with copies mass produced from the catwalk each season. The quality is often poor and it is not unusual for clothes to fall apart after one season. Their price reflects the quality of the production and fabrication”, comments Liz when asked for her opinion on the rise of stores such as Zara and H & M.

When you compare luxury designer pieces to mass produced clothing from major chains, it becomes evident that buying a couple of quality vintage pieces to add to your wardrobe is smart shopping. They are all classic pieces that are timeless and will last for decades. Well cared for, most will continue to gain in value and rarely depreciate. Buying a piece of Chanel, whether it be clothing or a bag, you will often recoup your cost plus more if you decide to sell it later.

I come from a family of tailors, so I value the quality of fabrics. Having said that, I often find myself admiring an outfit and am surprised to hear that it is from one of the high street chains. They can look good and are very workable into an outfit,” jokes Liz. And I must admit I did the same thing myself recently at a bloggers dinner in Double Bay. I complimented one of the other dining guests on her fabulous faux fur Bolero and expected her to tell me it was a designer. Then she whispered in my ear it was from Target! I almost spat out my sake with shock!

If one has a limited budget, you will be surprised at what you can pick up at a vintage clothing store. The sale racks are full of affordable quality vintage pieces e.g. a vintage Escada bomber for $300. I would encourage people to have a look at a good vintage store to find a great quality and more individual piece before opting for a mass produced buy at a chain store. You can find Love Story at 360 Oxford St Paddington. Call in and say hi to Liz - she's also great at putting together terrific looks for you.

Photo: @sydney_style_man on his very expensive morning jog!

My other little trick or tip is to buy in the sales … My partner and I love brands like Calibre and Jack London. They're beautifully made and exquisitely styled, but although not high end as such we can't afford to buy them all the time as we'd like to. So we wait for a big sale and stockpile. Recently on a morning jog we discovered a massive Calibre "garage clearance sale" at their now obsolete Paddington boutique. We weren't ready to shop but this was essential stockpiling. Without giving too much away lets just say that it was an expensive morning jog! But we know we'll have those pieces for quite some time.

All shops have discounts and sales, and I try to buy one or two quality pieces whenever the big sales are on. This way you can afford something which is beautiful quality and which you’ll love but up to 75% off the retail price (if you’re lucky!), so you get great quality at (almost) throw-away prices.

So ultimately there's no right or wrong here. Fashion is made to be enjoyed and no matter where, how or when you shop - make sure its for fashion that is a reflection of your style!

Your Style Editor,

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