Fast Fashion? How About Fast Everything?!

by Katy on August 20, 2013 · 37 comments


One of the biggest downsides of my summer was that Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion was due back at library before I was able to write a coherent post that would have included quotes and other such grown up references. Elizabeth Cline’s compellingly book takes an in depth look at the societal, economic and ethical issues surrounding the world’s “Fast Fashion” industry.

Not familiar with the term “Fast Fashion?” It’s used to describe the manufacturing and selling of fashion where cheap is king and quality products and worker’s rights are the lowly pauper. Think Forever 21, H&M, Old Navy, JCPenney, Target and Zara. (Although higher end brands are often just as guilty as their country cousins.)

Cute tops for only $5!!! Sure, the quality is crap, but who cares, it’s only $5!

It’s an issue that’s pressing on my mind during this back-to-school season where fashion retailers lure in customers with hard to resist bargains on questionably manufactured clothes.

The book takes a laser sharp look at the worldwide fashion industry, but the whole time I was thinking about how fashion is far from the only industry to be guilty of a fast mindset. Furnishings, cheap electronics, decor items, household goods and just about every other consumer category fall under this umbrella. (And while we’re on the subject of umbrellas, how crappy has the quality on umbrellas become?!)

Although I would like to say that I always take the high road and repair instead of replace, today’s consumer goods are often unrepairable, (particle board Ikea furniture comes to mind) more expensive to repair than replace and become outdated faster than Usain Bolt on a cool Jamaican morning. Not to mention that repair shops are a dying breed.

This is where used goods come into play.

Not only are used goods already manufactured, (thus removing the one-gets-bought-another-one-gets-manufactured cycle) but they’re often better quality. If your item was going to fall apart after normal use, it’s likely to have happened to the original purchaser. And if you’re buying a significantly older item, the quality is likely to be of a much higher standard than its currently manufactured counterpart.

I’m going to use my couch as an example.

My husband and I bought a brand new $600 hide-a-bed couch in 1993. We were super excited to be able to pick out our own fabric and I deliberately chose a classic style that would not scream “outdated” through the years. Within a few years, the couch looked simply awful. The stuffing had shifted over the arms, the fabric was falling apart and the hide-a-bed mechanism broke. I pinned similar fabric over the ripping fabric, used the warranty to get the mechanism replaced and lived with the shifted stuffing. By five years, our fancy new couch looked like we’d pulled it off the Clampett’s front porch.

I started to keep an eye out for a new couch. A vintage couch.

I soon came across a mid-century channel back couch that set me back a whopping $200. I spent an extra $75 to have the cushions plumped up from a local upholsterer and called it good. This quality couch weighs a ton, and has served us well since 2005 without any signs of falling apart. It is the recipient of many a compliment.

The argument that something is cheap and therefor doesn’t need to last really sticks in my craw, as creating goods that are destined for the landfill is both ethically and morally wrong. This is true for rapidly evolving and low quality fashion styles, and it’s equally true for computer printers, cell phones, toys, furniture, shoes and most every other consumer good category.

Does that mean that no one should ever buy anything new again?


There are still companies that take pride in their quality products and worker conditions, (whether those workers are here in the U.S. or abroad.) Pyrex glassware comes to mind, as do Maglight flashlights and New Balance shoes. Finding these products is neither intuitive nor easy. It takes research and removes the opportunity to make impulsive purchases.

Making deliberate consumer choices can be a pain in the tuchus, but if it helps to minimize the fast fashion mindset, then I’m all in!

Have you been trying to make more deliberate consumer decisions? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan August 20, 2013 at 11:57 am

I just love everything you said in this post! You hit the nail right on the head!


