Investing in high quality clothing is something we talk a lot about in the slow fashion space. But how can we actually tell if a garment is high quality or not?
Well in this episode, we are going to be learning all about quality garments from one of the most in-demand fashion design instructors in the industry.
I am super excited for today’s show because I am going to be interviewing Zoe Hong all about what goes into making a garment, how we can tell if a garment is high quality, how we can find better fitting clothes, and what we can do to make our clothes LAST!
Zoe has over half a million subscribers on YouTube. But in case you’re unfamiliar with Zoe’s work, Zoe drew upon her years as a fashion designer, illustrator, and instructor at one of the world’s most prestigious fashion universities, to build one of the largest online fashion education platforms.
Zoe’s motto is “Teaching for a better fashion industry, one lesson at a time!” and you really do feel that in every one of her educational videos. I also think you’ll also sense Zoe’s passion for bettering the fashion industry in this episode as well.
I learned SO much from this conversation with Zoe and she kept me laughing through this entire interview as well. So I hope you enjoy this chat. If you do, please share this podcast episode with a friend who you think would find it useful too!
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app
Read the Transcript From This Interview:
I have wanted to be a fashion designer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been sketching, and I even have a photograph of myself. I was about seven years old, and I’m playing outside with a friend of mine. But I had stolen my mom’s JC Penney’s catalog, because I just like looking at all the pretty pictures. And I remember always stealing fashion magazines from her. It’s just always been a constant since childhood. And I grew up watching Fashionphile and fashion television.
And, yeah, it’s just always been that thing. Just very single-minded and I knew I was gonna go to art school, I knew I was gonna go to fashion school, which I did.
I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and there’s not much of a fashion scene there. And I had an opportunity for an internship through my school, my high school. And they’re like, where would you like to be placed? And I said, well, I want to be a fashion designer. And the woman who was in charge of all the placements, she was like, ahhh, let me, let me see what I could do.
So she eventually placed me in the costume design department of the Anchorage Opera House, which, during that time, I fell in love with costume design, I fell in love with opera music, just so many different things.
And then I went off to fashion school. And then, in 2014, I was doing a…I’m based in Oakland, California. And I was doing a local showcase of local talent. And it was like a big art and design show and the fashion show was just part of it.
And there was this guy, this designer, and he came to me, and he said, I want to present. And we’re talking about his collection. And he’s like, give me the truth. What do you think? and I gave him a whole rundown of what I really thought about his collection. And he just looked at me and he said, you should become a teacher. And I said why, he’s like, because you told me like 27 things wrong with my pants, but I didn’t want to kill myself. Like you have a very good way of critiquing that I think we need from teachers more.
And I was like, that sounds kind of cool. And he immediately got me in contact with one of the department heads at his school. And I wasn’t sure I was gonna love teaching, so I only signed up to teach one class that first semester. And I fell in love immediately.
There’s something about the classroom and being with students, and that energy, just really clicked with me. So I really fell in love with teaching. And then oh, no, that was like 2011, I didn’t start my channel till 2015.
I started teaching in 2012. I started my channel in 2015. The YouTube channel was actually inspired by my sister, because she’s like, you should be a YouTuber. And you should teach all this stuff in videos, like she at the time, she was obsessed with all these beauty channels. And she’s like, I think you could do this. And except, you know, do the teaching thing that you do, obviously, not like mascara or anything.
And I tried it. And originally, I thought it was a really good idea. Because I had so many international students. I was thinking about a way, because here’s the thing. When I was in class, and I would do demos, I would tell my students, you could take as many pictures after, you know of all my demo materials. But don’t take video while I’m teaching.
Because when you take video, while someone’s teaching, you stop paying attention to the teaching, and you’re just paying attention to whether you’re recording it, right. So I’m like, no recording, while I’m teaching. But I wanted to give my students an opportunity to see what I was teaching again, especially those where English was their foreign language.
And so my first, like 20 or so videos, we’re not the same lessons. But I mean figure drawing is figure drawing, okay? And I’m always going to teach figure drawing, the way I teach figure drawing, no matter where I’m teaching it. So those related lessons but of course, I had to adjust everything for YouTube audience it’s really different from teaching straightforward lessons in university.
And that’s, and you know, when I first started the biggest fashion education channels were about 80k, 100k. So I was like, yeah, that’s gonna be the ceiling for as big as I get. And that was seven years ago.
Yeah, now you have far surpassed that. 500k right?
Yeah, that’s bananas.
That’s, even when I look at the number I’m like, I think YouTube’s glitchy.
ELIZABETH[Laugh] No, but you share such fantastic educational resources, I can see why people love it. I mean, I just watched a couple of your videos and I was like, hit subscribe, because you have such a great personality for YouTube and you’re also sharing such informative content. So I think you really do such a great job with it.
I mean, I’m not even an aspiring fashion designer, and I have learned so much and find it so fascinating. And I think that also a lot of listeners probably are not fashion designers.
