Published August 12th, 2022 at 6:00 AM9 minute read
In her book, “Elegance” (1964), Parisian designer and stylist Genevieve Antoine Dariaux described the many ways in which a woman can dress elegantly without breaking the bank.
“The principle is to spend the most for what lasts the longest and constitutes the foundation of your wardrobe, and the least for the articles which you will wear during only a few weeks of the year,” she wrote.
Dariaux was a fashion icon in the 60s and worked for the top designers in the world. She not only gave practical advice to working people on how they too can be fashion-forward, but a lot of her insight still holds true to this day.
While she encouraged consumers to lead a quality over quantity lifestyle, Dariaux also categorized fashion into two parts: “True Fashion” and “Passing Fashion.”
“True Fashion is a deep current that changes only every four or five years and is the inspiration of some particular creator, while Passing Fashions are ripples of no great importance, which are carried off by the winds of a single season and are invented by a number of different designers,” she said.
What she described as “Passing Fashion” has become what we now call “Fast Fashion.” But rather than fads lasting a full season as they did in the 60s, they now can last as little as one week.
In 2022, we live in a world where fast fashion giants have abandoned this philosophy of quality over quantity. Their goal is to pump out as much cheaply made clothing as possible and try their best to keep up with trends that go in and out of style at the speed of light.
The world’s largest online fast fashion retailer is Chinese company Shein.
Shein uploads a staggering 6,000 new products to its platform daily. There are many reasons why they can do this, but the biggest is by abusing labor laws.
A Swiss-based private investigation agency known as Public Eye investigated facilities in Guangzhou, China, that produce clothing for Shein.
“The employees, who without exception come from the provinces, graft for 11 to 12 hours a day and have only one day off per month,” Public Eye reported. “That makes for 75 hours of work a week, which violates not only Shein’s Supplier Code of Conduct, but Chinese labor law, on numerous counts.”
The clothing Shein produces is made mostly from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester, which are fabrics that do not decay. The company has even started purchasing its own landfills to dispose of the waste they produce.
They have also been accused numerous times of stealing from small designers and profiting off of other people’s work.
The business practices of the largest online fast-fashion retailer in the world, particularly in terms of workers’ rights and environmental impacts, have inspired growing numbers of retailers and consumers to fight back by embracing alternative approaches.
Here in Kansas City, there are so many places to go if you want to shop more ethically, but you don’t have a lot of money at your disposal. Your options include fair-trade companies, vintage/upcycling stores and, of course, thrift stores.
If you aren’t looking for secondhand pieces and you want something new, fair-trade companies that prioritize ethical manufacturing and are fully transparent about their supply chain are a good place to start.
“Our way of doing business is that it must be good for people and the planet,” said Karen Blum-Greenwood, co-director of Ten Thousand Villages in downtown Overland Park. “Environmental stewardship is one of the core values of the entire free-trade movement and Ten Thousand Villages.”
“We carry recycled sari products,” Blum-Greenwood said. “Skirts and ponchos from either silk or cotton from Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Marketplace Handwork of India, in particular, is trying to create more jobs for women, so each one is embellished with hand embroidery.”
Ten Thousand Villages pays 50% of their orders upfront so artisans don’t go into debt for their labor, and the remaining balance is paid before the item even leaves the country.
“I personally think that fast fashion and the current trends of fashion are forgetting there are people at the beginning of a supply chain,” Blum-Greenwood said. “We are the consumer, and we tend to value the consumer more than the people that make it.”
Blum-Greenwood notes that when done right, shopping new can be just as ethical as shopping second-hand
“If you’re buying new, shopping fair and buying quality things that are going to last that you can have tailored, that can change with you over time, are great solutions to fast fashion,” she said.
If you are up for secondhand shopping, but want a selection of more curated pieces, a vintage store is a way to go.
“All of our clothing is donated, similar to a thrift store — the difference is we try to curate it to feel a little bit more elevated and put together,” said Amelia Kline, assistant manager at Do Good Vintage in the Crossroads.
Kline states that the store director, Ashley Pinkston, drew a lot of inspiration from her time in Paris.
“She told me that the people in France express themselves, they’re true to their beliefs, they create and see the world in a beautiful way,” Kline said.
“Ashley is one of those people who soaks up every ounce of life, good and bad, and she wears it on her sleeve,” Kline continued. “She wanted Do Good to feel like this elevated thing where you come in, people work with you to find clothing, you have conversations, and it becomes this community where we’re expressing something together.”
Unlike other stores, Do Good donates a large portion of proceeds back into the community.
“We have two nonprofits that a lot of our proceeds go to,” Kline said. “Wayside Waifs, a no-kill animal shelter, and Kids TLC, who do a lot of work for kids with autism that need behavioral therapy and help provide mental health resources.”
