Readers, who was it who said, if something can't go on forever, it won't?
One more question: What happens to a society whose entire economy is based on the consumption of finite resources? Answer: Nothing good.
Now the book. I thoroughly enjoyed Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which clearly outlines how clothing production (and consumption) has changed over the last twenty years or so with the rise of "fast fashion." You may already be familiar with Overdressed, as it has been discussed at length on the Pattern Review boards (with author Elizabeth L. Cline participating) and on many sewing blogs (Check out Trena's insightful take here.)
The clever title says it all: we (mainly, though not exclusively, Americans) are encouraged by marketers to purchase a tremendous amount of cheaply-made clothes -- the fashion equivalent of fast food -- which we neither need nor care much about. Our closets are bursting with crap, we're destroying the planet in the process, exploiting overseas workers (unions are outlawed in China) while abandoning our own working class, and frantically trying to keep up with a fashion system designed to keep us buying more and more. Have I missed anything?
Cline travels the world, from the Dominican Republic to Bangladesh, from China to New York's own Garment Center, to illustrate the global scale on which "fast fashion" operates. CAUTION: You may never feel the same way about shopping in Forever 21, H&M, Walmart, or any of the other purveyors of cheap clothing. And if you think you can always give your unloved cast-offs to the poor, think again: a very small percentage of your Salvation Army or Goodwill donations will ever be worn again.
We live in a throwaway society. We've all heard the term planned obsolescence. Nearly all the tools we use in everyday life: our appliances, our computers, and certainly anything fashion-related -- are designed not to last. When is the last time you had a radio repaired, or a blender, or anything other than a car? Not only is it hard to find anyone to do it but also the cost is often prohibitive.
You can make the same arguments Overdressed does about clothing, about consumer electronics (who's still watching TV on their circa-1965 Zenith color console?) or furniture (Ikea anyone?) or home construction (postwar suburbia!). Planned obsolescence is very, very profitable to those at the top of the economic ladder (also known as the investor class or, lately, the 1%). As for the rest of us, well, it depends on who you are and where you live. If you're an ILGWU member, it sucks. If you own a lot of Apple stock, not so bad.
Not that long ago, clothing was something meant to be worn until it wore out and it didn't wear out easily. Clothing was expensive and, relative to today, well-constructed (as well as more complex). For reasons clearly outlined in Overdressed -- and they are economic, political, cultural, demographic, technological -- this has changed. Clothing has become another disposable item, made to be used briefly and thrown away.
|Vintage Lilli Ann fashions from California Couture|
Despite Cline's efforts to provide evidence of some potentially positive developments in domestic manufacturing, the scale of these developments is miniscule -- a cute boutique or clothing line that upcycles old clothes, an upscale brand that sources locally -- and the market for such items in a down economy (and getting downer), arguably shrinking.
My hunch is that most of you avoid fast fashion. Those of you who sometimes indulge likely do so for the same reasons I do: it feels good, it's easy, and, like the occasional fast food indulgence, it's a way we participate in the culture. And, you know, sometimes we just don't want to care about the big-picture stuff: there, I said it.
We can certainly avoid stores whose manufacturing or marketing methods offend us. We can buy less, slow down, and consume more consciously. But I think these choices have their biggest impact on the way we feel about ourselves (more virtuous, less guilty, smarter) than on the planet itself. The population of China alone is more than 1.3 billion and growing. And, according to Cline, they want their fast fashion too and who are we to deny it to them when we've already had ours?
Clothing consumption is just one medium-sized part of a big picture of how, in just the last century or so, human beings have squandered the planet's precious resources and destroyed delicate ecosystems (next up, species extinction). If it feels good to avoid cheaply made clothing, by all means do so. If you enjoy sewing your own clothes, as I do, then thread that Singer and stitch away.
Oh, and about that first question: fast fashion won't last because we're running out of cheap energy. As that problem grows, snagging another cute pair of $15 jeans will be the least of our problems.
Of course, I'd love to hear what you think -- about the book, if you've read it, or about the issue of fast fashion itself.
You can read a short interview with Elizabeth L. Cline on Pattern Review here.
I'm off till the 28th (though I will certainly check in from time to time) so I wish you all a very happy, safe week.
See you soon!