So I thought for our conversation, we could start off with the basics of like fashion garment development. So can you talk about what are all the pieces that go into clothing production? What are all the costs that go into making a garment?
Okay, I want to start by saying that clothing companies, they make all their money by selling clothes, there is no hidden income somewhere. And so if, of course, there’s investment money, but for your average company, for a fashion company, if they’re not getting the money from the clothing sales, there’s not some additional source of revenue.
Of course, it’s not true if like, you’re an influencer, and you have like Instagram money or something, but just straight up clothing companies. So think about everything I’m about to tell you, that goes into making clothes, and then think about the price of your average garment. And then you tell me what is too expensive. All right, I just want you to keep that in mind.
So it starts with design process, of course, where someone has to come up with the creative ideas to make a collection look interesting. And they have to figure out color and color is such a huge industry.
So much of what we buy, in every category of product is dictated by colors that we like in our house, on our bodies, driving around, etcetera. We have to figure out the fabrics, we have to buy the fabrics. So the whole design process happens.
And we have to sample, the sampling process is very extensive, where we make the patterns and we sew the samples, we fit them on fit models, we adjust the fit, we make new iterations until we have a satisfactory fit with the fabrics that are going to fit our price bracket, etc, etc. And so there’s that whole product development process where we’re also testing embroideries, we’re designing prints, patterns on fabrics. And making samples of all those and making sure that they look like what we want them to look like.
I mean, wash tests are a corner that a lot of designers cut, but you are supposed to test the wash of your garments. So you can put that in your care labels and instruct your customers on how to wash things. You’re supposed to run wash tests, and you have to dye the clothes, there’s like all this process in sampling and getting that right.
There are great strides being made in 3D software, where you can have fewer sample iterations because you’re testing a lot of the stuff on 3D software, like Clothe 3D, before you get something made in fabric form. But that whole process is really long. And it requires way too many fittings.
Like I’ve had girlfriends just text me secretly like the boring part of a fitting being like I’ve been here for three hours, and I’m about to die. You can, you could do it, hang in there. But I know that those fittings are so terrible and long.
So the sales process is different for wholesale versus direct to consumer. Wholesale being when designers sell items in bulk to different stores, like selling 50 pieces to Nordstrom, and then Nordstrom selling them individually. And then direct to consumer is if a designer just sells only through their own website to customers directly. And so the sales process is different.
But all the people that you had to pay for the design process and product development process and all those materials have to come from the cost of the clothes. Also paying salespeople, whatever their base rate is, their commission, all the sales materials that has to come out of the clothes.
So there’s sales, there’s marketing, and then all of this is happening before even production. And then production happens. And yeah, so you get the sample. If you love the sample and you’re ready to go first you have to grade the pattern.
Grading the pattern means you have to make all the sizes of the pattern. So if you have a sample that’s a medium, you also have to make extra small to however, you know, size you get.
And then you have to order the fabric you have to cut, sew… we call it CMT: cut, make, trim. That’s just our lingo. And that is usually a base price of factory we will give you. The CMT is cut, make, trim. Cutting the fabric out, sewing it together, you know, trimming it up, which is like, you know, punching eyelets adding buttons and buttonholes.
That’s what we consider trim in our industry, and are all those like little zippers and doodads and all those things. And, you know, anytime you have any additional embellishment, like decorative stitching, that’s all over your blouse, all the smocking and everything, we have to send that out to get swapped by a special smoker. I think I don’t know if that’s what they’re called.. [Laugh]
ELIZABETH[Laugh] It sounds right?
That sounds right, all the decorative stitching and the embroidery and any sort of applique stamp, Chanel patch, anything, all of that is extra. And things have to get shipped to wherever they’re going, whether it’s individually to a warehouse, to a store, all those things.
So all that process has to be costed out and then, you know, overhead divided by how many units you think you’re going to sell. That has to get included in the price of the garment.
That seemed like a really long, overly drawn out explanation. But I just really wanted to emphasize how many people and how much work goes into making a singular garment.
Hmm, yeah, no, I think that was so important to dive into all of that, because there’s just so much more than I feel like the everyday shopper expects and knows about.
And I think it’s really important, as you said in the beginning, like, when you think about all of those parts that go into making a garment like, it doesn’t even make sense how cheap some of it is, you know, it kind of you rethink what you find expensive when you consider how many steps and how many hands touched that garment.
Do you know what steps fast fashion brands are sort of skipping in this process in order to make their garments really cheap?
Yes, they do not do any design development at all, because they pulled directly from the runway. They basically have people, their design teams, like I have never worked in fast fashion, but I have friends who work in fast fashion. And I don’t really blame people who work in fast fashion, because rent is rent. You know, bills are bills, and I absolutely get that.
But yeah, I’ve had friends who worked at places like forever 21, different fast fashion places, and their design teams…. One person I know she and her creative director would go shopping. They would go shopping at Chloe, at Prada, at Saks and buy things, take them back to the office, their pattern makers would knock off these items and make a simpler version.
