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Cheap Clothes Last Longer than Luxury Duds, Research Finds

Fast fashion is routinely derided as cheap, shoddily assembled clothing that’s quickly cast off into landfills—the bane of the apparel industry’s whopping environmental fallout.

And that label might apply to many of the apparel merchants that deliver new collections seemingly every week, but new research coming out of the U.K.’s University of Leeds casts doubt on the stereotypes surrounding fast fashion and its much snootier sister—luxury.

Luxury fashion is the yin to fast fashion’s “love me for a season” yang. High-end, heritage brands trade on their supposed timelessness, touting storied craftsmanship and quality. However, Dr. Mark Sumner, a lecturer at Leeds in sustainability, fashion and retail and a 15-year alum of embattled department store chain Marks & Spencer, led a team that conducted an eight-week test of cheap and expensive clothing from low- and high-end stores to see how T-shirts and jeans would survive a series of stress tests, The Telegraph first reported.

The group put four samples of each tee and seven pairs of each jean through an abrasion test to find out how long it would take to rub a hole into a garment’s fabric, and a strength test identified how long before the clothing ripped. They also tested how seams hold up under pressure—critical for close-fitting garments—and how quickly colors fade or bleed.

“A number of fast fashion products demonstrate significantly better value for money that other brands—especially when compared to ‘designer’ brands,” Sumner told The Telegraph. “Some of the garments performed very well across a wide range of tests—more often than not, the best products were ‘fast fashion’ products.”

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In fact, a cheap pair of denim last twice as long as a designer counterpart but at one-tenth of the cost, Sumner said. The T-shirts performed contrary to their price points; the high-end tee was the “worst-performing” while a tee acquired from an “online fast-fashion brand” outshone the competition.

The conclusion? Generally speaking, fast fashion isn’t tossed out into the rubbish or offloaded at overloaded thrift shops because they’ve sprouted a hole or burst a seam, rather people simply get tired of them as the trends move on and they move on, too. Fast fashion’s extreme pricing and constant newness have trained consumers to buy with little thought or consideration as to what happens when they don’t want an item in their closet anymore.

On the other end of the equation, consumers who feel good about putting their money toward costly clothing said to go the distance might want to rethink the reality of that value proposition. Sumner’s research didn’t specify which brands were including in testing, as it’s based in part on a manufacturer project subject to a non-disclosure agreement, the Leeds press office said.

Despite these findings about fast fashion’s better-than-expected quality, this research doesn’t factor in the alarming factory conditions that typically are a routine element when producing clothes for mere pennies.

Sumner could not be reached prior to publication.