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The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

The fashions may be cheap, but the economic, environmental and societal costs they extract can be exorbitant.

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Have you ever shopped for clothing at a discount store and purchased low-priced items that you thought were a bargain? If so, you are a (perhaps unwitting) participant in “fast fashion.” Consumers used to buy quality outfits that were meant to last and be repaired, but today they treat clothing as a “disposable good." In her breezy study of the fast-fashion garment industry, Elizabeth L. Cline explains why this is a bad idea – for workers, the clothing industry, the economy, the environment and consumers. Cline will inspire anyone who purchases clothing to think about the values it represents, and maybe even take a sewing class or two.


Empty-Calorie Clothing

“Fast fashion” is a phenomenon that has significantly changed the clothing industry by catering to the American throwaway culture. In times past, US consumers shopped at department stores and bought their clothes perhaps twice a year, when the spring and fall collections came out. Clothes were priced according to their quality. Many people had the skills to repair whatever they bought and make their outfits last – or at least, get handed down to a family member or decently given away. Now, all that has changed. Inexpensive clothes are constantly available at discount retailers, priced to move all the time, dozens at a time. In some stores, collections turn over as frequently as every two weeks. How did all this happen?

Following the Second World War, US consumers were finally making enough money to buy well-made outfits at local and regional department stores. But things started to change when the Gap store grew to national prominence in the early 1990s and began applying brand loyalty to clothing purchases. Gap instituted an exclusive “in-house design team” and offered multiple versions of basic clothing items, such as jeans and T-shirts, in...

About the Author

Writing by Elizabeth L. Cline has appeared in The New Republic and The Village Voice, among other publications.

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