When it comes to fashion, we want what we can’t have. If you’re anything like me, it’s a bit like dating. Generally, we are not content with what is directly available to us. Instead, we desire some hard to come by, highly sought after form. This lust for what is scarce is the essence of luxury. It’s what puts the thrill in everything from thrifting to high-end shopping. Just like securing your dream date, wearing that vintage jacket you scored last weekend is all the more rewarding when you take it out on the town for the first time.
If scarcity determines luxury, then why is it that mainstream clothing companies produce so much product? Nowadays, we can buy nearly anything we want, anytime we want it. As soon as a trend emerges, large retailers produce mass quantities of the new product and ship it out to hundreds of stores across the globe. Consumers are led to believe that they need these articles, yet, according to the Financial Times, most brands don’t even reach 30% sellout before markdown. This means brands are constantly producing more and more stock than will ever be consumed. This trend of overproduction is not cute - it’s waste.
The leftover product that is not purchased is referred to as deadstock. While some of the product is sent to outlet stores to be listed at lower prices and eventually reach consumers, most of this deadstock is sent to landfills. Even then, outlet stores do not sell 100% of their inventory which creates mountains of waste once again. On top of that, many buyers who purchase discounted clothing at outlet stores psychologically assign less value to them and are more likely to throw them out after only a few wears. Suddenly the business of luxury becomes a business of garbage.
Overproduction is an enormous issue that brands in the fashion industry try to hide. While brands may be able to afford producing more clothing than will ever be consumed by using cheap (and often unethical) means, our environment cannot. The Financial Times shares that, “Deadstock in the US amounts to $50bn every year. After the oil industry, fashion is the second-biggest polluting industry in the world.” This messy business practice is neither ethical, nor sustainable. Overproduction drives up factory emissions, shipping emissions, and landfill waste. If companies aim to be more eco-friendly, they must cut down production to reach sustainability goals.
The steps you can take as a consumer to work towards a solution, however, are nearly as accessible as the overproduced trends hanging on store racks right now. If you choose to purchase new clothing, I challenge you to consider quality over quantity. My mother always taught me that buying one nice pair of jeans from a sustainable retailer was more valuable than buying three cheap pairs of jeans from a mainstream brand. The reasoning behind this was probably that the nicer jeans would last longer. I agreed with her philosophy because I was less likely to match every other girl in class. Nevertheless, my point is that clothes should feel considered. They should be well-made and meaningful. They should not be unecessary contributions to our overflowing wardrobes. They should be special articles with which we adorn our dear bodies.
If you choose to purchase used clothing, all the better. Thrifting can be a great way to save money and curate a one of a kind look. Junior Costume and Makeup Design Major, Hope Weinstock, is a proud thrifter. She takes her shopping to the next level by taking what others consider “trash” and making it her own. On a recent spree, Hope scored a fabulous pair of broken vintage snakeskin boots which, she claims, cost more to repair than to actually buy. Hope finds pleasure in adopting clothing that others did not want. She revels in the imaginative stories attached to each article, knowing that this type of joy is something that cannot be mass produced in a factory.
So when it comes to building your wardrobe, be mindful of how you shop. Buy clothes that will make you stand out, while also eliminating waste. Treat yourself to the scarce luxuries of quality clothes or thrifted treasures. A stunning, sustainable wardrobe is in reach. If you look for love in the right places, or in this case the jeans of your dreams or sassy snakeskin boots, you just might find it. And I can assure you, this love will be everlasting.
Photography by: Sophie Peters-Wilson