The Durability Myth: How Fast Fashion Is Rebranding As High-Quality.

WRITTEN BY Sarah Moran

June 24, 2024

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The Durability Myth: How Fast Fashion Is Rebranding As High-Quality.

by | Jun 24, 2024 | Fashion & Lifestyle

Sarah Moran

24 Jun, 2024

It seems simple to separate the fast from the fashion: SHEIN is the devil incarnate, and your local earth-toned boutique that stocks small designers is the only way forward. However, there exists a foggy middle ground, littered with brands attempting to convince consumers of their high quality. Polished merchandising, sleek mannequins and vague marketing copy are all employed in an attempt to point towards the direction of our favourite buzzword: sustainability. Fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, and Abercrombie & Fitch have re-marketed themselves in recent years as higher-quality alternatives to the demonised brands that first spring to mind when we hear the words ‘fast fashion.’ Consumers should not be so easily convinced, since the perception of these garments as durable is antithetical to the push for sustainability in fashion.

I am a believer in “buy nice or buy twice”, the rule of thumb that suggests if you buy something high quality and take good care of it, it can last a lifetime. This idea seems to be more or less agreed upon when it comes to making eco-friendly purchases. “Buying nice” does not restrict you to buying second hand – just buying far less whilst making informed purchases. My mother has coats that she purchased new in the 80s that are still in impeccable condition today, and I hope to follow in her footsteps by taking care of the clothes she has passed down to me.

However, the concept of buying nice has changed in recent years, given the overall decline in the quality of garments. Last year, online discussions pointed out that clothes just do not look the same as they used to, citing Billy Crystal’s plush sweater from When Harry Met Sally as an example – and they are absolutely right. Mass production of garments, and an increase in the use of synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic and nylon, means natural, durable materials like wool are becoming harder to find. In an article for The Guardian, Lucianne Tonti described the myriad of ways in which cost-cutting in the fashion industry has led to worse-quality garments in stores, such as stretch fabrics replacing accurate dressmaking. The answer seems obvious: to buy nice without breaking the bank entirely, you need to be looking for pieces made prior to the advent of fast fashion. Despite this conclusion, buying second hand does not seem to be the consensus.

Recently, when discussing clothing quality, friends of mine complimented Abercrombie & Fitch for its improved quality, noting it as a good choice for durable clothes that were well-made. They said Abercrombie was elevated now, and was worth the price for clothes that would last. I simply could not believe my ears. Abercrombie of black-and-white ab photoshoots and an evil villain CEO? Abercrombie of the dark, mirrored premises where your friend’s cousin’s friend was recruited as a model when she was just 15? 

It seems Abercrombie has started resurrecting itself from the 2010s fashion graveyard with some very clever re-marketing and, if my anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, it is, in fact, working. Under a new CEO – who has learned that marketing only to “cool” skinny people doesn’t work – Abercrombie is pandering to a “young millennial” audience with their under-exposed photo shoots, apparent model diversity, and not forgetting the in store polished redesign. Mahogany displays, sleeker mannequins, and more mature design choices try to communicate: buy this and have it for life.

Despite Abercrombie’s commitment to responsibly sourcing materials in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals, their quality still leaves much to be desired. A trip to one of their stores revealed the disparity between Abercrombie’s prices and their quality. Several items of clothing were already wrinkled on the hanger, indicating the use of synthetic fabrics. The tags showed that many pieces were more than 80% polyester, including their wedding line, which featured 100% polyester dresses for more than $100. While some pieces felt soft and plush, the high percentages of synthetic fabrics signalled that these garments would pill after only a few wears, and quickly lose their expensive feel.

As for their autumn/winter collection, content creator Jennifer Wang – who regularly investigates the finer details of garment production in major brands – noted obvious pilling on Abercrombie’s A/W 2023 polyester coats and sweaters, as well as poor dressmaking, with messy stitching, no back vent on blazers, and buttons that were not fit for purpose.

When it seems as though consumption is one of the only means through which we can have a say in how our world works, and each euro spent feels like a vote for the kind of production we want to see, let’s not vote for overpriced garments purporting to be luxurious. 

No one is morally corrupt for buying from these brands, but the question should not be what consumption will make you a good person, but how you can limit your consumption. The notion of “buying nice” as a means of advocating for both durability and environmental consciousness is appealing, but the shifting landscape of manufacturing standards and the increase in green-washed marketing campaigns complicates this ideal. At the end of the day, the path forward lies not in where we buy, but rather in how we can collectively lessen our reliance on constant consumption.

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