Knocking off means like literally like copying the pattern. Like you lay the fabric down on the paper. And you trace the shapes out.
And then one of my girlfriends, she quit one of her fast fashion jobs because she said that she couldn’t handle the embarrassment of returning clothes anymore. Because they would send her back and be like, Oh yeah, we’re done using these. So go return them.
And the first time she did it, she was just so embarrassed. She’s like, I did not survive all those sleepless nights at fashion school with you. So I could do this. And I’m like, I feel you girl. Sounds embarrassing! So they do that or they just look right on the runway.
And once you get to a point where you have a back catalog of patterns, and you’ll notice if you pay attention that a lot of these bodies are identical, like you take a coat pattern and you change the collar. You take a basic fit and flare dress and you change the length and you change the sleeve, little things like that. But they have all of these blocks.
Blocks are something all designers use. That’s not a fast fashion thing. For example, if you’re a denim company at whatever price point you are, if you have a fit that works for your brand, and you have a great fit that makes people’s butts look good and stuff, you’re not going to get rid of that and develop a new pattern the next season. No way!
Because your brand is also on based on how people perceive your fit, and how easily they can reorder styles from you again. It’s like, oh, I’m a Levi’s eight and I know that and so I can quickly buy another one. And oh, yeah, this brand makes me look so good. I want to buy another pair.
So all fashion design companies, they make blocks, and they reuse the blocks, and so does fast fashion. So they don’t do any development. They don’t choose, they don’t spend time choosing colors or trend forecasting, they look at runways, they simplify styles, they kind of… their intelligence is about figuring out what is going to be the big trend hit the next season.
But it’s easy to do, because they push out so much volume that it’s almost just like throwing a bunch of darts instead of just one dart and like eventually, something’s gonna hit. So yeah, they knock out so much product development, so much design.
So that whole part of the process, that whole creative process, the fitting and everything, they no longer have to grade anything, they no longer have to develop anything. They really only do that if they are doing a collaboration with a big name designer, and they insist on a different particular silhouette. But otherwise, they skip all of that.
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And I know, I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve shopped fast fashion, but like going into thrift stores and trying on some pieces they like will fit so funky. And there was one time that there were like five of the same top like in different sizes.
I literally cannot for the life of me figure out how to like put it on, like there were so many ties, like I couldn’t figure out how to wear it. And yeah, I just think about like with the speed and the price point, they probably really don’t have the time to invest in the fit.
There’s also… I’m getting real geeky here, there’s this thing called tolerance. And you know, there’s that old joke with cars. What’s the difference between a Lexus and Toyota? Like higher tolerances, tighter tolerances.
So basically what that means for clothing is, if, if I tell you like this T-shirt just like, this is my uniform long sleeve black T-shirts, I have like several of these and I always wear it when I’m teaching. Let’s say that the bust measurement is supposed to be x, okay?
These things are all sewn by hand still, they’re all done by human beings sitting in front of a machine and so there’s always going to be errors. These things are cut out by people and sewn by people. So there’s always going to be a margin of error.
But when you have tight quality control and high standards, and you’re working with your factory consistently to make sure that they’re sending you quality, you can demand higher, tighter tolerances, like the difference should be like give or take half an inch. If it’s more than half an inch of the measurement I wanted from you, you have to take it back. I’m not going to pay for it, you have to fix it.
Things like that. You get what I mean?
And when you have fast fashion companies that are just pumping out volume, they don’t care. They don’t care about tolerances. I don’t think they even I mean, they might put that there just in case, you know, they want to sue a factory or something like my guess is their paperwork is insane. But they don’t care. They really don’t care.
And if you want to do a funny experiment next time you’re in a store, take and it’s not about a size eight over here and a size eight over there. Take like three pairs of pants that are all the same size into the dressing room and do some basic measurements. And you’ll see who has tight tolerances and who does not.
Hmm.. yeah, that’s really interesting. I’m learning so much from you already.
But I think that leads well into the next set of questions that I have for you which are focused on quality because you have a lot have great content on how to identify quality clothes.
And I’ll link the full YouTube video, the deep dive that you did, because I think that the videos, the images are really helpful.
But can you give us a synopsis of some of the key signs of good quality that we should be looking for when shopping for clothes?
So, approach the garment and take a look overall, and you’ll get better with this over time is like, does the fabric look cheap? And sometimes it just looks super cheap. Does the surface look like the way it’s supposed to? There will be things where things were rubbed weird, things were scratched, things are pilling all these things, kind of signs that clothes were returned or damaged goods were put on the floor. So just get a front, back, side, give it a cursory look.
Look for loose threads that haven’t been clipped, that’s just sloppy, and that should not exist. And it’s just a sign of just overall sloppiness, turn the garment inside out. That’s gonna be really the key that shows you how much care went into this garment. If there’s lining, how well it’s sewn in, how neat and tidy, everything looks, okay?
