Considering buying those cute 2 for $25 jeans from Old Navy, or those fabulous new pumps at DSW for the steal price of just $15? Think again. Cheap goods equal a not so cheap global footprint. Even though you’re probably not thinking so rationally while being bombarded with club-thumping music and eye-catching merchandize, try and restrain yourself; the planet will thank you.
A new book by Elizabeth Cline entitled “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” critiques the mindless, shopaholic culture permeating modern day society and takes the reader on an eye-opening journey behind the name brands and store shelves and into the depths of the economics, resources and labor required to make your clothes.
Cline explains that the clothing industry is able to maintain such incredibly low prices due to sheer volume of production. In order to further cut costs, clothing companies have resorted to cheaper materials and, as a result, an overall loss in quality. Have you ever noticed that those new jeans from H&M didn’t last very long? Perhaps holes in the knees developed sooner than you’d prefer, or maybe that shirt from Target felt thinner and lighter in quality than you’d like?
This business model is by no means accidental and it’s bad news for human rights and the environment as most high volume, low price clothing stores employ cheap labor and promote extreme turnover and waste. In fact, we throw away “68 pounds of textiles per person per year,” according to Cline, which leads to overflowing closets and thrift stores now bursting with low-quality items. It’s a vicious cycle, particularly for those who can’t afford anything better.
With respect to market extremes of super low prices (think big box stores) versus super high prices (think Madison Avenue), Clines states that “There are very few middle-market brands and retailers and everything has become very cheap or irrationally expensive on the other end.” Leaving little room for quality products that don’t cost a fortune, most of us fall victim to clothing items we know aren’t the best sourced, yet we buy them anyway. There’s often simply no other financial choice and going naked obviously isn’t an option.
So how can we balance the need for affordable clothing with labor rights, a local designer economy and a healthier environment? Cline reiterates the need for more independent fashion designers who use and promote sustainable products. Check out Fashioningchange.com if you want to learn more about sustainable comparable clothing alternatives. Also, and most importantly, be sure to choose quality over quantity when given the choice. Although initial sticker shock might dissuade you, the handmade dress that lasts for 10 years is worth much more in the long-run than five t-shirts that will last a summer.
Photo Credit: Colin Rose