But since the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh April 24, killing more than 1,100 people, we’ve really gotten a look at how horrendous it can be to work in the garment industry. And I’m not really comfortable with the idea of people dying for my $6 T-shirt.
In the aftermath of the collapse, some change has already occurred — Western retailers have entered a legally binding agreement to pay for improved working conditions. The country may also alter its labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize allowing them to demand better conditions and pay (at $38 a month, Bangladesh’s minimum wage is the lowest in the world).
On our end, it’ll mean slightly higher prices (10-15 cents per garment) in the future — or the garment industry will pack up and move to whichever country pays even less. So why will the garment industry do whatever it takes to give us the cheapest clothing possible? Because we want it. We love our cheap fashion.
I’ve heard a lot of interviews with Elizabeth Cline, author of “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” over the last few weeks. I haven’t had a chance to read her book, but it sounds intriguing. For her research, Cline traveled to factories in China and Bangladesh and looked at the impact (both here and abroad) of America’s drastic increase in imported clothing. She also explores how the pressure to keep prices cheap has forced retailers to reduce detail and craftsmanship, making our clothes more uniform, basic and low quality.
Now I’m not about to say that everyone should go out and learn to sew — it’s not easy, feasible or cheap enough, for most people. But I do think we as Americans should change the way we consume clothing. Don’t just be a “buy-and-toss” consumer — learn to restyle and mend your clothes instead of buying something new and trendy.
Cline calls it the “slow clothing”: knowing where your clothes come from and what impact they have on the environment. If you can afford it, buy clothes made in the U.S. They’re better quality and will last longer than most clothes made oversees. Even more expensive, but of even higher quality, is to have an outfit made for you by a tailor. You’ll be amazed at the difference in fit of a ready-made outfit and one tailored to your shape.
To help motivate you into an outfit restyle, I’m giving away a copy of “99 Ways to Cut, Sew, Trim & Tie Your T-Shirt Into Something Special.” The title is pretty self-explanatory, and the pages are filled with hip, easy-to-read illustrations and instructions. Some of the refashions require no sewing at all.
To be entered in the giveaway, just comment on this story. Gain another entry by following me on Twitter @star_features.
Features Editor Deirdre Long: 256-294-4152. On Twitter @star_features.