It’s even more, it’s even clearer if the garment doesn’t have lining and you can see the insides of the seams that will tell you right there if the stitching is good, okay, so look at the insides of the seams. And a lot of garments have overlocking, which is when they have like three threads that wrap around the edges of the seam allowance so that the fabric doesn’t fray on the inside. Right?
That in itself doesn’t mean that something is cheap. You know overclocking is used all over the place. But is it good overclocking, is the quality nice? Do you see it like being all wavy, and not in a nice straight, even seam allowance because the sewing operator didn’t know what they were doing.
So look at the inside, whether they’ve clipped the threads, whether the seams look nice, whether everything looks even. So those two are really big, even before you get to the point where you’re going to take them into the dressing room. It’s just the overall look, the insides of the seams, slide zippers, my number one pet peeve is if a zipper gets stuck, you just know it’s cheap. You just know it’s cheap. Runaway! it’s gonna bother you every time you use it too, it’s gonna bother you so much. So slide the zipper up and down.
And feel for the buttons. Like when you have fat fabrics, like a winter coat, your buttons are going to dangle because they’ve deliberately created a shank with the thread. Like they can’t like sew the button tight to the body, otherwise, you’ll never be able to button your coat. So that’s not the indication, but make sure that everything looks like it’s stitched tightly. And that you can open and close several times without you thinking oh, this buttons gonna pop.
Another indication is if they include extra buttons or extra threads. If you’re looking at evening wear or cocktail dresses, I like to run my hand over them and see if like, beads don’t fall off but they become loose. And you could feel the like all the loose stitching. They should also come with a few extra beads and a little packet in the hangtag under the arm. Those kinds of things.
If you have embroidery, you should not see the fabric color under the embroidery. Your blouse is not embroidery, it’s decorative stitching. So of course you see the blue in between all the stitches of white. The point is not to fill in the space. But if you have like a flower embroidery, and it’s supposed to fill in the space, but you still see a lot of blue in the background because they just got really sloppy, also very cheap.
So always look at your embellishments, how well they’re done, and how well they’re attached. And whether you feel like ah, if I wear this under my seatbelt a few times, it’s gonna pop right off. Like sometimes you get like a chest blazer with some sort of embroidery and you’re like, Oh, my seatbelt is gonna mess that up like then forget it.
Yeah, so many of like the don’ts that you listed. I’m like yeah, I had a top like that. Oh, yeah, I had a pair of pants like that from my fast fashion days.
And, yeah, it’s so good to have that education about what a quality garment is and so we can make smarter choices because it is so sad when you buy a piece because you like the style of it. And then like the sequins are falling off after one wear, or the buttons already falling off, and they didn’t give you a replacement. So that’s really helpful.
But with so much online shopping, I’m wondering if you have any tips for like, what we can look out for when looking for clothes online when we can’t actually like feel the fabric and test the zippers.
So there’s a few things that indicate a company cares about quality and customer satisfaction. So if it’s a brand that’s new to you go check out their social media, and check out some posts and see if they are responding to customers.
Okay, because just in general, that’s just the attitude of the company. And that just kind of bleeds through everything they do, if they don’t care about their customer, like, what are their clothes gonna be like? So that’s one thing.
Another thing is how much information they give on the listing, okay. If a company cares that you make informed decisions about your clothing, they’re going to offer you more information, like the fiber content, care instructions.
Size charts are a big thing. I like to shop at brands, where their size chart is comprehensive, and also shows a lot of conversions. Okay, because I mean, we live in America, and we’re like the last remaining imperial system users, I think.
And I know the metric system a little bit better than the average American just because pattern making and you know, growing up with Korean parents and stuff. But yeah, they should have those conversions for people.
I know, you know, even like shoe sizes, they’re all different at different countries. So the more information that a company gives, the more they’re invested in your purchasing decisions.
Another thing is read customer reviews. Like don’t just look at the rating, just actually read the reviews. You know, some reviews are stupid, like, they’ll be like, Oh, well, you know, I didn’t really like it after all. Well, the company has no choice. Like they can’t control that, okay. That’s what do you call her shoppers remorse or whatever? like you didn’t end up liking it.
But you want to read the reviews where they’re like, this thing fell apart. This thing is a lot smaller than they said it was gonna be. The colors are completely off from the colors on the screen, buyer beware, like so pay attention to the customer reviews.
And not only the customer reviews on their individual website, but if they sell anywhere else, like if they sell on Nordstrom, see if you can see some of their customer reviews on Nordstrom, because they’re more inclined to post not to say anyone’s being dishonest. That’s not what I’m saying… [laugh].
ELIZABETH[Laugh] No, I know what you mean!
But you get a more comprehensive view.
And you might be thinking, Zoe that’s a lot of research, I just want a sweater! But I think a lot of the problem is just buying too much stuff.
Is just buying too much stuff. And do you need that many sweaters? And maybe it’s fun to shop, it’s, listen, I know how fun it is to shop. It’s frustrating, but also can be fun when you’re in the right mood.
