Fast vs functional fashion

By on April 9, 2015
Fashion stylist mum shares practical tips on finding affordable, durable and stylish clothes for children in the city.
Walking through the kids section of a ‘fast fashion’ shop such as Uniqlo, Zara, Forever 21 and H&M feels like falling into a giant packet of M&M’s. The multitude of eye-catching, candy-colored clothes and the affordable price-tag makes it an obvious choice for parents. It seems like a match made in heaven: fast fashion for kids who grow fast and live in a fast-paced city.

Yes, these shops are certainly useful, especially for busy parents who don’t have the time or money to drag their kids around over-priced department stores. However, fast fashion does have its drawbacks many of which are unique to living in Tokyo.

The clothes may be bright and colorful, but for how long? After three or four cycles in the washing machine the vivid colors that initially caught your eye, fade into a dull washed-out mush. And the relatively low quality fabric tends to lack durability. This is especially true in the humid Tokyo summers when we find ourselves having to wash our child’s sweat-soaked T-shirts once and sometimes even twice a day. Put simply, fast fashion clothes just can’t deal with the multiple washes needed during a Japanese summer.

Mika PolandOf course, because they are cheap, it is tempting to just buy new clothes and throw out the old ones. But that’s not exactly an environmentally-friendly approach to shopping- especially in the land of ‘mottainai’.

Also, the mass-market designs and standardized colors of most fast fashion clothes have meant that kids in the neighborhood tend to look the same. Of course, for a parent functionality, in the end, always trumps fashion. But if the child can express just a little of their own unique identity through what they wear, especially in a country that encourages conformity, maybe it can help them build self-confidence?

Like its ubiquitous cousin ‘fast food’, fast fashion might be convenient and cheap, but there is a healthier and more sustainable alternative.

Functional Fashion refers to clothes that are affordable, durable and stylish. The best places to buy such clothes are ‘recycle shops’. Do you want your child to wear secondhand clothes? Yes you do! Unlike the UK and the U.S, recycle shops in Japan sell clothes that are usually in pristine condition.

Recycle shops are perfect for globe-trotting parents with fast-growing kids. The clothes combine affordability with high quality, and high quality more often than not, equals durability. Recycle shops not only offer a wide range of styles, but also lets customers sell the clothes back to the shop when their child has out-grown them (or ran out of the near non-existent closet space of a Japanese house).

Tokyo is blessed with a large selection of recycle shops, but for the uninitiated, it is difficult to know which are best. So here are three of my personal favorites.

Buying over-priced brand clothes for children who want (and should, on occasion, be allowed!) to roll around in muddy puddles is not recommended. But there is no doubt that the quality of material used in top brands is high, and therefore more durable. Ragtag specializes in buying and selling a range of top brand clothes such as Armani Junior, Burberry, and Baby Dior. With its reasonable prices and ‘recycling’ credentials, Ragtag can make buying brand clothes a guilt-free experience.
There are many Ragtag stores across Tokyo some of which include cafés..

Baby bear
This recycle shop specializes in more down-to-earth children’s clothes for the rough and tumble of a kids daily life. It has an online shop, but I recommend a visit to its ‘brick and mortar’ shop located in Mizonokuchi (10 minutes from Shibuya on the Denentoshi line). They also buy and sell toys, making it a fun place to take the kids.

This is an online shop where you can buy and sell a range of popular children’s clothes. There is nothing too fancy here. It specializes in good quality domestic (Japanese) brands- basic style, but easy to coordinate and mix with other clothes. Unfortunately the site is in Japanese, but the automatic google translation makes it easy to navigate.

In the end, as most parents know, you can’t force a child to wear something they really don’t want to wear. Well, you can, but it is not worth the early morning arguments and tears! So, whenever possible, it is a good idea to include your child in the clothes-buying process. If you sometimes need a break from the mind-numbing music and blinding brightness of fast fashion shops, then recycle shops are the perfect places for both parents and kids to rummage around and hunt for hidden bargains.

Mika Poland, mum to 8-year old daughter Tessa, works as a freelance clothes stylist for NHK and Asahi TV.

About TF Tribe