Monday, March 18, 2013

Book: Overdressed

Recently, I jumped on the bandwagon, and read the book Overdressed:  The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (My review on Goodreads is here).  Overdressed focuses on the consequences of cheap/fast fashion, namely, that:
  • Cheap/fast fashion clothing is often ill-fitting, poorly made, and constructed from low quality materials.
  • Because it is impossible to make cheap/fast fashion within the US (due to labor laws and health and safety requirements as well as environmental laws) we import the vast majority of our clothing from places like China and Bangladesh where:
    • Workers are not paid a living wage.
    • The environment around the factories is heavily polluted making it difficult to breathe.
    • Workers are sometimes working in unsafe conditions.
  • Importing all of that clothing means that:
    • There are fewer jobs for skilled laborers in the US.
    • We often have no idea if our clothing was made in an ethical manner,
    • The cost in fossil fuels is higher due to transporting the clothing to the US.
  • Poor quality clothing leads to huge amounts of waste--we throw away or donate more clothes than can be recycled or sold secondhand or even sent to third-world countries.
  • People are less inclined to buy clothing that is made in an ethical manner because the cost is double, triple, or quadruple the cost you pay for cheap fashion.
  • People no longer recognize good quality clothing, that is, even if they wanted to buy better quality clothing, they no longer know what to look for.
The book has been much discussed on the sewing blogosphere, as you might imagine.  Many people sew their own clothing in order to address some of the problems listed above, particularly the issues related to construction and fit.  Certainly, having better-fitting, better quality clothing was the reason I got into garment sewing.  I think the real statement the book makes is about the ethics of disposable clothing.  I admit I pretty much chose to ignore the idea that anything bought from H&M or Old Navy was likely made by someone who didn't make a living wage in a factory that was polluting the environment.  It's really impossible to ignore those issues after having read the book.  Truly, it's now difficult for me to imagine going out and buying t-shirts at $7 a piece from Target.  On the other hand, it's still difficult for me to contemplate spending, say, $40 on a t-shirt.

Despite the sticker shock, it's my intention to buy more high quality clothing.  I'm also going to work on controlling impulse purchases, which is apparently the real take-home message from Overdressed.  From a Fashionista piece about Overdressed,
Overdressed is about reigning in out-of-control consumption,” Cline said. “It’s not trying to make people feel bad for buying clothes that they can afford.” In other words, the book is really about finding solutions to our shopping addictions. “And luckily,” Cline said. “There’s not just one solution.”
The Fashionista article goes on to give Cline's tips on how to afford ethical fashion.  It's no surprise that one of the tips is learning to sew, not just so that you can make your own clothing but also so that you can upcycle and refashion things from your wardrobe to give them longer life or tweak and refashion things bought secondhand.

I was so inspired by the book that, when contemplating buying a dress for Easter, I went to my local Goodwill store instead of the mall and tried on a bunch of dresses.  I looked for clothes that said they were made in the US (because they were more likely to be of better quality), that I thought would be great with a few tweaks (most common issue, the skirt would be too long, but that can be easily fixed).  Ultimately, I decided to either wear the dress I wore for Christmas (what?  wear the same dress to two holidays in a row?  craziness!) or make myself a new skirt, but going to Goodwill was a good experience in looking at clothing with an eye toward tweaking and refashioning.  I already have some ideas for things in my wardrobe that I rarely wear.

Ultimately, I think the greatest personal benefit in reading Overdressed was making me think before I buy clothes and aligning my clothing choices with my personal ethics.  I cloth diaper my baby in part because of the huge environmental cost in using non-compostable disposable diapers.  Therefore, it make no sense to buy clothes that, because they are likely to fall apart, are destined for a landfill.   Being more thoughtful about my clothing purchases will also likely lead to owning more clothes that I love which will solve my current problem of having a closet full of clothes and "nothing to wear."

No comments:

Post a Comment