Theresa August 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Yes, yes, YES! This is exactly how I feel. I have waited almost 15 years for a round, oak, antique, center-pedestal (but not clawfoot) dining room table like my Grandma Barnum had. In the meantime, I first lived with no table and then with a 1970’s-era table that looked like it belonged at a Captain D’s seafood restaurant (courtesy of a friend who saw I had no table). In January I finally found my new-old table on Craigslist. I paid $400 for it, plus $100 to a friend for his truck to drive 2 hours away, and $75 for new fabric and stuffing for the 5 chairs (weird–where’s the 6th chair?!). My Katy Wolk-Stanley “thank you” is for learning about Restore-A-Finish from your blog which gave a beautiful luster to the entire ensemble. I can’t tell you how delighted I am for biding my time and for buying quality furniture that was made decades ago. I even enjoy imagining the family dinners, etc. that have already occurred around this table that will now be part of our family for decades to come. Quality rocks, used rocks! “Wabi sabi” is one of my favorite terms; it’s Japanese for “beauty in imperfection.” My “new” dining table is my favorite kind of wabi sabi.


Rachel August 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

It seems the cell phone industry is doing its best to push into a fast product as well. Lately there have been variations on the theme of “Who wants the same phone for two whole years? Just got a new phone, but saw an even newer one, just toss put your ‘old’ one.” Or my favorite, “You deserve a new phone.” No, I deserve a reliable phone that does what I need it to do. I do not deserve a new bill.


Elaine in Ark August 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

I *deserve* a new phone, but I don’t *want* one. My phone works perfectly fine. I use it to make/receive phone calls, and take pictures of my dogs. No text plan, so I’m not bothered by people who can’t make the effort to call me and talk to me.

I’m plain, and I’m happy.


Shannon August 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I had the same problem with the book being due back to the library but I didn’t even get to read it so I’ll have to reserve it again!
There are times when I would love to get rid of my stove and get a newer, fancier one but mine is a tank – it came with the house so it’s 70’s era, it’s dark brown and the only things that don’t work on it are the clock and the timer. I’ve looked at newer stoves but they don’t seem to feel as well made as mine. I hope I didn’t just jinx myself!


Hannah August 21, 2013 at 6:29 am

Mine are also 1970’s era, harvest gold fridge and stove. They rock my retro kitchen and I’ll be very sad when they finally stop working. So far so good 🙂


marie August 21, 2013 at 7:18 am

Don’t do it!!
In my old house, I had a 60’s era stove. White though, worked great, held the oven temp.
Couple of years before I sold said house, thought I really needed a new updated stove. Piece of crap!!! Never held the oven temp, top of stove got very hot, tinny, hard to keep the top surface clean, it always looked greasy. GE got tired of hearing from me.
What I’d give to have that old stove I Gave away on freecycle back 🙁


Trish August 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

we got a new fridge and the guy at the store confessed that the new stuff only lasts about 10 or so years because of all the electronic components!! argh!!!


Jen August 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm

My parents still cook on this:

It’s the Bewitched stove from 1962 and it still works 51 years later! Just shows you that manufacturers could build stuff to last if they wanted to.

Betsey August 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Mt grandfather owned a furniture store in the 1950’s that sold only quality stuff. I have his and grandma’s bedroom set that looks good after 60+ years of wear! My 2nd bedroom set is also 50 + and wow! The only thing that went bad was the headboard. I have end tables, living room chairs, and miscellaneous ( like an old Sunbeam hand mixer which refuses to die!). My pressure canner is an appliance which plugs into the wall and over 70 years old. I do have it checked professionally before I use it, but so far I have had no problems. I paid $200 for a London Fog coat 20 years ago and wear it a lot–still looks good and is wearing well. Painted my kitchen cupboards (circa 1960) a beautiful white, the walls a sunshine yellow, and voila! Looks great with a hundred year old solid oak pedestal table that my mom bought from her mother’s friend.
Yes, reuse, repurpose, refinish, recover, rewhatever. You do not need new!


megyn August 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Everything.YES. I recently found a used cell phone store, which has proven to be AMAZING! My husband’s phone just stopped working randomly. His “new” phone was $60 v. the $90+ TMobile wanted for a far crappier phone. Then my 3 year old stole my phone and dunked it in the pool rendering it useless. We returned to the same store, paid the same price, and basically got the same “old” phone I had before and loved without having to get a brand new one. Plus, the store has a 7 day cash back return policy and 30 day trade policy. It’s been win-win-win!


