Got a good deal on a shirt recently? Maybe a new pair of shoes? Perhaps you love ALDO, Zara’s or Urban Outfitters, for their great styles on a budget. But have you look past the shoppers high to what’s behind the label?
The fashion industry can get us jazzed, and even obsessed, over a new outfit or style that we just have to have for this season. And we love it, because it makes us look and feel good. That is what style is all about right? But this desire has gotten us in way over our heads. Credit card debt is a touchy, but great example of this same desire. We buy things without having the money to afford it. Some lucky few might use our credit cards responsibly, buying only what we can pay back in time for the next bill to roll around. But sometimes, what we once could handle on our cards has somehow skipped a beat, and our desire to continue to purchase has not. And so, many of us find ourselves loaded with credit card debt, and wanting to buy more.
We all do this from time to time, without thinking about all the negative effects, whether that applies to our financial lives, or the aspects of production behind what we are buying. Unfortunately, on the production end there can be a lot of negative effects hitching a ride of hem of your cheap garment. And it is important to be informed.
A major problem with the production chain is that what was once made in the United States, has now moved overseas. And why? Bottom-line: businesses make more money this way. At first, it might have been a few parts, or special pieces only made in a certain part of the world, but like our credit card debt and shopping habits, this has gotten out of control. And for a second, as consumers, we buy into this movement of production because in turn, companies can lower the cost of the product we are buying. Say, a hair drier for $9.99. Cheap, but that’s not even the cost it takes to make the hairdryer, it was probably made for a buck, labor included. So, we still have to pay more. But ok, that is the included ‘price’ of business; you sell something at a higher price than what it took to make it because that’s how a businessman makes a living. So naturally you will sell it for a little more than it was made. But the illusion upon us, that it might be ‘economically’ better for a family to shop at Walmart, than somewhere else, is merely an illusion. (Now I am just talking about economics, not labor issues in these manufacturing countries or the environmental externalities, just simply cost wise.) We are so accustom to hearing this historical fact about the complete movement of production overseas, but is anyone else furious? We can make things in this country, and we should! Heck, we once did and we were the best at it.
Let’s take a moment to reexamine: if the product were made in the US, say even made in your hometown. That factory would be employing people from within the community. Their children, both workers and factory owners, would be going to the local schools, workers would be paid a living wage by law, and inline with environmental regulations we fought so hard to establish in this country. So what is really the loss here? Well, the businessman might just have to share his wealth. The factory would be paying taxes, and therefore programs that are so often cut, like arts and music, might be able to be revived in the schools. In turn, taxes would go down for citizens. But most importantly, there would be a sense of ownership in the community. A sense of control. A sense of proudness that hasn’t been present in America since our products were made here. (Imagine if Apple products were not just ‘designed in California’ but ‘made in California’ too, but that’s a whole other issue, *cough*, Foxcom).
So what does this have to do with the fashion industry? Everything. These same principles apply to our looking good and feeling good. By rethinking fast fashion, a term coined for such stores that deliver high end looking garments at a low price, we can rethink our economic and societal well-being. Fast fashion stores pride themselves on bringing looks from the runway into your closet within weeks. What is lost in this process is quality, and sense of proud identity. What if we could restore this by building it into our communities.
As consumers we can become overwhelmed by these concepts, and therefore need to find a balance, or start with baby steps. A good one to try is making a promise to yourself that you won’t buy anything made in China for one month, or you won’t step into a chain store for a certain amount of days. Putting these restrictions on your consumption may be hard at first, but soon you will begin to create habits around a life of an aware, or conscious consumer. A friend recently said to me, “You are so good at knowing what and where to get sustainable fashion.” It made me think: It’s not that I am good at it, it’s that I want to be good at it, for myself and my community.