Cheap clothes are often depicted as practical and democratic. We’re all familiar with fast-fashion, after all there’s a reason why Inditex, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, GAP Inc., and Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. are four of the world’s largest retailers by volume. These retailers like Zara, H&M, Forever 21, and countless others replace the seasonal cycle with a system of high-volume and low-price in order to lure consumers into continuous buying . We are convinced that we cannot “afford” higher priced garments, treating clothes as disposable, and cheap prices continue to spur our exponential consumption. Historically clothing has always been highly valued, preciously cared for until worn out, and therefore expensive. Yet fast-fashion thrives off of carefully orchestrated trends, driven by competitive low prices, and planned obsolescence. Trends are quickly exhausted while corners are cut on quality, construction, detail, and craftsmanship.
As we continue to kill off better-made higher end lines they’re replaced by the cheaper and more predictable. We leave ourselves with generic chain stores with similarly stocked product, trusting the one offering us the lower price as the “fair” or honest one. At least the one we can “afford.” This homogeneous effect has allowed us to continue shopping at retailers whose price we recognize as the lowest. Where does our concept of affordability lay, when prices once reasonable are now too expensive? Stores like Zara and H&M with glass doors, sleek white walls, and polished hardwood floors don’t appear cheap. The disorganized discounter of the past, off-putting consumers with its fluorescent lights, are long gone replaced by limited price signs and few bargain advertisements.
While the homogeneous mainstream may be what’s available, it isn’t necessarily what people want. Therefore a niche is a strong market to tap into, committed people who are loyal to a style or brand(s). Seemingly everyone in the country may have the same $20 H&M dress but the Comme des Garcons customer probably isn’t an H&M one. Companies like Maison Martin Margiela assure us that “the democracy of our fashion has always been at the centre of our creativity, and the collaboration with H&M allows us to push this instinct further.” Companies promise their motives are socialistic, that they don’t merely serve some elitist few. This false democratization feels like a choice when in reality cookie-cutter cheap fashion, with its planned obsolescence, has become ingrained in the apparel industry.