The Ethical Quagmire of “Fast Fashion”

The other day a friend of mine suggested to another that she go to H&M to revamp her wardrobe for spring, and I held my tongue–which was sort of shocking to me because I am working on a film project that is literally showing me how to be the ultimate eco warrior.

Which makes me think of an image like this, and that I find to be mildly disturbing.

Why ? Because I’m not the type of person to judge.

Ok, I pay my bills working in a industry which is basically all about bossing around others. I have been told I’m a “natural” and most people I date would agree that it’s true.

But I don’t care whether or not you buy organic food.

I get it, these are hard times--sometimes you can swing the extra $1.39 for the organic avocado and sometimes you can’t.

And at the end of the day no one wants to eat or be fed toxins. Its kind of a no-brainer. We’re all doing what we can.

And the same could be said about where you buy your clothes, but since poison isn’t an immediate threat, things seem to slide. Or boundaries of what is “right” and “wrong” get a little fuzzy and everyone is doing it.

Including the Catholics.

Case in point, there was a campaign instigated during London Fashion Week by the nonprofit Labour Behind the Label. I am intrigued by their challenge to wear only six items because I don’t know if I could do it.

My friend Emma Lipp asked me the other day at lunch why I was making this film and I told her that my artist status in life didn’t match my insatiable desire for a constantly evolving wardrobe.


Still from my film, Swap.

She related and admitted that her way of keeping that in check was to re-wear an outfit that was really good. She said her longest bout was up to three days because she is more like me, prone to wearing multiple outfits during the whole day.

This admission opened up the room as others related their variation on the habit escalating to the other extreme that Rebecca, a choreographer, admitted to having a bit of a uniform especially when she is working on a show because she just doesn’t have time to think about what she is going to put on every day.

These are the best type of conversations to erupt when I tell people what I am working on because I actually hear about how regular people relate to their clothing and help me see myself in how I relate to mine.

This is way more productive than sanctimonious rants about the “industry” and its classism, its compulsion to undermine society’s view of what beautiful can be, etc., especially since sometimes the ranters are the same people that go to the “fast fashion” stores without batting an eye. This is essentially doing the same thing as expounding on the virtues of veganism while getting a quarter pounder at MCDonald’s because it’s “for the people.”

And maybe part of the reason I held my tongue that day is because I am no better. My need for a constant influx to my wardrobe with just as much outtake due to boredom is akin to drinking three or four of these per week:

I have my own fast fashion pieces.

Behold this H&M classic. I love it. I feel cute in it. It fills me with so much guilt.

Check out this H&M classic. It makes me feel so cute and that makes me feel so guilty. But my rationalization is that I don’t actually purchase them, I swap them, which still sort of makes me feel like a junkie fishing for excuses.

I asked my friend J. what she thought about this because she is clear headed and she felt like my rationale was on point, though then she qualified that it would be different if it was used fur. Wearing used or traded “fast fashion” is ok because you are not contributing money to the system but wearing fur, new or old, is emphatically saying that you think the practice is ok. You learn something new every day.

And the point of this particular post is that the great moral debates of fashion are evolving (you think its like this but really its like……). For the past year and a half, since telling people I want to make a movie about them, I have been inundated with trying to make sense of it all: to convey the stories as a narrative.  More like a sleuth than a warrior, really, as I lay down the story in a way that doesn’t point fingers.


About cat_tyc

Cat Tyc is a Brooklyn based filmmaker/video artist making a documentary about style & exchange called SWAP. She gets weepy watching "Project Runway" marathons and loves her Marc Jacobs skirt more than you.


  1. I think swapped fast fashion is okay–kind of like an otherwise-vegetarian friend of mine who waitressed at a Chinese restaurant and ate the meat people left on their plates (the family-style ones, not the germy individual plates).

    What’s your stance on buying secondhand fast fashion clothes?

  2. With Care

    A digression: A few months back, I went to a clothing swap where I, much like everyone else, brought along a bag of cast-offs. Unlike everyone else, my bag was filled with old clothes that were…well.. old. Like, things I loved when I got them at the thrift but then realized that, say, shoving my huge boobs into a thickly knit vest was like saying “I am only made of boobs.” Everyone else had tons of stretched out F21 shirts and pilling H&M wrap dresses. It was an unappealing pile at best and at worst it was someone -whose idea of clothing is a $5 dollar piece of synthetic rushed into existence by an aching factory worker- holding up my clothing and going “ugh! Who would wear this?!” It was tempting to gather up all of my goods with my hurt feelings and run home but, on the other hand, when I looked at the squinched noses I felt, well, an overwhelming sense of smugness. At least no one was really hurt by my style mistakes. Their dues were paid long ago.

    I understand that part of the idea of not wearing secondhand fur is that it’s simple existence helps to create a market for it. I think that, as much as I try to avoid buying secondhand anything that I would not feel comfortable buying retail, it is important to honor that which is there. Instead of letting shitty Old Navy long-sleeved shirts rot on a hanger, it’s for the best to get the most mileage out of a previously made mistake by using it, taking care of it, and disposing of it in a reasonable manner.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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