Overdressed on Overconsuming

I constantly look at photos on my instagram feed or Pinterest of adorable outfits that I would love to own or wear.  LiketoKnowIt has me drooling over the outfit of the moment, a quick browse on ASOS or Zara fills my cart with at least 10 items for some impressively low price.

I know fast fashion is dangerous, I educate people all the time on where our clothing comes from and how that needs to change, but do I really step back to accept the fact that I am fully entrenched in this crazy cycle.

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline is a thorough and indepth look at how the clothing industry has changed, how we arrived at fast fashion and how deeply the change is harming the environment.  I’m about half way through and am overwhelmed by the reality that the garment industry is more destructive and consumptive than ever.


A few things that have struck me so far:

– In 1901 the most popular store bought clothing item was a women’s suit, the cost $13 or $380 today

– In 1901 on average families spent 14% of their income on clothing.  In the last five years spending on clothing was a fraction of that amount of average income.  The price of clothing has dropped so dramatically that we make the choice to go out to eat or buy a piece of clothing on a regular basis.

– In the United States garment factory workers make an average of $1660/month.  Factories abroad pay workers anywhere from $43/month (Bangladesh) to $147/month (China).  It is the price of labor alone that has made it possible to get large quantities of inexpensive clothing to retailers quickly.

Then there is the quantity:

– Fast Fashion consumers shop more than other consumers, stopping in bi-weekly at least to check out new styles.

– Fast fashion retailers have new styles out weekly and flip up to 90% of their inventory every month, keeping prices so low that it is possible for customers to buy large quantities on a regular basis.  This demand for new styles quickly decreases the quality of production, and consumers don’t seem to care.  Fast Fashion’s clothing is made of cheaper fabrics with lower quality finishes and seams then ever before, but our expectation is low.  We are buying cheap clothing, expecting it to just last for a wash or two and could care less.

Finally, where does all the excess go?  We are lying to ourselves that there are individuals sitting around waiting to be clothed by our donations.  Kline calls it the “clothing deficit myth”.  In just one Salvation Army distribution center that she visited they discarded 18 tons of clothing every three days!!  Of the clothing that we donate less than 20% gets sold in a thrift store, the remainder is post consumer waste or processed through what are called “rag graders”.  Companies who purchase the clothing to recycle or reuse or resell it in some way.  Furthermore, when we purchase clothing that is cheap, it is difficult if not impossible to repair and we aren’t even trying.  We simply toss it aside and move on to the next item.

I am just diving into this read, but am realizing how badly I need to read it.  Not only that, when I don’t remind myself of all of this madness and waste in the way we purchase clothing I forget why I should be shopping differently.

More soon on the effect on communities and producers and whether or not it’s possible for the industry to change…


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