This is the second piece of a personal project I am working on over 2017 entitled “Body Text” that explores our complicated relationship to our clothing. Follow along on my instagram and/or tumblr blog.
I long had in my mind that I wanted to try making a stitched infographic, so it was exciting to finally get my act together and actually do it! I chose as my subject matter our relationship to cheap clothing stores (fast fashion), and its effect on the environment. There has been quite a bit of awareness about this for the past few years, with many articles and a few books on the subject. (My sources are listed below.)
The topic of fast fashion resonates with me as it includes 2 areas I’m interested in- how to make your clothing feel like your own and express what you would like it to express; and managing money and resources. I think cheap clothing can work for or against both of these. Shopping constantly to keep up with trends can make everyone look pretty same-y. On the other hand, many of the cheap clothes are decently well-made, and can be customized, kept for a long time, and combined with more unique or handmade items. And obviously- shopping for cheap clothing can save a lot of money… as long as it isn’t done constantly. If the low cost of clothing is used to justify buying massive amounts, it becomes more expensive as you need more space to store the clothing (not to mention the time cost of all the shopping), it’s harder to move, and more expensive (especially if you look at the city-wide level) to dispose of.
One thing that really struck me while working on this project is how hidden a lot of the costs of purchasing cheap clothing are. According to what I read, the quality of much of the clothing we buy has gotten so poor that even if we donate it to charity, it’s unusable- even by very poor countries. As in, most of it is worth less than a nickel per pound, even to textile recyclers. And it costs A LOT for cities to dispose of- which we pay for via taxes.
It’s a deep topic that I admittedly haven’t fully investigated with this infographic. I can see doing full projects dedicated to exploring very narrow aspects. For example, I read about whole cities in China that are dedicated to producing one item- like neckties. And pondered whether extremely cheap clothing is worth the trade-off of not having the clothing manufactured in the US, and the associated loss of jobs (I don’t know the answer to that one, but lean towards “not worth it.”) I read some crazy statistics- for example, apparently if every man, woman, and child in China bought 2 pairs of wool socks, there would be no more wool left in the world! And wool isn’t even that expensive right now.
My take-away after doing this project and thinking about it is this: We all need to wear clothing, and that clothing needs to be manufactured somehow and somewhere. Probably buying less, but more expensive, clothing of higher quality manufactured in the US would be better, but that cat’s out of the bag, and it’s not going back in, at least not any time soon. We have to do the best we can with the reality as it stands today, though perhaps that reality will slowly change if enough people change their personal habits. I don’t think it’s terrible to shop at places like H&M, Uniqlo, Zara, etc. They carry good-looking products that are sometimes reasonably well-made and very cheap. But I think that the way to do it is to pick only what you really like and need, selecting the best quality you can from their offerings, with the mindset that you will wear it for a long time. Then, don’t treat them as disposable- take care of the clothes so that they last. Learn simple repairs, and repair them when you need to. Basically, shop for and treat cheap clothing the same that you would expensive items.
Personally, I am now thinking harder about what I really “need”. Do I already own something similar? How few pairs of something can I get away with? What do I own that I can I repair or alter to give it more life?
In the future, I may do projects on the topics of how to repair clothing, and how to tell a piece of clothing’s quality.
“Global fashion industry statistics - International apparel." FashionUnited. FashionUnited Group, 2016.
Vatz, Stephanie. “Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes.” KQED News. KQED Inc., May 24, 2013.
Conca, James. “Making Climate Change Fashionable - The Garment Industry Takes On Global Warming.” Forbes. Forbes Media, LLC., December 3, 2015.
Sweeny, Glynis. “Fast Fashion Is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil.” EcoWatch. EcoWatch, August 17, 2015.
Wicker, Alden. “Fast Fashion is Creating an Environmental Crises.” Newsweek. Newsweek, LLC., September 1, 2016.
Goldberg, Eleanor. “These African Countries Don’t Want Your Used Clothing Anymore.” Huffington Post. Oath Inc., September 19, 2016.
Final quote adapted from Jacob Lund Fisker of the Early Retirement Extreme blog, April 14, 2009
Cline, Elizabeth L. "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion." New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.