So yeah, click around and look at stuff. But maybe be thoughtful as you shop more instead of just like launching everything into your cart. But like click around to see what’s out there, see what’s interesting, see what other options you have, see what reviews you’re getting.
And also, like there are companies who show like front, back, the end, in these tiny little you can’t blow them up pictures. And then there are some companies who are like, here is the stitching of the list, little color here. And I want to reward those companies who take the effort to show you all the things.
Because here’s the thing that people don’t know is that when you order something online, and let’s say you decide you’re going to order two of them because you can’t figure out what size you are in that brand. And you’re like, Oh, I’m just going to return one and it’s fine. It’s not fine because chances are very high that that company is going to trash the return.
Like the bigger the company, the higher the chance that the return, they’re not gonna look through it and make sure it’s clean and you didn’t get deodorant marks on it or anything, it’s just gonna get trashed. So I would encourage everyone to think, again before they decide they’re going to just order multiple sizes and return them and everything’s going to be fine.
So, you know, look at fiber content, reward brands that offer a lot of information upfront about their products so that you can make better decisions.
Yeah, that’s great advice.
And you mentioned fiber content and something you share in your videos is the difference between fiber and fabric. And I didn’t realize this difference before watching your video so can you share with listeners what the difference is?
So fiber, let’s compare it to cooking, which most people understand quite readily. Fiber is like raw ingredients. And fabric is the result of those ingredients have it come together. So if you’re taking something like silk, silk is not a fabric, silk is a fiber.
So it can be like flour. And flour can be made into cake, bread, noodles, all kinds of things. Same with silk, silk can be made into something that is glossy and drapey and light like a charmeuse. It could be made into something that is stiff, can be tailored has a lot of body like a dutchess satin, it could be made dull and rough, like raw silk, all these different things.
So fabric is a combination of fiber, and construction. So you have to figure out how to like you take the flour and you bake it and you make a cake and you take the flour and you boil it, it’s a noodle. It’s like you take the silk and you put in a satin weave and it becomes satin, and you take the silk and you make the little twisty yarns and put it in a basket weave it becomes chiffon. So fiber + construction equals fabric.
Okay, so like cotton is a fiber, but you would never say cotton fabric?
I mean you say cotton fabric that’s actually more intelligent than just saying cotton because you’re letting people know that this fabric is made of cotton, but you don’t know the exact name of the fabric, which is fine.
And then in terms of fibers, what should we know about quality? So you said to look at the fiber content when we’re trying to identify quality? Are there certain fibers that we should be looking for?
So you want to look for natural fibers, cotton, linen, hemp. Hemp has been on my social media a lot lately we’ve been talking about hemp, because hemp is growing in versatility and usability. It’s becoming softer. It’s becoming more well known. It used to be that hemp had this reputation of being this hippie-dippie fabric that would look like a burlap sack.
Hemp also had the reputation of getting you high. Like I don’t know, people anti hemp, big industrial anti hemp was like “no, hemp will get you high because it’s from the same plant as marijuana!”
Oh my gosh, I haven’t heard of that!
But yeah, that’s not true at all. I posted a little mini rant about it on my Instagram if you want to go look but hemp will not get you high.
If people wanted to formulate a fabric that got you high, they wouldn’t do it by accident and they wouldn’t give it away for free. They would be like oh my god, this fabric gets you high so you better pay a million dollars a yard for it. And people would, people would pay extra surcharge.
Yeah. And they would market it and trumpet it from the heavens. They wouldn’t hide it and sneakily get people high off their fabric. That’s just not a thing that’s going to happen.
So hemp is getting up there, you know there’s silk, there’s wool.
So what you want to stay away from are things like polyester, which is basically plastic. Like the way polyester is made. It is basically it’s liquid plastic. And it’s extruded through these little things that look like miniature showerheads. So you know how like water comes out in a stream out of a showerhead, well liquid polyester comes out of that shooting out of that but very, very small. And that’s one polyester yarn.
And then all these polyester yarns get woven and knitted together to create fabrics. So you’re essentially wearing plastic, fossil fuels, all those good things.
People talk about recycled polyester a lot. And it’s one of those things where literally, every fabric that exists right now, whether it pretends to be sustainable or not, has pros and cons. Okay, so you have to think about that. I’m actually writing a book right now that explains these things in plain speak. So stay tuned for that.
Yeah keep us posted!
But there’s always pros and cons. The whole thing with recycled polyester is yep, great, let’s pick up trash and reuse it instead of letting it sit on landfills.
Did you see that Gucci bag? Gucci did a collaboration with a designer, and she made a Gucci bag out of a used volleyball.
Oh, wow, that sounds cool. I haven’t seen that.
Okay, I’m going to send you the link after we’re done. It’s very cool looking. But yeah, so it’s really great to reuse things that exist.
There’s a bag company, they make tote bags, they take billboard fabric. So you know, when you make a billboard, it’s just basically printed fabric that stretched across the frame. And then when they take the billboard down, what do they do with it? They trash it.
