IOWA CITY — Five years ago, if you’d asked Emily Manders where she liked to shop for clothes, the answer would have been Forever 21, a mall retail store known for of-the-minute fashions at low prices.
But then the University of Iowa senior from Cedar Rapids took an environmental science class where she was asked to track her consumption habits, looking at food, clothing and other purchases.
“I found that my biggest problem area was that I was consuming so many clothes,” Manders said.
The inexpensive T’s, pants and shoes she was buying weren’t made very well and quickly fell out of style, she said.
“I thought, ‘You know, this has a huge environmental impact.’ ”
A recent find was a baby blue sweatshirt that says “I (heart) bingo” with a huge bingo card. “If you go second hand, you have the opportunity to have pieces other kids don’t have,” she said.
Forever 21, with an estimated $4 billion in annual sales at its peak, filed for bankruptcy last month and now is figuring out which of its 178 U.S. locations may close. Stores at Lindale and Coral Ridge malls are not on the closure list included with recent court filings, USA Today reported.
Like many brick-and-mortar retailers, Forever 21 had been hurt by online shopping.
But some analysts say the store’s troubles also reflect young people moving away from so-called “fast fashion” because of concerns about the environmental toll of clothing production and poor working conditions at some foreign garment factories.
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If you want a quick primer on fast fashion, go to YouTube, where a Teen Vogue video with 219,000 views describes the downsides of the trend and influencers will tell you how and why they “quit” the habit.
The new buzzword in fashion is sustainability, and sites like thredUp and Poshmark are cashing in on online consignment.
“The kids do like vintage clothing, and they are all about recycle, renew or reuse,” said Mary Sundblad, owner of Stuff Etc., Iowa’s largest consignment department store chain with eight locations, including stores in Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Iowa City.
Stuff sells goods for all ages but has seen young shoppers take new interest, especially when seeking vintage items like high-waisted jeans and colorful Converse sneakers, said Jody Hagerty, the chain’s marketing director.
Secondhand high school and college spirit wear sells well, as do rare finds, which Stuff features on Facebook and Instagram.
“Our Waterloo store had some vintage Sketchers come through, and they were gone the same day,” Hagerty said.
Teens and 20-somethings often will look online first and see that prices at local consignment stores are better.
“We have found they are kind of thrifty,” Hagerty said. “They don’t always want to go out and buy the most expensive shirt just because their friend has it.”
When Jo Dixon opened a Plato’s Closet franchise in Cedar Rapids in 2004, it was the first in Iowa and people weren’t familiar with the concept of a secondhand clothing store catering to teens and young adults.
“It was tough,” Dixon said. “It was breaking in a whole new idea, a whole new concept in the middle of Iowa.”
But things have changed.
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While Dixon struggled to scrape together $25,000 worth of inventory to open the store in 2004, she had more than $150,000 worth of clothing and other merchandise on hand for back-to-school shopping this fall.
“This generation is much more environmentally conscious,” Dixon said. “They aren’t as interested in the fast fashion you wear once or twice and it falls apart.”
Some brands, such as Nike, Adidas, North Face and Patagonia, still are important to teens, but they are willing to buy gently used versions or save up for one or two new pieces, she said.
‘People loved it’
Jessica Hiney, 24, of Cedar Rapids, picked up several clothing items and a book for $16 at Stuff Etc. in Coralville last week. Most of her clothing and furniture comes from secondhand stores across the Corridor.
“That’s honestly all I shop,” she said. Not only is she concerned about the waste of fast fashion, but buying second hand allows her to take fashion risks without a huge cost.
Like the pink dress she bought at Salvation Army in Cedar Rapids. Hiney removed a ruffle she didn’t like and sewed on a thrift store necklace instead.
“People loved it,” she said.
And the total cost? $5.
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