Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, “Overdressed,” is a fascinating look at the impact that “fast fashion” has on the economy, the environment and on us. The way clothing is manufactured, marketed and disposed of has completely changed in the past 20 years, and so has our attitude: with so many discount stores around, we have come to expect clothing to be cheap. And fast fashion is changing the way we purchase clothing: we buy impulsively, we buy with the idea of quickly disposing of it, we buy more and we actually spend more money (“fast fashion” stores replenish their wares often to encourage us to shop frequently.)
But what price are we paying when we score that $4 t-shirt from Target?
97% of our clothing is now manufactured out of the U.S. That has translated to 80% of U.S. garment workers losing their jobs since 1996. Because more clothing than ever is being produced (H&M produces 500 million pieces of clothing per year; Zara, 1 million per day) and because it doesn’t endure, much of that clothing is ending up in landfills. Clothing production also causes a severe strain on the environment: the air quality in Bangladesh and China in particular is greatly compromised, and their rivers are irreversibly polluted. Half our wardrobes are made of non-bio-degradable plastic (polyester.) Only 1/4 of donated clothing is actually sold: thrift shops are inundated with cheap fashion that no one wants. And shockingly, the average American disposes of 68 pounds of textiles per year.
These facts really opened my eyes. Although most of the clothing I buy is vintage or purchased in thrift shops, I regularly supplement my wardrobe with trendy, cheap clothing from H&M, Topshop and Forever 21. I’ve always been an advocate for inexpensive clothing because I felt that women of all income levels deserved to be fashionable. But after reading Cline’s book in June, I haven’t stepped foot in any of those stores; it seems to have turned me off to cheap clothing forever.
It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with clothing. We should all examine the necessity of what we buy, the reasons we buy, and do all we can to change our spending habits, which have a huge impact on the economy and the environment. Here are my suggestions for going on a “clothing diet:”
-Shop in your own closet. This may sound silly, but we often forget what’s in there. Be creative with what you have.
-Buy less. Don’t buy things you already have, and don’t buy things in multiples just because they’re cheap; it’s better to buy one quality item at a time.
-Don’t buy clothing made from man-made fibers; buy organic, natural fibers whenever possible.
-Check labels. If something is made in Bangladesh, for example, google “Bangladesh minimum wage” and see what they pay their workers. Be informed: do not support companies who abuse their workers or the environment.
-Support local designers and environmentally friendly designers, even if their clothing is more expensive.
-Buy used clothing. Many thrift shops have excellent quality designer clothing for a fraction of the original retail price. It’s a win-win-win: you pay less, you support sustainability, and often (like at Goodwill) you help a charity.
-Learn how to sew, and repair your own clothing. You can even redesign items that you’ve tired of. Or ask a tailor to do it.
-Luxury handbags are one of the biggest scams in retail, marked up 10-12 times the cost of production. Don’t fall for the hype.
…and wear vintage, Vintage Is Green™.