Clothing; A Short-Term Relationship?

Allow me this oneway conversation to tell you about a sustainable living adjustment which will cost you no money at all. If anything, it'll save you some. Never in history have people treated clothing like we do today. If I asked you about which innovations set apart our lifetime, perhaps you'd think of smartphones or wifi or ease of travel. But what about fast fashion? The truth is that our short-term relationship with apparel (ahem, us in the West) will leave a shocking fingerprint and two factors have led us to where we are today:

  1. The introduction of globalisation and the 'free market' - Businesses operating on a global scale means that the making of all our goods can be outsourced from low-cost economies, particularly places where wages are very low. For instance, in the 1960s the US produced 95% of its clothes whereas today it makes 3%, outsourcing the other 97%.
  2. The invention of 'fast fashion' - Instead of two fashion seasons a year, we now have 52; we have something new coming into our shops every week. Clothes are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible in a race to get them from the catwalk to the highstreet. How is it that a t-shirt from Primark or Joe Fresh can cost the same as a Starbucks coffee?

What's so bad about outsourcing our clothes? Whilst the cost of producing clothing has increased in the last 50 years, the prices we pay for our clothes has decreased - something there doesn't add up. I have an answer that's quite hard to swallow... 

The global marketplace is where we export work to have happen in whatever conditions we want to come back cheap enough to throw away without thinking about it.

But what's so bad about manufacturing our clothes faster? It breeds an attitude that clothes have short-term lives, when in reality textiles take years to decompose (synthetic fabrics actually won't decompose) and release harmful gases in the meantime, leaking dye into our water systems. These clothes are also poorly made and not built to last - a hugely unsustainable invention. The clothing industry is actually a high skill industry - my guess is that every part of the outfit you're wearing right now is something you couldn't make yourself. But highstreet fashion teaches us to expect clothing at a price too low for everything in the production line to be above board. 


So where do you come in? Look after the clothes you own! View them as valuable. Resew holes and buttons. Give and inherit clothes with friends. If you're in a store and knock something off the hanger, pick it up so it doesn't get trodden on. Don't keep clothes on your bedroom floor. When you do buy clothes, buy an item you know you'll get a lot of wear out of. None of this "I'll wear it once" kind of thing. Avoid paying for clothing you can tell is bad quality - we can probably all think of stores with this reputation (ahem, Primark; Forever 21). Enjoy your clothes! Have a look where they were made and think about who made it.


• If you'd like to learn more about the affect of today's fashion industry, watch The True Cost - a well made documentary which inspired this post.
• Watch out for these fast fashion top-dogs: Zara, H&M, Primark, Topshop, Uniqlo, Gap, Forever 21, Joe Fresh.
• Instead of being off put by clothes which seem too expensive; be off put by clothes with a questionably cheap price tag. Ask yourself, "How is this product this cheap?"