I was strutting around town with a bright yellow plastic bag today. Took it to see some nice places, too – it even got to visit the Flemish parliament with me. I needed something to hold my books, papers and most important of all: my flashy pink lego lunch box.
One needs to gear up to watch democracy in action, obviously. There’s no shame in the lunch box – it was a birthday present and got me some very envious reactions from my female colleagues – but I was a little embarassed to show up there with this particular bag. Not just because I don't like looking like a crazy bag lady. It just happened that I grabbed the bag closest to me when I had to leave, and accidentally took a bag of a brand I’m not particularly keen on being linked with. You may or may not have guessed by now I’m talking about Forever 21.
Two Forever 21-shops recently opened up in Brussels and Antwerp. A lot of people were excited about it. I get the allure, especially for young and penniless fashionista’s. Who wouldn’t love a brand that makes clothes based on the best designer trends and sells them at a highly affordable rate? They’re quick too, because the collection is updated every few weeks.
I'd heard some pretty bad stuff about the company, though. Tales of bad working circumstances. Copyright infringements. They don’t just reference the big fashion houses. They make very close copies, and not just from the likes of Chanel and Prada, but from up-and-coming designers too. Over the last few years, they were sued over 50 times.
I was a little wary of the new store before the doors even opened. Still, I decided to join my little sister and go take a look. After all, I buy and consume things with a shady background all the time. I try to avoid it, but when the choice is between what’s right for the world (do I sound like I’m wearing goat wool socks in sandals right now or what?) and what I want, I usually choose for the latter. Don’t we all? I’ll feel a bit guilty about it, but comfort myself with the thought that ‘at least I’m conscious of the problem’. So I’m a hypocrite, but at least I know I’m a hypocrite. Which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but still, it hushes up my conscience. Maybe I should get a cricket.
Do you think Pinocchio would shop at F21?
I won’t expand on my exact impressions when entering the store. Suffice it to say that nothing there could have enticed me to think about buying something. Too big, too chaotic (everything’s neat, but it’s a cacaphony of styles), uncomfortable looking fabric (I hate the feel of cheap chiffon, it scratches and feels suffocating). It didn’t speak to me at all. I mean, how cheap is a store that won’t even iron its clothing before selling it?
I’m glad I was spared the dilemma. Maybe someday I’ll bump into something F21 that I do like, and I honestly don’t know if I would buy it or not. After all, I buy H&M, even though I’m pretty sure their clothes aren’t made under the best circumstances. (Neither are luxury brand-clothes, by the way.) But at least they try to keep up appearances. They do charity work. They don’t try to convert employees. I have to admit it irked me to see a lot of Belgian bloggers raving about the new F21 shops, and covering the opening events. I might shop in dubious stores, but I wouldn't feel good about actively promoting them.
What about you? Do you sometimes feel guilty while or after shopping? Do you factor in ethics in some or other way?