Well Made Apparel vs Fast Fashion

With the rise of fast fashion, it has never been more affordable to purchase clothing relative to one’s income. The floodgates have opened to perpetual discount shopping and destination outlets have been built giving shoppers the illusion of savings.

With the emergence of trend focused shopping, consumers have come to expect a quick turnaround of items. There isn’t much due diligence made in the quality of the garments, when all people care for is that it lasts until the next trend. This has lead to disposable fashion. Product that gets discarded only after a few wears. Garments that have been poorly constructed with low quality fabric and bad stitch technique. The highest costs in manufacturing apparel are labor and materials. For fast fashion brands, this is where they cut corners.

Fabric quality depends on the quality of the fibers that make up the fabric. Fabric that consists of longer fibers is generally a higher quality. It will be softer, stronger, and smoother. Just because a fabric is 100% cotton or wool, doesn’t mean that it is a high quality. Same goes for certain synthetics. Some synthetic fibers can be blended with natural fibers creating a better fabric overall. Since it’s impossible to know what quality of fibers the brand used for it’s garment, you need to use your hands to guide you. Feel the density of the fabric. Stretch it out and try to see how transparent it gets. If you see your hand on the other side, then it’s probably not a very high quality. When a fabric is dense, it means that more fiber was used to produce it. This will generally drape better and look better with age. With knitted fabrics, when you try the stretch test, see whether or not it returns to its original form. That is a good indicator of the quality. Obviously there may be some exceptions. Some lightweight fabrics are very good quality, some heavyweight fabrics are bad quality. Therefore there are other factors that can determine quality to look at for.

Higher stitch count leads to a better made garment

That leads me to stitching. Not only is the stitching technique important, so is the stitch count. Most fast fashion garments use a double needle sewing machine to speed up the manufacturing process. This lacks the precision of a single needle sewing machine. If you look at the side seam of a Zara shirt or even some well known higher priced brands, you will see that there are two rows of stitching running along the side of the shirt. This is much less labor intensive but much more prone to puckering. A top quality shirt will have french seams, with one row of stitching visible on the outside and two rows of stitching visible on the inside. This requires single needle stitching which is a sign of good tailoring methods. Regarding stitch count, quality woven garments will have at least 10–12 stitches per inch. For knitted items like t-shirts or sweaters, you would want at least 12–16 stitches per inch. The higher the stitch count, the more durable the seams and you will have little to no puckering. The best way to examine stitching quality is by looking at the inside of a garment. It’s the equivalent of checking under the hood of a car. Many things can look nice and shiny on the outside but could be neglected on the inside.

French Seam: Notice that only one row of stitching is visible on the outside

There are other details to look out for when choosing clothing such as buttonholes. Buttonholes should be densely stitched in order to guard against the stress they deal with over time. Poorly made button holes generally fray and warp over time. High quality buttonholes are made by hand and take a very long time. This is another process of which large scale manufacturers cut costs. It stalls their production line so they opt for a speedier lower quality method.

Many will point out that the alternative to fast fashion is too expensive. This all depends on how you look at cost. There’s always someone that has to pay for cheap product. If it isn’t the end consumer than it is the laborer that is being underpaid. If that doesn’t concern you then ask yourself ‘how long does your clothing last in your closet?’ If your $40 cashmere sweater only lasts for 6 wears then you have a relatively high cost per wear. However if your $200 pair of jeans lasts you 3 years and hundreds of wears, then you have a very low cost per wear and could consider the garment a very good return on investment.

With that said, price is not an indicator of quality. Look into the brands that you purchase from. See who is behind the designs, where they manufacture, and what the company stands for. Let’s be more mindful of what we buy and start choosing quality over quantity.