December 03rd, 2012

Like most Aussie girls, while on an extended holiday in New York I arrived in the Big Apple with visions of skipping down Bleecker Street, a la Carrie Bradshaw, with a magnolia cupcake and a Manolo shopping bag in hand. But there I was on day 15 of my trip and I hadn’t even stepped foot into Saks.


Because after only a short time on the island, I met author Elizabeth Cline. I was so impressed with her, that I bought a copy of her book “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.” I whizzed right through it. The book has enlightened my shopping habits, and has actually saved me a ridiculous amount of money I would have wasted on poorly made clothes. Clothes that would only have lasted a season or less.

Not to mention the fact, that it has given me a much needed crash course on an industry which regularly pays overseas factory workers poverty line wages and often shows little regard for the environment or human rights. Not to stress the point too much, but the book has helped me realise that for every dollar I spend, I am, knowingly or not, casting a vote for the kind of world I want to live in. Basically, what Elizabeth argues, is that we are in the midst of a fast fashion culture craze, wherein huge chain stores like Zara and H&M are restocking their shelves with fresh items every few weeks. Makes you wonder why we have seasonal fashion shows when trends change in a matter of minutes! This whole idea of cheap, fast and fun fashion, promotes the message that clothes are disposable.

The old me would have happily bought a sparkly top for a night out, knowing that it probably wouldn’t survive more than two washes. Clothes have become so cheap, that it doesn’t matter if we never wear them again. Especially when we can pick up the next trend, two weeks later, for around the same price. What’s more worrisome than having to spend every spare minute scouring fashion magazines to stay on the trend treadmill, is that the cheap cost of fast fashion means that big companies are increasingly relying on cheap labor to produce it. It also means, that they have to place orders large enough to support consumer demand, which means they are more likely to overlook the impact on natural resources. And the vicious cycle continues.

Now, I love fashion as much as the next person. In fact, I have a subscription to almost every fashion magazine known to man, so I certainly don’t support rejecting fashion. It’s simply about enjoying it with a clean conscience. We have moved away from an era where clothing was treasured, and getting a new outfit or lust-worthy item was cause for celebration. We cared for our things, took them to get repaired, learned how to sew or updated them with new buttons or patches for a new season.

Not now.

Now, our hunger for cheaper, better, faster has meant that our respect for fashion, and for professions like tailoring, garment design and cobbling, have diminished. The sorts of questions I have been asking myself are: Where are my clothes made? Are the fabrics environmentally friendly? Is the item a quality one? You’d be surprised how many people assume quality, just because something comes from a designer label.

If there’s one message to take home it would be this: if it seems too cheap to be true, it probably is. Just because you can get a new party dress for $50, that doesn’t mean that’s all it costs the environment, or our local industry. We spend countless hours obsessively checking the calorie counts on food products and making sure our eggs have the free range label, but hardly any time at all scrutinizing the labels hanging in our wardrobes. So what if you have to spend a bit more on a quality, ethical item? Is it that hard to buy less?

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