With spring just a month away, shoppers in Boston will have a variety of options for the latest seasonal trends, as clothing stores such as H&M and Forever 21 provide affordable fashion to college students on a budget.
But though the cost of their clothes may be low, in some instances the moral cost of purchasing from these “fast fashion chains” may be much higher.
Many popular and inexpensive chain stores are located in the Newbury Street area, which is Boston’s most well-known fashion district, providing a wide variety of options to students.
H&M: AN EMPHASIS ON “QUALITY?”
The H&M on Newbury Street is almost constantly crowded with a younger clientele, and queues for the fitting rooms and registers rarely contain fewer than 20 people on a busy Friday or Saturday afternoon.
With prices ranging from $3 to $20 for a top and $20 to $40 for a cocktail dress, shoppers can invest in clothing without emptying their purses.
“H&M’s business concept is to offer fashion and quality at the best price,” said Jennifer Ward, public relations director for H&M. “Our target market is anyone interested in fashion and our varied product assortment is for the entire family.”
H&M updates their inventory each week, keeping the clientele continuously coming back for more, Ward said.
“The collections are comprehensive, and new merchandise arrives in our retail stores everyday. In this way, the stock is continually updated and customers can always find something new,” she said. “Not only is it a goal to make it easy and exciting to shop at H&M – we also want our customers to always get the best deal.”
H&M is also known for having similar clothing to high-end fashion designers, but it also draws creativity from other aspects of the industry, said Ward.
“Inspiration is drawn from exhibitions, different cultures, magazines, trips, street fashion, fashion history and a variety of trade fairs,” Ward said.
While many large clothing corporations may turn to unethical means of manufacturing, Ward said H&M strives to keep labor conditions in check.
A statement by H&M said that its supply chain monitoring ensures that if the company discovers that children are working for H&M under the statutory minimum age, it “always acts in their best interests.”
“To maintain the fine quality of our merchandise, we continually carry out quality controls,” Ward said. “At H&M, our quality concept goes beyond the high quality of the merchandise itself. We also strive to ensure our garments have been manufactured with the least possible impact on the environment and under satisfactory working conditions.”
The company has logical ways of maintaining low prices.
“We maintain our low prices by limiting the number of middlemen, buying in large volumes, relying on our in-depth, extensive expertise within the design, fashion and the textile industries, buying the right merchandise from the right production markets, being cost conscious at all levels and maintaining effective distribution procedures,” said Ward.
IS FOREVER 21 FOREVER UNETHICAL?
Forever 21, a competitor of H&M, has been accused of using unethical means of manufacturing clothing.
“I know that Forever 21 has been sued a few times for wage and hour issues,” said Kabrina Chang, a School of Management assistant professor of markets, public policy and law. “There was an allegation that Forever 21 had a sweatshop in L.A. hiring Mexican and possibly Mexican-American workers.”
Students acknowledge that it makes more financial sense for companies to maintain clothing production overseas.
“It’s a lot cheaper to manufacture abroad. People just look the other way when they think about how they can buy clothing at such a low price,” said Shulamit Kahn, an SMG professor of markets, public policy and law.
Kahn also said consumer action plays a crucial role in ending foreign child labor.
“They won’t necessarily go there and check out the workplaces unless consumers make it a big deal,” Kahn said.
VINTAGE: INEXPENSIVE AND CHEAP
For those who want more ethical clothing, there are other inexpensive options available.
Second Time Around, a high-end consignment shop with three locations on Newbury Street and 22 locations nationwide, provides an economical alternative for those who want to spend less on designer labels. The flagship store at 176 Newbury St. has been open for 20 years and has had more than 14,000 consigners.
“We price things for a quarter to a third of their original retail price,” said Erika Rosenfeld, the store manager of the flagship location of Second Time Around. “We always have a great high-end selection. We take in things seasonally, so we just got a lot of great spring inventory.”
“I think it’s a great store because you can have awesome designer clothing without breaking the bank, especially for college students who are into fashion but can’t afford it. We do the picking for you,” Rosenfeld said.
Students said the stores around the Newbury Street area always provide an intriguing selection of trends.
“Forever 21 is just an easy place to get a cute cocktail dress for about $25 – if you go out and spill a drink on it, it’s no big deal. H&M has things that you’d wear every day,” said Lianne Wong, a freshman in the College of General Studies.
“I love H&M because it’s cheap, but you can still get trendy clothes,” said Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences senior Saskia Forester. “They always have a really wide selection – I usually feel overwhelmed in stores like that.”
Other students said they support the idea of upscale consignment shops.
“I definitely think that second-hand clothing stores are a great idea. Second Time Around is good for people who like designer labels, and it’s also not wasteful,” said SAR senior Meredith Weiner.
Some are conscious about the stores’ mean of clothing production and wonder which stores use child labor.
“It’s sad, but I feel like any store could use child labor,” said Sarah Schmldgall, a CGS freshman.