Is it Worth the Cost? Designer vs. Fast Fashion

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There has always been a divide in fashion between those who swear by designer labels and those who prefer the cheaper alternative: mass market clothing. Those who prefer designers say they do so because they believe that the items are better looking and of an overall better quality. Those who spurn designer labels because of their high pricing argue that you are getting the same product for less money and that paying designer prices means primarily paying for the brand name. But is this true? Is there really a difference between higher end clothing and its less pricey alternatives?

The simplest answer: it’s complicated. While consumers of designer fashion may, in fact, be paying for a brand name in some part (after all, fashion houses are businesses like any other), much of the extra price comes from not what the garment looks like, but how it is made.

Like any other girl in her 20s, I am not immune to mass market fashion’s appeal. After all, what girl hasn’t been in a Forever 21 or H&M? The clothes are cute and sinfully cheap. And when I say sinfully, I’m not exaggerating. A report from January this year details the horrible conditions migrant women face when working in factories in Bangalore, India. The factories involved made clothing for major fast fashion retailers such as H&M, C&A, Zara and Gap.

The low prices of garments from these brands is a good indication that the people producing them may not be paid very well, after all, the company selling the garment needs to make some kind of profit, which isn’t very likely if the product is sold for nearly the same cost it is made for. This isn’t to say that designer labels don’t outsource their work; brands such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger are all high end fashion labels that have been reported for using sweatshop labor.

Photo by Christopher Pillitz

Photo by Christopher Pillitz

Another issue? Cheaper fabrics are more likely to be used by stores that have lower costs. Materials like rayon, polyester, acrylic acetate, and nylon are likely to be used in many modern garments. These textiles are man-made fibers not found in nature. They are cheaper because it’s easier to make these fibers on a large scale in a lab than it is to find analogs in nature on the same scale.

But why are they bad? Synthetic materials are usually not something to fear. However, in the case of fabric, synthetics should probably be avoided. For one thing, polyester factories, which use oil-based chemicals to create the fabric, are responsible for air and water pollution that both harms the environment and causes health problems. For another, some of the chemicals used to treat these fabrics, such as formaldehyde, are known carcinogens. And as your skin is actually an organ, which absorbs whatever you put on it, wearing cloth coated in carcinogens is probably a bad idea.

If you don’t care about that, consider this: synthetics such as polyester do not work well in warm climates. The fabric will not breathe like natural textiles, and if the garment is 100% synthetic, there will be no ventilation whatsoever. Many of these reasons are why higher end designers don’t like using synthetic materials. They tend to favor more natural fibers such as silk, cotton, and wool, which are generally considered higher quality. It is also worth noting that, despite being vegan, synthetic fur and leather is harmful to the environment as well as the workers creating the product. Natural products are more sustainable, and therefore more expensive.

Photo by Yulia Reznikov

Photo by Yulia Reznikov

Quality is also a main difference between so-called “high street fashion” and high-end fashion. Better materials, of course, make for a better product and the fact is that the fast fashion business model doesn’t use these materials because their products are not made to last.

I’ve personally owned items from these stores that have fallen apart after one wash. Despite this, fast fashion brands sell millions of garments a year because combined with their low prices, they have 52 “micro-seasons” a year designed to make a consumer always feel off-trend. With retail therapy as the new norm, retailers know they need to keep making their products exciting and new. But higher end fashion doesn’t follow the same paradigm, sticking instead to the traditional Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter calendar.

The clothing may be more expensive, but the term luxury is used to describe them for a reason. There is a clear choice between splurging on one, well made but expensive item, or paying the same price for a “haul” of lower quality garments. In the end, it is up to the consumer. Would you rather pay for something that can last years that you may truly value, or get more quantity for less quality?

I'm an avid reader and love writing more than anything. My favorite authors include Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and J.K. Rowling. I love fashion, and though you'd never tell by looking at me, I'm a horror movie junkie. Painting is one of my talents, and my ultimate career goal is to be an author.

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