So what this company does they power wash the billboard fabric, and they cut it up and make them into tote bags.
So I’m really big on these sorts of recycled upcycled sorts of things, but recycled polyester and then made into a fabric. It just continues our reliance on these really cheap mass available fossil fuel usage that dumps microplastics into our water sources.
So just got like staying away from all of that is just better. I mean, of course, recycled polyester is better than regular, you know, straight up virgin polyester. I don’t even know what that term would be. But, again, that’s not the best option.
Right. Yeah. Agreed. Agreed. And so it’s mostly about looking for fiber content. Is there anything quality-wise that we should look out with like, fabrics? Like, are blends a good idea? Or should we be looking for 100% of the fiber, for instance?
Well, going back to the food thing, it’s not really about you know, is a cake good quality. It’s like, well, what all did you put into the cake? What kind of flour did you put into it? What kind of sugar did you put into it? And, you know, did you mix it well? So there’s a lot of components where you can’t just be like, all of these are bad.
Which, honestly, I wish I could like give someone like a brain dump and be like, all of these are bad. Here’s the list, just carry it around in your pocket. Like, yeah, just stay away from polyester in general.
One of the things about denim and people are really gonna not like what I have to say about this because I know stretch denim is such a big thing. And people love stretch denim and jeggings and that sort of thing, but, and they think it’s okay, because it’s cotton. And we hear about all of these reusing jeans sort of programs.
So here’s the thing is if a pair of jeans, made out of cotton denim is more than 5% Stretch. It’s really no longer biodegradable. When you are blending things like elastic spandex lycra with cotton, what’s happening is you have the core fiber of the lycra, the spandex, and you’re wrapping cotton fibers all around the core of elastic and that’s how you get all those fibers to stretch, all those yarns to stretch. And so if that core is too big, and takes up more than 5% of that cotton fabric, it’s just like, the cotton will biodegrade eventually, but that plastic that spandex is still going to be there. So what’s the point?
So there’s that. So honestly, stretch, like denims that are more than 5% stretch, come from companies who cannot be bothered to fit their customers correctly. They have traded lazy patternmaking for adding too much stretch to everything. When, really, if you have, like, any sort of cotton twill denim with a 2, 3% stretch that fits you properly, that kind of tucks you in, you don’t need shapewear. You don’t need all the stretch.
Get a tailor and take your pants in to get altered. Let’s say trousers for our British audience because I know how they feel about the word pants. And, and do that.
But those stretchy jeggings and, and whatnot. These programs were they recycled denim, they’re being used to insulate houses, they take the denim and they insulate houses. And I don’t know how that works with how much stretch isn’t some of these jeans?
Yeah, get like a 2, 3% denim, those things were done so that it feels more comfortable in his comfort stretch for when you’re sitting because everybody expands when they’re sitting, right? But yeah, and not lazy patternmaking.
Mhm yeah, no there was a viral Instagram post. A company that tried to compost a pair of jeans. And they had a photo and it was like basically a pair of jeans, but it was just like thread left, it was just the stretch left. So all the cotton, you know, composted, and there was just the spandex left, and there was like, it was like the outline of the entire pair of jeans.
I think I did see that picture. And yeah, it perfectly illustrates what I was talking about. It’s just you’re still creating trash, because that spandex is not going to go away.
So when we talk about quality, I think there’s sort of an assumption that higher prices mean higher quality. Is this, always true? Like is luxury fashion always the best quality, fast fashion always the lowest, and it kind of like scales up and down from there?
So fast fashion is always going to be crap, it’s just bad. So just stay away. And the reality is that it’s partly to do with economics, and partly to do with celebrity culture, and the constant need for new.
But if you think about it, from the 1920s, the percentage of a household income that was spent on clothing, versus what it’s being used now, and the quantity they bought back then and the quantity people buy now, it’s like, you keep buying these really poorly made fast fashion items that are very cheap, because you think that’s all you can afford.
But you keep rebuying stuff because things keep tearing and like falling apart, when you would do better to invest in a few high-quality pieces that you can keep wearing. But it’s also people’s need for the new that drives them to be okay with crappy quality.
And it’s not something that humans thought of all by themselves. It is highly encouraged by fast fashion companies and even like not fast fashion companies constantly pumping out stuff be like, you need this, and this and this, and how about this.
And so it’s this vicious cycle where you just need to step out of the hamster wheel of needing new stuff constantly.
And so when you are buying clothes of high quality, and at a moderate rate of consumption and something we haven’t talked about yet is really taking care of your clothes, then whether or not you’re buying the most sustainable thing manufactured out of the best materials made out of the most ethical manufacturing factories, that becomes not not important, but you don’t have to freak out so much because you’re consuming clothes and products at like a normal rate and buying high quality and holding on to your items and taking care of them and not having to go buy new stuff constantly.