Rachel August 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Megyn – I like the used cell phone stores too. Both my boyfriend and I bought our phones at used cell phone stores, and they’ve been great. Not only did we save money on our phone plan, but the phones cost less than the new ones with a plan would have. Both have worked great for over 2 years now. We recently added his mom to our line, so we bought a 3rd used phone this time off ebay. I don’t plan on ever purchasing a new from the store phone again.


Betsey August 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

My grandfather owned a furniture store in the 50’s that sold quality and service. Needless to say, I have lists of stuff that I treasure.
1. a 80+ year-old bedroom set that still does not need refinishing
2. a 60+ year-old 2nd bedroom set that I have only had to replace the headboard.
3. a 100+ year-old oak pedestal table to go in my freshly painted kitchen, cupboards and walls.
4. 40+ year-old end tables, chairs, tchotchkes from grandfather’s house
5. Clothing–bought a $200 London Fog zip-in lined raincoat that still looks good in 1995.
6. Kitchen ware: a 60 year old Sunbeam mixer that refuses to die!
and muffin tins, glassware, cake pans, etc. from Mom and Grandma.


Betsey August 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I totally agree. Here’s a list of my “old stuff.”
1. From my grandfather’s furniture store (I am 64): 2 bedroom sets,one is 70+ years old, and the other is 60+ years old. They still look wonderful, and I have only had to replace a headboard. Also 2 end tables, a 100+ year old oak pedestal table that can seat 12 comfortably with the sideboard, original finish.
2. Clothing: a 25 year old London Fog zip-in liner raincoat that still looks wonderful. I paid $200.
3. Miscellaneous: pots, pans, glass dishes, pie pans, china, a 60 year old Sunbeam mixer that refuses to die, beautiful china, and tupperware from my mom’s and grandma’s kitchens.


Betsey August 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I am embarrassed. I did not think my post went through, so I kept rewriting and submitting. Sorry!


Martha August 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I agree with your post Katy. I have not read her book, but i heard an interview with E. Cline that was fabulous. For me, buying Fair Trade is an important option…doesnt take care of the STUFF argument, but things are well made by people who have control over their work situations, v. being locked in a burning factory.

I think you and your readers might thoroughly enjoy the new issue of YES! magazine which just arrived in my mailbox today…this issue’s theme is: The Human Cost of Stuff with articles on ways to UNSTUFF, “The Myth of Cheap Stuff”, “Annie Leonard on How To Be More Than a Mindful Consumer” I dont see the articles on their website yet, but hopefully you can buy the issue at a local newstand as it is completely relevant to your post (and your blog in general!)


Diane August 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I had to replace every single item I owned in 2005 and my Pier 1, IKEA, and Target furniture pieces look as good as the day they were purchased 8 years ago. I now have a mix of pre owned and “fast” furniture that suits my needs. With care, fast furniture can serve you well. Especially, if you are like me with a very minimal budget.


megyn August 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I agree! Our Ikea stuff has held up REALLY well…including the couch we bought used. With two small boys jumping/climbing all over it for the past year and a half along with the use it had before we bought it, you wouldn’t be able to tell at all!


