"Buy quality over quantity!" is one of the most common phrases you'll hear in the slow fashion community, and the sentiment is correct! It is much more sustainable to buy good quality pieces that will last, than to constantly purchase flimsy, poor-quality, fast fashion outfits that will rip and tear after only a few wears. However, what do we actually mean by quality? And does buying quality mean spending more money? Not necessarily! In this blog, we'll identify some easy ways that we can check the quality of the items we're considering purchasing.
What are not good indicators of quality?
Before we talk about what ARE good indicators of quality, let's talk about some of the things that are not.
Firstly, high prices do not equal high quality. While it is often the case that if an item of clothing is ridiculously cheap, it's likely to be poor quality, the inverse is not always true.
There are a lot of factors that determine the price of an item beyond the quality of materials alone, such as brand/label recognition. In recent years countless expensive, luxury brands have been exposed for massively marking up the price of their products, despite still using cheaper, synthetic materials and sweatshop labour.
In 2018 the nonprofit group KnowTheChain; which ranks companies based on the extent to which they have reformed their supply chains so that products are not made by exploited labour, found that luxury brands Prada, Fendi and Dior were more likely to use workers who are vulnerable to exploitation in textile factories.
Another bad indicator of quality is where a garment was manufactured. Countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia have all garnered a reputation for mass production, because of this, it is common for consumers to regard products made in these countries as poor quality. Unfortunately this is often true with fast fashion outlets becoming notorious for using exploitative labour in these countries with less stringent labour laws all too common in the Global South. If you would like to learn more about sweatshops, and why they are such a huge issue, check out our blog Why Fast Fashion is a Feminist Issue!
Despite all this, a garment being made outside the Global South does not automatically mean it is of a higher quality or that working conditions are of a higher standard, as many would believe. In fact, this type of thinking often plays into racist stereotypes and misconceptions. A common example of this is believing labels like 'Made in Italy,' or 'Made in Europe,' means the clothes are of better quality but whilst 'Made in Italy' may sound fancy, it does not mean the garment was made with a superior level of craftsmanship. Sweatshop labour is also a major issue in European countries, with a report by the Clean Clothes Campaign in 2017 finding sweatshops in Europe having similarly appalling wages and working conditions, particularly in Eastern and Southern-Eastern Europe.
This is also the case for garments made locally. While shopping locally is a habit that we should all get into (and not just with clothes!), we still need to be employing the tests below to make sure that the items will last!
Close the web browser, and shop in person!
Wherever possible, it's always best to shop in person (and local!), rather than online. Not only does this cut out the emissions necessary to deliver the garment to your door, but it also means that you can inspect the construction of the garment in person, rather than just relying on pictures, or the product's description.
One of the first things we should check when inspecting a garment is that the hem and seams are properly sewn down. In poorer quality garments, it's not uncommon to find loose threads along the seam, that if snagged can easily result in rips and tears. Check to make sure that the seam has no raw edges, with loose threads hanging out.
Something to watch out for is how big the stitch size is. Long or inconsistent stitch sizes are a dead giveaway that a garment was made quickly, so where possible always opt for garments made with smaller, consistent stitches that are more durable.
Another way to test the quality of a garment's fabric is to give it a little pull between your thumbs, to see if it stretches, or holds its form. To test if it will pill, gently rub the fabric between your fingers. You'll know if the fabric is prone to pilling if groups of short or broken fibres begin to get tangled together in a tiny knot or ball.
It's also a good idea to inspect how easily it is to see through the material. While some garments are specifically designed to be sheer, if you know that it is not meant to be a see-through garment, but you can still see through it, that suggests it contains fewer fibres, and will be more prone to tearing.
If a garment uses a pattern fabric, check to see if the pattern matches at the seams. This is an easy way to see if the item was made quickly, because manufacturers of low-quality fast fashion clothing will generally skip this step, as it requires more time, extra material, and attention to detail.
There are many reasons to opt for natural; and where possible toxic dye free, materials with fibres made from cotton, linen or natural wool over synthetic fibres like polyester, acrylic wool or nylon (including smell - did you know that synthetic fibres are more likely to trap body odour!).
Oil-based plastics, polyester and nylon do not biodegrade like natural fibres, meaning they will always end up sitting in landfill at the end of the product's life cycle. Not only that, but clothing made from synthetic materials will shed microfibres every time we put them in the wash, these microfibres then end up in our waterways and oceans.
If you're not sure what the material is, check the tags! Not only will it tell you the fabric composition, but also how to best take care of it. If the label provides only limited information on the material, and how to care for the garment, this is another dead giveaway that they probably have something to hide.
Microtrends are fashion trends that rise in popularity really quickly, and fall even faster. Microtrends have been a problem since the dawn of fast fashion, but more recently social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have exacerbated the issue even further.
While microtrends might initially be based on a popular item of clothing from a high quality brand, which has often gained notoriety after being worn by celebrities or famous influencers, it becomes a problem when fast fashion companies produce their own, cheaper versions in order to capitalise on the styles popularity.
For example, independent fashion knit brand Hope Macaulay, famous for their brightly coloured, chunky knits, recently complained to the Irish Times about how fast fashion companies regularly steal their designs. Hope, the CEO and namesake of the brand said, "my designs constantly get ripped off in mass production. Not only is it frustrating and hurtful that fast fashion giants think they can blatantly copy from young designers and small businesses, they use unethical and unsustainable practices to recreate them… I rarely speak up when it happens to me because if I did I would be speaking up about it every day".
Above, is a screenshot of a cardigan from a popular fast fashion brand with a similar style of design to Hope Macaulay. While the design is not an exact replica, and may not have been directly stolen or appropriated, it does reflect the tendency of fast fashion companies to create knock off versions of clothes designed by independent brands.Microtrends are called microtrends for a reason - they are short lived fads, and the clothing produced by fast fashion outlets are only intended to last for as long as the microtrend exists. This promotes a throwaway culture that not only results in the mass production of poor quality clothes, but also crushes independent designers, and contributes to the already massive amount of textile waste we produce globally every year. In 2020, it was estimated that the equivalent of one rubbish truck full of clothes goes to landfill every second.
How many times have we all bought something that looked INCREDIBLE online, but when it arrived, was of a significantly lower quality, or the sizing was way off? Probably too many to count. This is always super frustrating, especially when the company doesn't offer refunds, which means that the garment goes to waste even before you've had a chance to wear it!
That is why checking reviews for everything that we buy should be a common practice; especially looking at reviews, OUTSIDE of the companies website. Remember, if it's on their website, they have more control over which reviews they publish, and may even be publishing misleading reviews themselves!
The best reviews to look at are video reviews on YouTube. While it is important to make sure that the content creator is not being paid to do the review (by law, they are required to disclose this information to consumers), watching reviews can give you a better sense of how the product looks in motion, rather than in a static, most likely highly-edited photograph.
Overconsumption is a climate change issue. In order to tackle this ever increasing problem, as a society, we need to reshape our understanding of the fashion industry, and style at large, by honouring what we wear, and valuing quality over quantity. Slow fashion is a journey, so don't beat yourself up if you find it difficult to adopt all of these practices immediately, or if you find everything a bit overwhelming. Buying quality pieces that you know will last for years to come not only elevates your wardrobe and fashion game, but also helps to reduce the amount of textile waste we produce!