How Cheap Fashion Is Changing The Way We Shop

by Christopher Paul on July 13, 2012

Elizabeth Cline writing for GOOD:

Sewing clothing is very labor intensive, which is why a $10 or $20 price tag on a dress should be raising eyebrows instead of just opening our wallets. Companies like H&M place their orders in a network of factories in countries such as Bangladesh and China, where poverty wages are legal (Bangladeshi garment workers are paid $43 a month) and workers have little choice but to put in the exhausting hours needed to feed the 24/7 fast-fashion machine. Not only does this debase the skill and craftsmanship of sewing, but factories in the United States cannot compete. Between 1990 and 2012, the United States lost half of our garment and textile industries. We now make 2 percent of our clothing here.

To feed our clothing addiction, approximately 82 million tons of fiber is now being produced worldwide, largely in countries with very minimal environmental standards. In China, I’ve traveled through an unimaginable landscape of factories along highways enshrouded in smog and saw dyes dumped in ditches in Bangladesh. The environmental toll of the fashion industry is being taken out on countries most U.S. consumers will never visit and is not reflected in the price tag of a $10 dress.

I’ve actually thought about this a lot over the past year or two and I’ve changed my own buying habits as a result. Though I never shopped at H&M or Zara, I’ve tried to find clothes that will last and made in America. Its not about national pride or anything. It’s really about knowing that I’ve decided to give my money to someone who isn’t working in a sweatshop. Sure, some items cost more but I expect these items to last me years.

Unfortunately, not all Americans can afford anything but Old Navy. And I don’t mean to insult anyone who shops there; there is something to be said for a bargain – especially if it fits a person’s style. My family has shopped there with great results.

But I do check the labels to see where something is made and where the materials came from to help my decision and, of late, I’ve steered towards handcrafted or sewn products for the US made with locally sourced materials.

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