Beth B. August 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I stock up on second-hand clothing for my toddler whenever I can. A couple of weeks ago, I got a bunch of good quality shirts, shorts and PJ’s for $5 for him at a garage sale and before that scored an REI winter jacket for $10, Merrell hiking boots for $5 and Crocs for $3 (all in like new condition) at GW. Like you said, if it was going to fall apart, it probably would have already. I stay a couple of sizes ahead and keep track of what I have, so I don’t have to run out and buy brand new clothing.


tna August 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I’ve always enjoyed thrift stores and yard sales, but it was sort of a supplementary pastime, not a necessity. Then the economy tanked in 2008 and I lost everything…job, home, savings, car, and eventually all my stuff. (How much stuff can you carry on your person and not be a conspicuous homeless hobo? ) I had a rare opportunity to discover just how little a human needs to get by even in a modern world. I learned how important quality clothing and shoes are when you are limited to a small wardrobe that gets laundered often. (walking is a dirty business) And even now that I’m not in such dire straights I still live with the lessons learned and keep my possessions pared down because surprisingly I learned that I am not my stuff. There’s a peace of mind and freedom to not caring about what the Jones are up to anymore and just finding your own personal place in the world no matter what your circumstances.


dusty August 21, 2013 at 3:47 am

I’m sorry that you had to go through all of this. I too am getting ready for a life change. I am 54 and going to be divorced, so I am going to have to move to a small apt (probably a studio) from a beautiful 2300 square foot house. I have already started packing and what I don’t need or want anymore I am selling on Ebay/Craigslist. I look at all this stuff and think about all the money we spent. I have always been more frugal than my husband but it was a battle getting him to not spend so much money on stuff. Due to circumstances I will just surround myself with items I use and enjoy, spending time with friends and doing lots of free stuff.


Susan August 21, 2013 at 4:23 am

Sorry to hear about your divorce Dusty. Good luck with downsizing! I think that’s great!


tna August 22, 2013 at 8:14 am

Thanks Dusty. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I would have never had the guts to change my life so drastically if I hadn’t been forced to. And it in every way was a change for the better. I hope your new life is full of only good surprises.


AnnDenee August 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Having just gone through the “big declutter” before moving overseas, we’re now looking into setting up our home, and I am faced with this whole issue head-on. Yes, it would be easy and convenient to head into the local box store and load up — kitchen ware, dining furniture, living room furniture, bedroom furniture — the whole bit. But as you said in your article, in the long run, it would just be money down the drain. And it endorses a system which is more than broken.

So, I will stand firm in my resolve to buy only quality, preferably used items for our new home.


Kate August 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I concur! My thoughts exactly.


Koliti August 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Fast, faster, fastest! It’s all a marketing race to see who can get your money without enriching your life one iota. They’ve gotten so bold as to basically make fun of you and then expect you to give them your $$.

All of this marketing of course needs a willing consumer. Why are the masses of sheep so willing to go to slaughter? They are unconscious. In their never ending quest of new, newer, newest – they do not develop a sense of self and style. They are mindless imitators.

Thank you, Katy, for having a blog that encourages us to be more: aware, creative, mindful, resourceful, and informed. Thank you for helping us make better choices.


Debbie August 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I’ve been struggling with trying to find a good used stove. Living so far from large cities, and only a small car, no truck to haul, it looks like we’ll have to give in and buy from the big box store. I’m less than thrilled.
The dining room table that Theresa described sounds like the one we sold when we had to move to a small cottage. The timing’s wrong, but it sounds exactly like it!
Great post, as usual!


Jessica Wolk-Stanley August 20, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Great post Katy…thank you! As the occasional purchaser of Ikea furniture in the last few years, I have discovered that using GLUE when assembling greatly improves the longevity of the piece. Also, when our Ikea leather couch developed a rather large rip, I had a Eureka moment that perhaps I could get a new slipcover for it from the store. When I did a little research, I discovered that our couch was discontinued and therefore there were no slipcovered available from Ikea. However I found a couple of different companies that specialize in ready-made slip covers for all different models of Ikea sofas. I ordered a cover and I am I very pleased with the fit and the quality.


