Ember Fast Fashion Confessions: How affordable boutiques are born.

Posted: Feb 01 2017

I've written and subsequently deleted this post on several occasions. In short, I'm all too aware that my current business and personal values will vilify fast fashion, despite my benefiting from it for so long, and that kind of makes me cringe. So let me say this up front: Fast fashion is enabling thousands of American women to run their own businesses, call their own shots, make their own money, bring their children to work with them,  and support their families. So try not to make sweeping generalizations about the Fast Fashion movement and those who are perpetuating it. Not all of these business owners are faceless, greedy, profits-over-people corporations. In fact, assuredly, most of them are not. They are your sister in law, former college roommate, cousin, etc.

According to Wikipedia, "Fast Fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends.This philosophy of quick manufacturing at an affordable price is used in large retailers such as H&M, Zara, Peacocks, Primark and Topshop."  However, fast fashion isn't always necessarily produced overseas, nor is it sold by only major retailers such as these.

You can feasibly open a clothing boutique with a Federal EIN (issued online), 2 months worth of rent saved in the bank, a physical address, and credit card with a $5000 limit. This is the easy way; this is the highest-profiting way, and this is how and why so many women are doing it.

I learned about 2 major consolidated LA based fashion wholesaler websites soon after Ember opened in early 2009. These sites showcase hundreds of vendors and hundreds of thousands of designs. You shop just as you normally would on any website, adding items to cart. Most clothing styles come in "pre packs" of 6 units. Each unit arrives encased in plastic and often on a plastic hanger. I haven't done an actual study, but almost everything sold on these sites is composed of man-made materials: polyester, rayon, nylon, spandex, polyurethane, etc. To receive anything that was 100% cotton was an absolute rarity.

The minimums per order are low. I would place orders on Monday and receive them from LA on Friday.  Most American shoppers probably don't realize the enormity of the apparel production scene in Los Angeles. When you find an amazing dress at $18 regular price and it says "made in USA", it undoubtedly was made in LA. (Or at least cut and sewn there.) My rough estimate is that from 2009 to 2015 I sold about 50,000 units of clothing and accessories. That's a lot of polyester and a lot of plastic packaging.  

Over the years I became less comfortable and more disenchanted with this business model, but the pattern was impossible to break without completely losing my company. I began educating myself and gathering information on the "life cycle" of fast fashion clothing, its origins, and its eventual resting place. I read about the deterioration of the US garment industry and the stats of the average American woman's wardrobe. I soaked up articles, books, and documentaries about Fast Fashion's effect on the planet and people. I found fascinating studies about the connection between the psyche of American shoppers and cheap fashion--how low prices make us feel respected and high prices make us feel cheated.

With this series of posts I hope to accomplish 3 things:

1) Increase awareness of the fast fashion industry.

2) Promote a better alternative through the Slow Fashion movement.

3) Generate compassion and understanding for both sides involved, as so many women    depend on apparel manufacturing and sales for survival.

Diplomacy aside, the fashion industry has to slow down and prioritize people and the planet over profits. Stay tuned for further thoughts and insights on how we can work together to bring about this crucial change.