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Fast fashion for your house

I live in a bubble, and certain shopping environments remind me of that.

Allegra Raff

Dec 13, 2023

I live in a bubble. The nature of a bubble is that you forget it’s there. Certain shopping environments remind me. HomeGoods is one. If you aren’t familiar, HomeGoods is an off-price retailer—kind of like a Tuesday Morning or T.J.Maxx— of (obviously) housewares.

Like many off-price retailers, it’s shrugged off the bargain-basement vibe in recent years, and goes straight for Aladdin's Cave of Wonders—shelves spilling over with gleaming treasure.

It’s intentional.

I was there a few weeks ago with the laser focused purpose to buy a simple mat. A HomeGoods has opened close to my house, and seemed like the most likely place to find what I needed.

But resistance in the face of all that sparkle and utility doesn’t happen by accident, even for me.

I’d been there before, so I knew.

I took a deep breath and reiterated my directive—a simple mat—before entering. The sliding doors opened on a wall of dense and carefully arranged Christmas decor.

“Raise your hand if you consider HomeGoods your "happy place." (Us too.) But how much do you really know about this household retail giant? Probably not a lot, especially since the company is super tight-lipped about their vendors and strategy. But here's everything you need to know about one of our favorite off-price home stores…” [Good Housekeeping, 10 Surprising Things You Never Knew About HomeGoods. 2016]

In her podcast and Instagram posts, Clotheshorse-host Amanda Lee McCarty has shared disturbing truths about off-priced clothing retailers like T.J.Maxx, Ross, Marshalls, and Nordstrom Rack, revealing that off-price retailers "are actually… massive players in the world of fast fashion” and that “the vast majority of the stuff you see in an off price retailer was stuff that was specifically made for them to sell.” Just crappier, and with even more pressure on on factories to insist on long hours and little pay.

In other worlds, this stuff isn’t “left over,” as we sometimes think. “The biggest misconception I had was that everything you can buy in there was something another company hadn’t been able to sell,” McCarty says.

True, many of these stores began that way. But as the gleaming, bountiful displays attest, that’s no longer the case, and the stores aren’t even trying to maintain the pretense.

Witness the "Well, I've already forgotten why I came in here. So much pretty!" experience Good Housekeeping reported on in their jolly 2015 listsicle (I don't want you to click that link; it's just for sourcing). Kinda like the feeling of walking into a Zara, right?… which in both cases conveniently distracts you from the self-oppression of voting for poor quality and low wages with your hard earned dollars.

On its face, an off-price housewares retailer is not an off-price clothing retailer. But HomeGoods is actually owned by the same parent company as Marshalls and T.J.Maxx: TJX.

It’s hardly speculation that this strategy they're so "tight lipped" about overlaps significantly with what we know about the labor abuses, pollution, and petroleum dependence of fast fashion.

Those low low prices are the intended retail prices, with profit priced in; not really "off prices." That means the people involved in producing those items, starting with the raw materials and land all the way to getting them to the store, were compensated (ahem, not compensated) accordingly.

Not everyone knows, or cares. A mother and adult daughter wandered past, discussing what holiday gifts they’d buy there, at HomeGoods, versus what they’d try to find even cheaper on Amazon.*

It’s up to us as shoppers to recognize that these places are “fast fashion,” too. Just for your house.

​#10 in the 2016 Good Housekeeping trivia piece: “...they even offer inspiration on a curated blog…so now you have no excuses not to hit up your local store for new furnishings and accessories to make over your home.”

What about the excuse that you don’t need anything because your home is already full of “goods?”

Despite literally holding my hands up like blinders by my eyes to block the lure of shit I don’t need, I saw a plain white tablecloth (on a low shelf, because I was keeping my gaze down) and picked it up.

Disheveled, it was marked down with a red sticker to $5. I checked the tag: linen, cotton.

Yeah. It came home with me.

PLOT TWIST? Not really. But the HomeGoods story was, among other things, a preamble to my 2024 plans.

Every year, about December through January, thoughts like sugarplums dance in my head of what I’d like to do to make Raff Co., and all she has to offer, more rad in the coming year.

Centering UPCYCLED fabrics, like the tablecloth I found at HomeGoods, has been on my mind. Don't worry, I won't start heading to off-price retailers to look for textiles. That dirty rejected tablecloth was an exception, not the rule, and I don't want to support their business model. But there are plenty of other places to get unwanted and unused fabric, starting my own pre-Raff Co. stash.

I also want to make the SUPPLY YOUR OWN FABRIC option easier to access on all made-to-order pieces.

There are some cool possibilities that could come out of both these approaches: the use of colors and patterns I don’t stock, color blocking with smaller remnants, and incorporating materials that have emotional significance.

Here are some Chore Shirts I had the honor of making for the artist Adrienne Leban, using her own "BioGeo" fabric featuring her abstract drawings.

The back of a shirt with blue, gree, white, and black abstract patterns

*I shop at Amazon even less than I shop at Home Goods. Doing things the hard way to avoid what I hate is becoming my whole personality.

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