Kline is a student at Johnson County Community College pursuing an associates degree in film. In the past, however, she has taken fashion courses and is an advocate for sustainable fashion.
She remembers watching a documentary in high school titled “The True Cost”, which shows the inner workings of fast fashion workshops and the absence of workers’ rights.
“These people in Third World countries end up being easy targets for companies to manufacture their clothing because they’re developing countries with less labor laws,” she said.
Kline is a big advocate for shopping secondhand. Not only to avoid buying from fast fashion, but to bring awareness to its problems as well.
“A lot of people, I think, are afraid to shop secondhand,” Kline said. “You’re buying a new piece in a sense that we’ve given it a new purpose, a new life, but this piece has been around and has a story to tell. Now it can also do so in a way that’s conscious.”
Some vintage stores participate in something called upcycling, where they take old clothing or fabrics and change them into something brand new.
“I was in the fashion program at Johnson County Community College and just started upcycling my own clothes,” said Caleb Fangman, co-owner of Daisy Lee Vintage at 122 W. 18th St. in the Crossroads.
“I was selling t-shirts I had hand painted, and then I started upcycling vintage and doing different runway shows around town,” Caleb continued. “I just really loved the idea of taking something vintage, not at all modern, and making it modern.”
Caleb and Cortney Fangman were visual managers at Forever 21 before they left their full-time jobs to open up Daisy Lee.
“We opened as ‘Village Collection’ on Etsy in 2013,” Cortney said. “In 2017, we opened our first storefront here in Kansas City, and when we were going through a remodel, we opened up our second storefront in Oak Park Mall in 2019. That’s when we changed our name to Daisy Lee.”
They explain that “Daisy” was a prominent symbol of the 60s and 90s aesthetic, which are two of their favorite decades. “Lee” was the middle name of Caleb’s twin brother who passed away recently. He helped them immensely with opening the store, and they wanted to honor him with the name.
Caleb and Cortney’s upcycling model allows customers to shop secondhand while simultaneously keeping up with today’s fashion trends.
“A lot of other wonderful vintage stores sell true, time-capsule vintage pieces, where you look like you’re going to a 60s or 70s party,” Caleb said. “Our main aesthetic is making things modern and wearable for the day-to-day.”
Ethically buying clothes can be tricky, but Daisy Lee believes the effort is worth it to keep the clothes out of landfills.
“There is plenty of secondhand clothing you can buy, where you should never need to shop at a major retailer,” Caleb said. “We just really believe in shopping secondhand for that reason.”
Last but not least, thrift stores are the most common and cheapest ways to shop secondhand.
“Thrift has become increasingly more popular over the years,” said Alan Hayworth, vice president of sourcing at Thrift World in Independence. “Most of the products that are in the store used to just end up in landfills, everything from clothing to household items, so we’ve found a way to repurpose them.”
Thrift World partners with a lot of different organizations for donation drives such as Community Service League, schools, churches and athletic departments.
“Our goal with Thrift World is to open up two stores per year so we can fill different markets across Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri,” Hayworth said.
Hayworth said that a big challenge facing Thrift World is being sold out.
Another way they’re adapting to the popularity of thrift stores is by putting a vintage section in their store.
“We, at the Independence location, will be expanding our vintage department, looking to add about 200 to 300 square feet of just vintage items,” Hayworth said.
He explained that their customer base ranges from young vintage shoppers to resellers and those just looking for cheaper options.
“Thrift stores are very environmentally friendly,” Hayworth said. “And we provide economically priced items for people who buy on a budget.”
“I got tired of giving 110% to other people, and I wanted to work for myself,” said Olivia Lenley, owner of Pennies From Heaven Thrift Store at 9319 W. 87th St. in Overland Park.
“I’m a single mom,” Lenley said. “I have a daughter, and I just lived off of thrift stores — I needed thrift stores. I couldn’t afford the regular stores.”
On top of donations, Lenley closes the store Sunday and Monday to do item pickups and clean out houses to stock her store.
Lenley works seven days a week to support Pennies From Heaven, and has been running it alone since she opened in 2014.
“I’m the cheapest thrift store in Overland Park,” Lenley said. “I keep stuff 59 cents and clothes are $5 a bag. I try to keep the stuff moving, just to pay it forward.
“I’m a big recycler, I believe in ‘if it’s not broken, don’t toss it.’ This is all recycled stuff, good stuff, and I’m keeping it out of the landfills.”
If the cheap prices and ethical practices weren’t convincing enough, Pennies From Heaven allows pets, and Lenley even has her own store dog.
Yasmine Ferhat is a summer reporting intern with Kansas City PBS. She is studying journalism and film at the University of Kansas.