Jean August 20, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I will be adding this book to my library hold list! Thanks for letting us know about it. I try very hard(on the rare occasions I do buy new items) to buy products made in the United States, not as a patriotic statement so much as an economics one–at least I know they weren’t made by children or people working for slave wages in deplorable conditions.
A comment on umbrellas–if you buy a Totes umbrella, (or find one at a garage sale or thrift store since no receipt is required) there is a lifetime guarantee. If it breaks, you simply return it to the Totes store (most outlet malls have one) and pick out a new one! These are not cheap umbrellas, but with a guaranty like this it doesn’t make sense to buy anything else. I have had mine for several years now and haven’t had a problem with it, so compared to the lower priced umbrellas that I replaced all the time I’m already money ahead. It also makes a great gift because of the quality and the guaranty.
Like you, I try to be very mindful of the quality of items I bring into my household and wardrobe, and find that older used items are often better than anything you can purchase new. My best example of this is an old chrome Sunbeam self lowering toaster I bought about 25 years ago at a church rummage sale for $3. It weighs a ton, compared to the flimsy ones available new, and is still going strong. For people searching for items like these, I have hit a treasure trove of them this summer at estate sales. I started going to them in search of vintage table linens and doilies for my daughters upcoming wedding. The sales put on by the families themselves have better prices than the ones put on by estate sale companies, but even those have great prices the last day since they slash them to close it out. These sales have been full of quality Pyrex, Corningware, Revereware, and lovely household linens from the pre-polyester days that apparently no family member wanted.


Koliti August 21, 2013 at 7:44 am

Hi Jean! I like your Totes Umbrella example. Craftsman Hand Tools have the same lifetime warrantee – if your Craftsman hand tool doesn’t perform to your expectations, take it in, and they replace it. I purchased their small set of pliers (round nose, needle nose, cutters) for crafts/jewelry projects a long time ago and got the whole set replaced a few years ago with the updated versions.


Taylor-Made Ranch August 21, 2013 at 2:31 am

(wild cheers & applause) YES! I’m often frustrated by consumer goods that are manufactured so cheaply they’re destined for the landfill in record time. I’m equally frustrated by well-meaning friends who after seeing me baulk at a very cheap tool at a very low price comment to me “yeah, but if it breaks, it’s so cheap you can just buy another one” OMGoodness, drives me insane. Ironically this frustration of cheaply-made products is the topic of my last blog post as well – great minds thinking alike, eh? Thanks so much for putting these thoughts out there!

~Taylor-Made Ranch~
Wolfe City, Texas


Kristen August 21, 2013 at 3:41 am

I just loved that book…I got through it in record time because I found it to be so fascinating.

Have you read Cheap? It’s sort of like Overdressed, but its scope is broader.


Liz August 21, 2013 at 7:32 am

I’m totally on board with this. My mother bought things solely because they were cheap – no matter how ugly, unnecessary, or useless. When she died there were 1000’s of clothing items to take to the thrift store – many with tags still on them. She had totally bought into the mentality that more is more.


Cattis August 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I´m 28 years old. Pretty much everything I´ve bought for myself has fallen apart, everything I´ve got from relatives is still going strong… From my grandmothers parents we´ve got a huge dining room table, teakfurniture, and an 50´s IKEA desk with is pretty good. Old stuff is the best! 🙂


anexactinglife August 22, 2013 at 9:25 am

I read and reviewed this book too. As a bonus, the author is a musician in a 3-woman heavy metal band!


Kristin August 23, 2013 at 3:25 am

I read this book after you profiled it earlier this year. I found it to be a somewhat difficult read, although parts of it were interesting. But it left me feeling like, “So what do I do??” Certainly, buying less, buying quality, and used when possible. But beyond that, what? I can’t afford to have all of my clothes custom made.


Coral Clarke August 30, 2023 at 5:33 pm

Brisbane, Australia, my home, and moving furniture is insanely expensive! Unfortunately, selling furniture isn’t easy ( FB Marketplace, Craig’s List etc. I’ve had to give away, replace with second hand again after moving. My one new buy was a side by side fridge freezer, power is so expensive here, it has definitely cost less to run the new one. I did get 40% off on a scratch and dent one, damage is a,most invisible!


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