Inside the Fashion Industry: A Tell-All from a Human Mannequin

For the past 4 years, I’ve been working as a fit model in New York City. What is a fit model? A fit model is a person that’s used by a fashion brand or a clothing manufacturer to check the fit and appearance of a design. Basically, I’m a human mannequin. During fittings, I work with the designers and the technical designers to tweak the fit of a garment until it looks and feels good.

It’s an odd job, but one that has taught me so much about garment construction and production. And I’ve been very lucky to fit with some amazing brands.

But, while I undeniably work with incredibly talented designers and teams, working on the backside of the fashion industry has given me a raw, first-hand glimpse at what’s really going on with clothing production. Most people are now aware that fast fashion is not as glamorous as it appears but how bad can it really be? Is it really that harmful? Read on to hear some of my personal insights from behind-the-scenes.

Disclaimer – My thoughts below are generalizations based upon my own personal observations. They do not reflect upon everyone and I’m sharing them as a means to help us to do better.


1. Clothing brands don’t factor in longevity.

I was in a denim fitting once, pulling on a pair of jeans with a room full of merchandisers waiting on the other side of a dressing shield when the jeans split completely in two. I’m not talking about a rip in the crotch, but actually into two separate pieces. To my shock, the merchandising team was not shocked. They made note of it and then quickly moved onwards.

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Most companies who produce cheaper (and sometimes expensive) clothing don’t consider durability or longevity as valuable points. Fast fashion companies pump out new designs constantly so that the faster your garments fall apart, the more you spend on clothing, which benefits retailers. Clothing is such an important part of our lives – it protects us, keeps us warm or cool, and it inspires us. Personally, I want something that I love to last for years. And I certainly don’t want my pants to rip in two.


2. Designers aren’t really designing.

Prior to fit modeling, I studied fashion design at Parsons. While this taught me how to design and create clothing, it did not teach me how the industry actually designs. During my first few months of fit modeling, I was completely surprised to see designers ship other companies’ garments to their factories to be copied and then fitted on me. I’ve been in fittings where the designers casually joke that they might get sued. Not to mention, a lot of times the stores that purchase the clothing tell the designers what styles to copy. Sometimes they’re even in the fittings.

Of course, designers have to create clothing that stores want to buy in order to make a profit. However, a retailer instructing a designer to replicate a garment can hardly be called design or even ethical.


3. Cheap fabrics mean harmful chemicals.

I was once in an 8-hour fitting. Long fittings like this are very tiring as I’m constantly on my feet and often have to wear heels. This one, however, was different. Several hours in I started to feel ill. I felt clammy; almost like I had a flu. Leaving the fitting, I felt like there was a slimy film of something covering my body and I wanted to jump in the shower immediately.

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This is not the first time that I’ve heard of cheap fabrics affecting their wearers. My friend who is a patternmaker had to quit a job because she was constantly breaking out in bad rashes from handling fabric. Cheaper fabrics are usually made from synthetic materials and are often dyed using toxic dyes that can contain carcinogenic ingredients. Imagine wearing one of these garments on your skin every day! Many people do.


4.Workers need to be paid fairer wages.

Sometimes I fit jeans that cost as little as $5.99. Meanwhile, I’m getting paid $250/hour to fit those jeans. Something there isn’t right. If the retail price of the jeans is $5.99, that means that that cost includes the brand’s mark-up (let’s say 50%) as well as all of the material costs and then the cost of labor. Jeans are relatively complicated garments since there a lot of details that require quite a bit of sewing. It’s hard to believe that whoever made those $5.99 jeans was paid a fair wage for their work. It’s just not feasibly possible.


5. We need to create a more sustainable fashion industry.

Though these experiences sound pretty negative, they’ve forced me to really understand how critical improvement is needed in the fashion industry and how much room there is for us to do way, way better. It’s these experiences that have inspired me to start my own fashion line, Eenvoud, and to give it my all to do everything the way that I feel it should be done. We create every design from scratch; pay our workers fair wages; use only natural and sustainably conscious fabrics that are dyed with non-toxic dyes, and produce our garments in a factory just a few blocks away. We purposefully design slowly and intend for our garments to last for years, if not a lifetime.

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There are so many others doing the same and working to tilt the fashion industry back to a healthy place. It is slowly shifting and our values as consumers are as well. I’m so grateful for all that I have experienced and I hope that my anecdotes might help to shed some light on an often shielded industry.

We can do this. So much better.

Help Jesse build a more sustainable fashion industry by supporting Eenvoud’s Kickstarter campaign!

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