Elizabeth L. Cline starts her journey on discovering the cost of cheap fashion by realising that she has seven pairs of identical canvas flats at the bottom of her closets which she got for $7 (discounted from $15, what a bargain!). As a typical American consumer Elizabeth was buying a new piece of clothing every week without thinking what’s already in her closet and storage room. How to resist when you can now buy tops, dresses and skirts ranging between $5-25$? It does not matter, that you have five same stripe tops in your closet; it does not matter because they cost so cheap you do not realise it.
Cheap fashion has changed the way we dress. In order to increase their profits, retailers need to produce in mass volumes and at cheap prices. Zara can design, produce and deliver new collection in two weeks to any of its worldwide locations. Forever 21 and H&M can do this between six to eight weeks. Fast fashion created a new need; consumers want to follow the trends and if you have a new collection every two weeks you simply shop more. But at what costs? The sewing quality is drastically lower which means that most of the garments we buy will fall apart after a few or even one wash! And the vicious circle continues, we either buy a lot and often because of new trends or simply because the clothes we have are falling apart.
Behind The Scenes
In ‘Overdressed’ Elizabeth travels to China, India and the Dominican Republic to discover how our garments are made before they reach the racks in our favourite retailers. The infrastructure problems in Dhaka caused numerous fires and deaths in factories. The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 is believed to be the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry, killing at least 1,129 workers where brands like Zara, H&M, Gap and many more produce their garments. Half-year before that, a fire killed 112 people at another factory in Bangladesh. Elizabeth also explores the living conditions of factory workers who often barely meet ends with the wages they receive.
Spending Too Much
We do not realise that, but in the long run, we spend much more than we would if we buy less and more sustainable.
“They will spend twenty dollars (on a garment), so they can buy sixty or one hundred pieces, but they will not spend one hundred and fifty dollars (on one garment and buy fewer pieces). It’s very wasteful” (Ng, owner of Dynotex, a garment factory in Brooklyn, New York).
Of course, not everyone can afford to buy more expensive garments which means that fast fashion is a solution for those with a limited budget. I enjoy to shop at Zara and H&M because of the attracting prices but I try not to buy too often and a lot. Most of my closet contains clothes that I usually wear and need and very rarely I buy something for the sake of buying. In her research, Elizabeth teaches us to step back and think about our buying habits and how to take care of our existing clothing. It is inspirational and detailed research worth reading.