Everyone knows about fast food, but have you heard of fast fashion? This is the term for the clothing that is the bread and butter of stores like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara, which bring in new shipments—and new looks—of cheaply assembled garments weekly. The goal is simple: to get customers to buy as many clothes as possible, as quickly as possible. Most of them will fall apart after just a few wearings—which is the whole point.
But just as healthy eaters have launched a slow food movement, so, too, have conscientious retailers and customers begun to promote slow fashion. Folks like zady.com are now producing ethically-sourced, well-made clothing designed to last for many years. These garments will never be the “it” items at any given moment, but they are built to last and look good in a sustainable long-term wardrobe.
This slow fashion movement is in keeping with the Jewish values in this week’s double portion from the Torah, Vayakhel-Pekude. As Exodus draws to an end, we get a detailed description of the garments worn by the kohanim, the priests, in the portable sanctuary. These clothes were not trendy. But they were beautiful, hand-sewn, dignified, and sturdy. They were created to serve and honor the Holy One, and did just that.
We live in a throwaway culture. More than 2.5 billion pounds of our used clothing ends up in landfills each year—an average of 67 pounds for each of us. Our tradition urges us to do better. It teaches bal tashchit, meaning, “thou shall not waste!” The challenge is to learn to better value our God-given resources, both human and natural, as our ancestors did.
Now—what color was that dress?