The British are wasteful. According to the UK conservation think tank, WRAP, the Brits don't wear 30% of the clothes in their closets each year.If this holds true for the rest of us (likely), then there are about 26.7 billion items of unused clothing cluttering our closets and collecting moths as we speak. That's a lot of moths. We have enough UNUSED clothing in our closets to dress every human on earth, and a couple dogs.
I think that's weird. And wasteful. And it means we have a lot of clothes we don't even like. "Blake, this is insanity, why is this happening?" you ask. Great question, my friend. The answer? Two f-words: Fast Fashion. Just like Fast Food, Fast Fashion is all about selling a ton of product with little regard to quality, health, or societal sustainability. Fast Fashion companies are characterized by releasing new lines of clothing every 2 weeks (vs. the typical quarterly rhythm) with hopes of getting their customers to view clothing as something that they can consume and throw away, rather than save for the long haul.
Fast fashion is ruining the world. And here is why:
Reason #1: It's Cheap
In 1901, Americans spent 14% of their income on clothing. Today, we spend only 2.8% of our income on clothes.* Clothes, that apparently, we don't even like or wear. How is this possible? One bad-ass dude and his invention that you learned about in 4th grade, Eli Whitney, and the cotton gin. Well, not Eli specifically, but the techniques developed during the Industrial Revolution brought us miracles like the $1 burger, the $1 razor, and the $1 lap top (it'll be here soon). By purchasing, assembling, and distributing in bulk, apparel companies can make really cool looking things for much less money than they did in the past.
So, with our incomes rising, and expenses dropping, we do what any warm blooded animal does in a time of feasting: we consume like crazy.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE:
The problem with gorging ourselves on inexpensive clothes is that it motivates us to feed the lust for having something new - but doesn't actually make us look or feel good in the long term. When there is a substantial cost to buying something, we are forced to use discretion to ask questions like, "Will I actually wear this a year from now?", or " does this look good on me?", or "is this actually comfortable?". When we buy clothes at firesale prices, we're more likely to say "to hell with it" and just buy something mediocre.
Reason #2: It's Cheap
In order to make cheap clothes, you need really cheap workers. 40% of clothing costs are paid to laborers - so whoever sits at that sewing machine really impacts the bottom line. From 1997-2007, we outsourced 650,000 apparel jobs away from the U.S. to developing countries.*
The problem with this cost-cutting technique is that as more businesses hire in developing countries (like China), workers are beginning to demand luxuries like a livable wage, safe work environments, and humane working hours. This means that outsourcers need to find other countries where the workers don't have such high expectations. (Pro tip: a friend in the fashion industry recently told me, "Myanmar is where it is at.")
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE:
In all seriousness, why are we asking people to work in abhorrent conditions to give us clothes that we can crumple up and throw in a pile in our closet? Oh yeah, and for the environmentally motivated: as China and other developing countries begin to consume like us, we have a huge sustainability issue. Case in point: if everyone in China had a pair of wool socks, we would exhaust all of the world's wool supply.* Think of all those pathetic bald sheep. Our closet clutter is making the world a worse place.
This leads us to the third reason we have too much clothing...
Reason #3: It's Cheap
As the rest of the world begins to amass clothing like us, the cost of high-quality fabrics is going up. The solution? Low quality.
Now wait, I know what you're thinking,
"I knew it, here is where that rat bastard is going to try to upsell me into buying $400 jeans."
Slow down and hear me out... and watch your language.
In order to deal with increasing labor and materials costs, manufacturers try to deliver low prices by replacing quality sewing with looser, less secured stitching, and in some instances glue or tape. In Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed, she states,
“Quality has been whittled away little by little, to the point where the average store-bought style is an extraordinarily thin and simple, albeit bedazzled and brightly colored, facsimile of a garment. Yet I suspect few consumers born after 1980 have any idea what they’re missing.”
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE:
So what types of benefits are we missing by buying cheap clothes that fall apart?
1 - Economic Benefits: Quality clothes last longer. (See anything from Saddleback Co.)
2 - Sentimental Benefits: Quality clothes develop a story over time. (See this Patagonia video).
3 - Relational Benefits: Quality clothes as gifts create a long-lasting bond between the giver and receiver. (e.g. Wedding rings)
4 - Generational Benefits: Quality clothes can be passed down to your progeny. (See this video from our friend Doug Gautraud).
Tanner Guzy of Masculine Style has this to add:
One of the largest problems with Fast Fashion is what it subtly tells the people a man surrounds himself with. It communicates that he is a consumer more than a producer, that he values things based on their price, not their quality; it tells the world that the man wearing Fast Fashion can be buffed about by either prices or trends - that he's not as solid as he'd like to be.
Reason #4: You Have A Buying Problem
Just because something is cheap, doesn't mean you have to buy a ton of it. Candy is cheap, but most of us aren't buying it by the pound. Some people are buying candy by the pound, and they're called 7th graders. It's immature to over-consume. And that is the crux of why we have too much clothing: Immaturity. We haven't built up the temperance (fancy word) or systems to help us say "no," to every new advertisement promoting novelty.
A lot of us see the problems with unjust labor, lack of quality, and over-consumption, and are actually using these facts to buy new (higher quality mind-you) jeans or bags in order to do our part. Although ethical sourcing and quality are super important, consumerism got us into this mess, so self-restraint has to be part of the pathway out.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE:
The truth is, that buying more clothes - even if you need them - will not ultimately make you happy. They will just make you clothed. On the other hand, contentment and self-restraint actually might get you a step closer to happiness.
What We Can Do:
Here is the exciting part: Over-consumption is 100% entirely in your control, and a lot of people are starting to take action! If you want to develop temperance, you can. Today. For free. You can look at your life, where you work, how often you go out, etc., and figure out how much clothing you truly need. If you don't need it, recycle it. (We've even built some tools to help with the process.) And if enough of us do this, we will lead the apparel industry in a direction that benefits workers, our grandchildren, and our souls.
Andrew Snavely of Primer Magazine has this to say,
The easiest way to battle cheap consumerism is to shop for clothes intentionally. One of the most freeing feelings happened for me when I stopped "going shopping" (that is, just walking around and finding things to buy) and started going out and finding specific items I wanted. Using sites like Cladwell and Primer as inspiration, you can nail down exactly what it is you want, allowing you to not only find it at a good price but also discouraging spontaneous purchases that ultimately end up in the back of the closet.
Oh yeah, another benefit of buying less stuff: it's cheap.
*Pretty much all of this data comes from Elizabeth Cline's Book Overdressed: The High Cost of Fast Fashion. We are super grateful for her insights and research. This book has dramatically affected how we are doing business at Cladwell, and inspired us to build a simple roadmap to dress better.