When I see people doing fast fashion, and I don’t mean hauls, nobody needs to be doing fast fashion hauls, but people who buy fast fashion, I always give people a pass if they have a body that is not being dressed by designers, in particular, very large people, okay.
Like these sizes, these much larger sizes like 22, 24, 30 up up up, most companies do not care to dress these sizes, and so they don’t, and so many of these people have to resort to whatever thing they can get. And often that is fast fashion.
You gotta get dressed so I get that. But that’s really like, the guilty party here are designers who decide that only people up to a size 22 need clothes and want to feel good in their clothes and look cute in their clothes.
Mhm yeah absolutely. I am totally with you. It’s on brands, it’s on designers to ensure that their sizing is inclusive, because everybody deserves access to high quality clothes that will last, that are stylish, and will fit them well.
And I actually wanted to ask you more about fit, because fit is also a really important element of quality. Like it’s not just how good that piece is hanging on a hanger, but we want to actually feel good in it and we have to WANT to wear it again and again; enjoy wearing it again and again.
So do you have any advice on finding well-fitting garments?
The thing about fit again, especially if you are talking about shopping online. So if you’re shopping in person, yeah, definitely go try things on, and definitely go take them to a tailor, okay.
Tailors: go to, go to a grumpy old tailor. Okay. Go to someone who has no interpersonal skills, but has been sewing for 100 years, all right. That’s the kind of person you want. And you will try on those trousers in front of them. And they’ll tell you exactly what they need to fix on you. You know, so go to those type of people.
And, you know, what I love about TikTok is you see these grumpy people with 100 years of experience, no interpersonal skills, they do not care about social media, if they even know what it is. And their kids are starting Instagram and TikTok channels for their parents and following them around and watching them sew stuff. I love them; they’re such a trip. But yeah, go to those people and get your things tailored and you will enjoy wearing these things so much more.
I have — so I have a playlist interviews with industry professionals and I recently interviewed a personal stylist named Cassandra Sethi, and we had a really great conversation about how understanding your personal style and getting a wardrobe that actually suits your lifestyle needs. And shopping around that getting things tailored learning how to make outfits and stuff can go such a long way in terms of curbing your own overconsumption and just overall happiness with your own wardrobe and style.
And one of the things that we talked about is how there’s this conception like this idea, especially with women because we’re socialized like this, that because we’re women, we should just be born knowing how to dress ourselves, and how things fit and how to style ourselves because these are all feminine endeavors. But that is not true.
It’s like cooking, just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I know how to cook, I do know how to cook, but that’s because I enjoy it. And not because it’s because I’m a woman. And I actually went through a period in my 20s, where I refuse to cook, because it was expected of me, you know, and it’s like that, it’s like, you can study it, you don’t have to just know it, you can consult a stylist, and consider it an investment in your entire whole closet future.
And they’ll teach you things like how to put things together, and how to dress for your body, and how to find a tailor, and how to buy things, analyzing cost per wear, as opposed to just the straight-up cost.
Cost per wear, is… I think about this all the time, like my sister, my sister is really like she’s inspired me so much in so many ways. It’s the same sister who told me to do a YouTube channel, she’s always been really concerned with the environment, recycling, even as a little kid, and she is a city planner, like trying to plan more sustainable routes for public transportation and various cities and stuff.
And she has this rule where anytime you buy something new, if you’re thinking about it, like you’re looking at the new thing, you should be able to make four separate outfits with things already in your closet or don’t buy it, because it doesn’t fit.
You’re gonna think of like, oh, well, in order to wear this, I need to also buy this and I also need to buy this, it’s like no, then it just it means it doesn’t go with your wardrobe. It’s not meshing with your style that you’ve already have place.
So all these things, but yeah, learn, go through your closet, hire a stylist, and invest in like an initial session so you can understand better, and they can tell you things like how things should fit you, things you should look out for when you’re shopping. There’s a lot to be learned there. So that you are making happier decisions for your closet.
Yeah, yeah, I love that. You mentioned tailors and stylists, because I think it’s easy to just think of fashion equals always shopping. And always just buying new things. Having style means buying all the latest things, but sometimes it requires pausing and yeah, working with a stylist who can help you figure out how to style your existing wardrobe or taking that piece to a tailor so you absolutely love putting it on. And fashion is so much more than just shopping for new clothes, there’s all these other elements as well. So I love that.
There’s, you know outside of a lot of red carpet sort of things, you know, the way celebrities dress. There are a few exceptions, of course, but all of these like random style shots of like celebrities on the street and stuff, the things that they were, they’re not so different from what’s available to the rest of us.
They wear higher quality, and they were things that fit them better, because they have the options, you know. And I think that everyone will look more expensive, classier if you get things tailored to you.
Yeah. Yeah, that is such a good point. And that definitely something I need to be better about — getting my pieces that aren’t quite fitting right, getting them tailored. So that’s good advice to keep in mind.
And then what are some other things that we can do as individuals, consumers, wearers of clothing to retain the quality of our clothes so we’re really making sure they’re lasting as long as they can?
