I have always been perturbed by the hidden costs of cheap clothing.
At high school my Economics class visited a local clothes factory. Seeing the mainly non-English speaking migrant women sitting in rows, sewing their little piece of the whole item (a row sewing zippers,a row sewing side seams etc) in the noisy, unfriendly environment was distressing enough. In the 80s clothes were not cheap in Australia. Our clothes were mainly locally made. So at least these women had laws to protect their safe working conditions. And, although they were as strong as now, at least there were laws and regulations to protect the environment.
Now our clothing is mainly produced in the sweat shops of Asia. Companies go off shore to “be competitive”. That is, to maintain their profits by lowering labour costs. Or to be able to sell clothes at the cheap prices Australians now expect – a few dollars for a T-shirt, less than spent on a cup of coffee.
Of course, no matter what they companies say, the quality is never the same. Wool is coarser, Cotten thinner, arms too short, clothes mis-shape after one wash. Hey! But it’s so cheap, so toss it out and buy another one. Clothes are disposable with an expected life of a few weeks.
Have you thought about the real costs?
Besides the loss of local industry and jobs, and who am I to say that workers in one country are more deserving of work than another country, there is a human cost and an environmental cost. I know it is not a clear cut issues, and although the workers in sweat shops may see the jobs as lucrative and give them a standard of living they could not afford, it doesn’t make the working conditions and manner in which the clothes are produced OK. If we were paying a reasonable cost, which means more, and thus didn’t see our clothes as disposable and bought less, their working conditions could be improved; and there would be a smaller impact on the environment in both the production and disposal. Hey! We might even see people wearing decent clothes, as opposed to cheap and nasty.
Watch the BBC documentary Blood Sweat and T-shirts. You will want to seek out clothes produced fairly and will challenge the notion of cheap disposable “fashion” items.
All this is part of the reason I am on a no-clothes-shopping year. I have always preferred to buy fewer, better quality items but, as my crowded wardrobes attest, I have not bought fewer. I do keep my clothes for years, and look after them so they last – often outlasting my changing shape and advancing years – so even buying only a few pieces a year, clothes quickly accumulate.
So here’s to a considered, worker-friendly, good quality wardrobe with clothes that suit, fit and last rather than one with clothes that quickly date, are of poor quality and exploit workers. Better still why not go on a clothing diet. Stop buying and make use of what you already have?
Today’s decluttered item = a hat that I have had for over 14 years. Didn’t buy this one. It was given to me from a friend. I think that is one of the reasons I kept it – it reminds me of her. But I can think of her without a hat hidden in a bottom drawer. The hat has moved with me to three houses. I last wore it, oh, about 12 years ago. One of those things you bury in the bottom drawer and think, “What the heck, it doesn’t take up much space and everyone needs a hat, don’t they?” Clearly I don’t need this one.
And a bag of school uniform items now too small for my children. These will donated to the school’s clothing pool. As school uniforms are compulsory you are a captive market and as most parents are concerned more about getting the cheapest price, sourcing ethical suppliers are probably not on the radar.