Thriftier threads can make high-rolling politicos and their wives seem more relatable. Kate Middleton’s first postnuptial outing with Prince William, in a $90 cornflower blue shift from Spanish retailer Zara (photo below) endeared her to Middle England. In the U.S., Michelle Obama’s Today show appearance in an H&M polka-dot ditty had a similar effect.
But the rise of ubercheap apparel chains like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo, which are popularly called fast-fashion retailers for their ability to churn out modish styles at record speed, also carries big costs for U.S. apparel makers and the environment. In recent years, cut-rate European and Japanese clothiers have raked in more customers and bigger profits than traditional U.S. apparel companies like Gap and American Eagle Outfitters by mass-producing lower-quality digs that keep pace with runway styles. That’s led more shoppers to cast aside hefty chunks of their wardrobes as fresh looks come up, which leads to more waste.
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