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Cheap Clothing Costs A Lot More Than You Think

Cheap Clothing Costs A Lot More Than You Think

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.

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Photo Credit: Colin Rose

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108 comments

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9:37PM PST on Dec 18, 2013

This is an informative blog by which I have got that info which I really wanted to get.

belsoie by jasmine

4:24PM PDT on Oct 1, 2012

You can buy better quality clothing at pre-owned clothing stores, than you can at stores such as Target, whose clothing is not well made. I switched after buying two shirts from Target, both with the sleeves sewn in backwards....So much for their ads promoting quality!!!!!!!!!!.

1:21PM PDT on Aug 18, 2012

pre-owned clothes is fine

3:37PM PDT on Aug 15, 2012

I go to Goodwill and buy used clothes, so there is nothing extra going into the clothes I'm buying.

3:09AM PDT on Aug 2, 2012

Bye bye Forever 21

4:07PM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Beth made a good point - investing in a quality garment & taking care of it is also a good tactic.

4:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

should have answered no but to be in tune with the article i've answered yes

1:37AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

"Will you consider changing your clothing-buying habits?" I answered no since I am allready aware of this so if I changed my buying habits it would mean I somehow lost grip on reality.

6:52PM PDT on Jul 30, 2012

I think that Angel C may have a good point, in saying that even expensive clothing these days may not last long. I have recently seen a lot of expensive clothes on racks (just glimpsed them really on my way elsewhere), and noticed that many of them seemed rather flimsy.

I think that standards are needed (mandated by governments) to ensure a minimum level of durability for clothes.

1:10PM PDT on Jul 30, 2012

Thanks for the article.

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