A Material World View

Cost of Fashion

Fashion is such a strange concept. It’s tied to place, culture, and sometimes even to our very beings…What we wear can decide how we’re treated, can reflect how we want to be treated, and shows both how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen. All by wrapping our bodies in pieces of fabric. And many people are entirely detached, these days, from the process their fashion goes through before it reaches their hands. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

I, like many Americans, have been caught up in fashion. And not just in fashion as that societal mausoleum that dictates what is “in,” but in the fast fashion market that makes clothes fast, cheap, and disposable. I have a lot of clothes. I don’t throw a lot of my clothes away; I used to give them to my sisters until they outgrew me, and now I donate them to shelters when I they no longer fit me. But I do buy clothes. I buy a lot of clothes. I have so many cheap T-shirts and dresses, buy two new pairs of jeans every year or so, collect sweaters and scarves like a hobby. I like to own, and to keep buying. And I have this luxury of not knowing where or how these clothes are made. And now that I’m thinking about it, it kind of disgusts me.

When I’m not at school, I work at a pub. It’s a really small, really nice pub, and I love everything about working there. We happen to sell a lot of merchandise, because people find this pub interesting. I have a lot of this merchandise because I am proud of the pub, and I get an employee discount. I looked at some of the tags in my clothes: a T-shirt, tank top, and sweatshirt, and saw that each item was manufactured in a different country. The T-shirt was made in Honduras, the tank top was made in China, and the sweatshirt was made in Pakistan.

The thing about items like this is that the system is even less transparent that when you buy from big fashion corporations like H&M and The Gap (for example). The company these are items purchased through have also purchased this clothing from the countries in which they are manufactured, and then they resell the items with silk screen designs at a higher price. So many silk screen printing companies are online that they are now a new normal for merchandising: it’s cheap, fast, and easy, like all other fast fashion. And companies like this are not so much in the limelight as H&M and The Gap; their garments come from different countries, so origin is harder to trace, and less calls are being made to hold them accountable for the conditions of the factories in which their garments are produced.

I can’t imagine that the factories where these T-shirts, tank tops, and sweatshirts are manufactured have quality working conditions. It is likely that the majority of workers producing these garments are women, who are over worked, under paid, and under appreciated. It is likely that these women and their managers would not realistically choose to work under these conditions if they were given other opportunities. But they do work under these conditions because in a world where fast fashion rules our ideas about our clothing, we want things cheap, fast, and easy. And we don’t want to think about where they come from or how they come to be; which is why my merchandise comes from Honduras, Pakistan, and China—that is where the American company saw it could make the most profit.

I am trying now to be more conscientious about my purchases: clothing and otherwise. I am trying to do my part to hold companies like H&M, The Gap, and that which supplied the pub I work at with this merchandise accountable for the working conditions of their garment producing factories. I am trying to take into account not only the environmental impact of fast fashion, but also the ethical impact as well. And I hope that I’ve inspired you to look in to this for yourself.

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