OVERDRESSED: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Watch out. If you read this book you will never look at buying clothes the same, but I suppose that’s the point. And if you do indeed change your buying patterns after your perusal, then it did its work. And if you don’t change how you consume fashion post read, then you have a cold black heart that will forever be void of love.Read it and weep.
Footnotes for the busy set:
China, where most of our clothes are now produced and where the population is gaining a taste for fashion, is in environmental crisis and on track to gobble up more fiber and fashion-related resources than we do. The problems created by the fashion industry in the West are quickly being matched and multiplied in other parts of the world. Buying so much clothing, and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.Americans buy an average of 64 items of clothing a year, a little more than one piece of clothing per week.The United States now makes 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50 percent in 1990. We have chosen low-priced clothes made in other countries, and the loss of our garment trade has contributed to a decline in domestic wages, the loss of the middle class, and the problem of unemployment, especially for those a the bottom of the economic ladder.Most of our lives are spent in clothing. Clothes are an essential part of the economy and easily the second largest consumer sector, behind food.
Multi-Fiber Arrangement – China
Clothes are an essential part of the economy and easily the second largest consumer sector, behind food.
Clothes could have more meaning and longevity if we think less about owning the latest or cheapest thing and develop more of a relationship with the things we wear.
In the age of cheap fashion, you just need it to last until the next trend comes along.
The average home in 1950 was 983 square feet, compared to the 2004 average of 2,349 square feet.
Retailers today are now forced to sell exactly the same product for less than they did 15 years ago.
“The most general consumer would rather buy the cheap stuff because they don’t want their clothes the next season. They will spend twenty dollars on a garment, so they can buy sixty of one hundred pieces, but they will not spend one hundred and fifty dollars on one garment and buy fewer pieces. It’s very wasteful.”
Chinese labor is still around a dollar an hour.
A Bergdorf saleswoman told me directly that quality was not at all what was motivating her consumer. It was prestige.
I intentionally avoid buying plastic products such as bottled water because they are oil-dependent and not biodegradable, yet here I am with a closet full of the stuff.
“The sewing is what matters when it comes to whether or not the garment falls apart and becomes garbage.” Cheap clothing skimps on labor-intensive details such as lining, gussets, stronger seams, and apparently sometimes forgoes sewing altogether.
“There are very few high-quality garments being produced at all. A very, very, very, small amount. So small that most people never even see it in their lifetimes. People are wearing rags, basically.”
What’s alarming about the quality fade in mass-market clothing is that with the cost of labor and materials going up and consumers’ price expectations going down, our clothing supply can only get shoddier from here. Quality fabrics and sewing are increasingly becoming a losing game in the era of cheap fast-moving fashion.
Most mass-market clothing is now so poorly made and ordinary that many consumers intuit that it’s not worth much money. In 1997 Consumer Reports did a cross-comparison of polo shirts from different brands and stores, giving a $7 polo from Target a higher rating than the versions from Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, and Gap based on durability, fiber content, and wear.
We are being sold ostensibly on good design, typically at the expense of craftsmanship or quality.
There’s an equally large disconnect between expanding wardrobes and the additional demands for fossil fuels, energy, and water.
China, where 10 percent of the world’s textiles are now produced, is an environmental disaster. When I traveled to Guangdong Province in 2011, the air pollution was so thick I couldn’t photograph anything a quarter mile off the highway-it was lost in smog. As I drove along the expressway between the industrial cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan, I inhaled unfiltered exhaust not just from unseen polyester plants but also from electronics factories, which are highly concentrated in this part of China. My throat ached instantly, my eyes burned, my nose drizzled, and my head pulsed. I had a sinus infection for months after returning home.
UK journalist Lucy Siegle found that the natural resources that go into fiber production every year now demand approximately 145 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water.
By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number on e export by volume.
We own more clothes than we wear, the quality and craftsmanship of our wardrobes are at an all-time low, and the U.S. manufacturing base can’t compete on wages with the developing world, costing countless domestic jobs.
Nike could afford to double the pay to its estimated 160,000 shoe factory employees without raising the consumer price at all.
One of the tools we have to change these dynamics is not just to demand that clothing companies stop using sweatshops, but to set the bar much higher and demand they pay those who make our clothes a living wage. Raising wages abroad would be good for the U.S. economy, as it would give our own industries a much-needed change to compete. It wouldn’t be easy or simple, but it’s achievable and the benefits far-reaching.
Since the Multi Fiber Arrangement expired in 2005, China has become the colossus in the field. Chinese apparel imports to the United States have more than doubled since 2005 and now account for an astounding 41 percent of imported clothing. In certain categories, China totally dominates, making 90 percent of our house slippers, 78 percent of our footwear, 71 percent of our ties, 55 percent of our gloves, and roughly 50 percent of our dresses.