In this, the ninth month of my wardrobe diet, I have been reevaluating my future purchases.
I have been reading Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline. The subtitle gives you a clear picture of the focus and arguments of the book: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion.
The cost, to workers, to the environment and even to our clothes (the quality of fabric, cut and production) makes this book too depressing to read in one go. So I have been dipping in and out. Still, it is a challenging and depressing reading.
While Cline’s facts and figures are American, the cost is universal in the Western world. We treat clothes as disposable items. We expect unbelievably cheap prices. We buy without thought for where, how and by whom the clothes have been manufactured, and where our clothes will end up, which is usually landfill. Even though we know that our clothes are cheap because of how and where they are now manufactured, we buy. And we buy lots!
And the cost has also been to manufacturers and workers in countries with labour and environmental laws.
Remember when buying a new piece of clothing was a major commitment? Growing up you didn’t have piles and piles of clothes. They were expensive as a proportion of our income. And clothes were cared for and repaired. They had to last!
I remember how excited I was when the first cheap Made in China T-shirt was on sale in this warehouse with just soooo many cotton clothes. What was exciting was the price! I could buy heaps, in different colours, for the same price of one Australian made top. But the quality? Well, after a few washes the shape was skew-whiff.
Cause or consequence? Either way, we don’t expect quality. When favourite clothing lines go off-shore, we know the quality will not be the same, despite assurances by the retailer. And our expectations are confirmed. But it is too late. The local manufacturer has gone. The local jobs have gone. The knowledge on how to make and repair our clothes lost.
Yes, maybe clothes designers, manufacturers and retailers made too great a profit in the past. And I know there are no simple answers. The workers in third world countries rely on the employment, even if underpaid and overworked in unsafe sweatshops. And there is exploitation and breach of environmental protection laws in first world countries.
Still, I will now try to only buy clothes made in countries with labour and environmental protection laws, or from suppliers who guarantee ethical treatment of their workers. I will buy fewer items of better quality with greater thought in buying what I need and like. This will mean I spend money and buy fewer items. There is the potential that I won’t actually spend much more because I will buyer fewer things, and things that will last.
This week I needed new socks. My current socks have all died at the same time. Previously I would have accepted that my only option was for those made in China. Cheap and plentiful. Buy them in bulk lots. They may stretch quickly but why worry? They’re cheap after all.
I investigated my options. 3 pairs of Chinese made socks at $6 or one pair of Australian made using Australian cotton and Australian wool for a cushion bottom. The latter were much more expensive. $16! And a cotton pair for $11. Ouch! I have become use to cheap imports. But what’s the true cost? The real cost? The hidden cost? That needs to be factored in!
I just did a 30 minute walk (2.66 km) in my new wool cushion bottomed socks. Very springy!
Want to see the speciality range of Australian made socks? They have ones that grass seeds don’t stick to. Probably great for gardeners. Go to Humphrey Law socks. I love how you can see how they are made: here. Looks clean and safe to me!