My favourite coat has fallen apart.
I should have expected it, really. As a notorious cheapskate, I’m not much of a one for impulse purchases, but nobody’s immune to the lure of fast fashion. This coat caught my eye at the start of June.
It was hanging on the sale rack at the St Lukes branch of a mainstream Australian-owned chain competing with the likes of Max Fashions. The coat’s neutral oatmeal hue and comfortable robe cut meant it would go with everything in my wardrobe. As for the fabric, well, it didn’t have much in the way of wool content, but it was soft to the touch. When I saw the price point, I decided I could live with a little polyester.
This turned out to be a mistake.
Two months’ worth of light wear later, it was an open question as to whether my coat woulds last until the end of the season it was created for. The oatmeal fabric had picked up significant discolouration; it was pilling like a mad thing; and every seam it possessed had starting to come undone. If it were a racehorse, it would have limped towards the finish line in last place.
Although it was still chilly in late August, I’d had to put my coat out to pasture by that point. It now hangs at the back of my closet, continuing to generate buyers’ remorse more than three months post-purchase. Giving such a tatty item to the Salvation Army would be an insult to the people who shop secondhand there, but the environmental impact of throwing out such a large lump of synthetic fibre gives me serious pause.
I genuinely don’t know what to do with the carcass of my coat. I’m not the only one with a fast-fashion disposal problem – The Wireless reported in 2014 that Ministry for the Environment figures show 100 million kilograms of textile waste is thrown into New Zealand’s rubbish dumps each year.
This is likely to increase sharply as H&M and Zara enter our retail landscape, bringing a level of stock rotation that makes it easier than ever for shoppers to rationalise buying low-quality items made to be worn a few times and then discarded in favour of the next fad.
In my grandmother’s day, investment pieces like coats were expected to last at least four or five years, but that expectation now only applies to high-end items from designer labels – and not all of them, at that. I haven’t had much luck finding a good-quality mass-market coat, and the idea of durability being repackaged as a luxury attribute unsettles me.
The current market conditions show that consumers face a choice between throwaway fast-fashion items like my coat, or expensive prestige items. Why can’t there be a middle ground, where a retailer offers good-quality, classic-cut, unpretentious garments built to last at mid-market price points? If these retailers ever existed, where did they go?
And while we’re at it, if you can think of a use for my former favourite coat, don’t hesitate to get in touch. It’s not going anywhere in the meantime.