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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

This book was recommended by one of the blogs I follow, ReFashionista, and I picked it up for some train-reading this month. Wowza. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion solidified what I already was trying to do in my fashion life.

In the updated Afterward to this book, Cline clarifies that this book really isn't about fast fashion; it's about the fashion industry as a whole. Just like reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, you have to be very careful about taking Cline's impeccable research and extending the information to extremes. I didn't get that she was trying to get her readers to stop shopping at H&M and Zara and the like; she was trying to make us aware of our spending habits as Americans and how it is affecting our closets, our wallets, and our planet.

When Cline started writing this book, she counted the amount of clothing she owned and found she had over 350 pieces in her closet and in boxes in her home. A good chunk still had tags on it. She filled up multiple trash bags to take to charity. She wrote that she was borderline embarrassed at her addiction. She then went on a hunt to find out how our clothes are made and by whom. She visited the Garment District right here in my home, New York City, and found factories that are still producing for designers. She spoke to former workers of fashion houses you are wearing right now to find out about their design, development, and production processes. She went to Bangladesh and China to see the factories for herself and speak to the management. One factory in the Dominican Republic has experimented with living wages and found that they can actually produce good products while paying a living wage.

This book was really outstanding, and I even though I was well on my way to making some big changes in my own wardrobe, this was the tipping point. I have already gone a year (2012) with buying no new clothes (the short of it: laid off, making $14k a year, just getting by on rent and dollar pizza), and I have been wrestling ethically with having a lot in my closet that people are sewing for pennies an hour. On top of this, I have way too much stuff in my home, so for 2016 I have installed a general rule of "one in, two out." This means that if I buy a pair of shoes, not only must they be high quality and sustainable, I must also get rid of two like items. For example, I purchased a pair of ankle boots and a pair of pumps from Clark's at the end of the season this winter, and I gave away four pairs of shoes. So far, so good.

However, finishing this book today made me realize that this just simply isn't enough. I know Cline doesn't want us to go to extremes after reading her book, and goodness knows I couldn't do that anyway. But I do want to learn how to sew. My mom recently gave me her old Singer from the '70's, and I'm excited to spend some time this summer learning how to use it. I will never be good enough to design my own line or make my own clothes, but I do think it's important, just as Cline writes in her last chapter, to be able to mend my own clothes and to be able to customize as I see fit. I will never be as awesome as Jillian who runs the ReFashionista blog, but it would be nice to find pieces at the thrift store for a small amount of money and customize them as my own. It's a small change, but it's one that I can do.

I hope you feel just as over cheap clothing as I do. I have realized in my 30's that I would rather have fewer things that are higher quality than more cheaply made things that pile up in my closet, don't fit well, and will soon be "off trend." I would prefer to have my own style that is made up of beautiful pieces. So, here's to a good change!

Cline quotes that only 15% of clothing that we get rid of is then recycled. That means 85% ends up in landfills. Rather than throwing those holey socks in the trash, consider filling a bag of cast offs and taking them to H&M. If you donate a bag, they will give you a 15% off coupon for use in their stores. North Face also recycles in store. Patagonia recycles as well and actually uses their recycling in future products. You may also donate these rags to Goodwill or Salvation Army; they will textile recycle for you. Please -- anything is better than the landfill.

You can also read more at the book's website, which includes a shopping directory for you to look up your favorite brands and similar places to ethically shop.

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