For consumers, what we can do is just take better care of our things. I think that one of the things is people wash things more frequently than they actually need to, like wear it once and throw it in the wash. And that’s not necessarily the case.
Okay, if you’re working out, if you sweat, you got dirty, obviously. But there are a lot of things that can you know, I have a clothing rack that’s specifically for not clean, not dirty clothes. And I just air things out in between wears, and especially with so much of us working from home and just being on Zoom calls. Like I am wearing this for our call and then I’m gonna go put pajamas on okay you know, so there’s a lot of that and you don’t need to be washing your clothes that frequently you know, wash your body more, okay?
But definitely mend clothes and take care of your clothes. Don’t dry things at the hottest dryer setting ever. Things that have any kind of spandex shouldn’t be thrown in the dryer anyway, so I used a drying rack also to air dry, any kind of undergarments, face cloths, things like that.
A lot of cultures in the US, I think the US is one of the few countries where a washer and dryer is just expected. Everywhere I’ve traveled to, not to say I’ve traveled like the entire world, but so many countries they have the dryer and they air dry.
I think that’s also better for your, for your fabrics as well. And some of you be like Oh, but I love the fresh out of the dryer cozy saw, yeah throw it in the dryer for like three minutes, once it’s dry, that’s fine. That’s still way better.
But yeah, investing in learning how to take care of your things. You know, it’s so fashionable for people to be making books on mending, you can find so much out there on mending, I highly encourage you to do so. And personally, I find hand stitching very soothing, like meditative.
Yeah, so many great tips there. I am definitely a huge fan of air-drying things last so much longer when you don’t put them in the machine dryer, especially elastics, as you mentioned,
Oh, for sure.
So, this past hour or so has been fantastic. And I’ve learned so much from you. And I know listeners have learned a lot too. And you have even more like this on your various platforms and your website and your YouTube. So can you tell us where listeners can find you and learn more from you?
So my website is zoehong.com. And there I have links to my YouTube channel where I have almost 400 videos all about different aspects of the fashion, fashion design, illustration, and the industry. And you can book private video consults with me there, you can, there’s a link to my Amazon page where I post my book recommendations and my art supplies, recommendations, least all my social media, everything is there so you can just go to zoehong.com.
Well, thank you so much, Zoe, for sharing your time and your wisdom with us today. I do have one final question for you that I ask all guests that come on the show. And that is what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
In terms of the industry, I would like the barrier to enter lowered for people who do not come from many, because such as it is right now.
I think that some of the major problems that come from the fashion industry, are the fact that the people who have the privilege and the money to get a very expensive fashion education and work these free internships because they have a supportive family structure at home to pay their rent while they do so. They’re the ones who are getting the plum jobs, not to say that they are not qualified, but you know that they’re not the only qualified or always the most qualified.
Whereas there are plenty of smart, talented driven individuals who want to work these fashion jobs and who think that they really can affect the fashion industry for positive change, but who cannot because they have to work and pay their rent. They cannot afford $120,000 for a fashion education.
I mean, there’s one school, they are $50,000 a year. So 120 is nothing, okay. 120 is nothing. I mean, it this is very largely US-centric, I’m sure. But it’s not only in the US. But yeah, the cost of going to fashion school and getting yourself an education is just so ridiculous. And it’s true of for all subjects just going to school period in the US, it’s just so cost-prohibitive. It holds a lot of people back from being the superstars they could be, which is a shame.
Part of the reason why I’m so devoted to my channel is, my channel is free, so much of my content is for free so that I can give people who don’t come from an affluent background, a little bump up towards their fashion futures. Because I would like to see these people who have the drive, the work ethic, the passion, and the talent to succeed, and not just the ones who have the money to begin with.
And that’s a wrap for this episode. I thoroughly enjoyed this chat with Zoe and I really hope that you did too. Make sure to hit subscribe or follow on your favorite podcast app so that you do not miss any future conversations like this one.
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Okay, so that’s all I have for you today. Next week is going to be the season finale for season 3 and it’s an interview I’ve been trying to secure for a little while because it’s a totally different perspective than we’ve heard from before on this show. You’re going to be hearing directly from a manufacturer about what it’s like to be a supplier for fashion brands — both big fashion and small fashion — and what it’s going to take to build better brand-supplier relationships and therefore, better conditions for workers.
It’s another really interesting episode that I learned a ton from. So follow this show or hit subscribe and I will catch you again here next Tuesday! Bye for now!
Drawing upon her years as a fashion designer, illustrator, and instructor at one of the world’s most prestigious fashion universities, Zoe Hong has built one of the largest fashion education platforms online.
Falling in love with teaching from the first day in the classroom manifested into a complete career shift. Zoe helps aspiring designers build their knowledge and cultivate their creativity to enter and thrive in the workforce as designers, makers, and entrepreneurs.
Her motto is, “Teaching for a better fashion industry, one lesson at a time!”