An Uncomplicated Life Blog: Why Affordable Fashion Is Costly

Monday, March 9, 2020

Why Affordable Fashion Is Costly

Forever 21, Amazon, H&M and other retailers all boast "trendy" fashion at extremely low prices. But what's the real cost of low-cost fashion?

Cheap fashion is all over the place. Deals are linked on blogger's Instagram Stories, in their blog posts and Amazon sends out email blasts on their latest deals. It's completely reasonable to never spend more than $15 on a sweater or $12 on jeans; you can get "Lululemon dupe" leggings for $10 online or at a brick and mortar fashion house. Seems like a great deal, right? Yay for saving money and looking great! Except... it's not. I'm going to take a (likely) unpopular deep dive into why affordable fashion is actually quite costly - it comes at the cost of human labor (both internationally where the garment is made and in terms of US employment) and is taxing on our environment. Yes friends, "affordable" fashion is actually insanely costly, and not at all a good deal for anyone.

I totally get wanting to buy a good deal. I get wanting to not spend a ton on clothes, especially kids clothes that they'll only get a few wears in before they outgrow it. But the truth is, while it might be a temporary good deal for YOU, there's a ripple effect of implications over buying that cheap piece that has serious negative consequences for everyone ELSE.

Let's start with the international labor used to make these incredibly cheap clothes. We all know that if you pay a living wage - even in the country of origin's currency/standard of living cost adjusted - you can't make and sell clothes for $10. The fabric plus the labor would cut into your profit margin so intensely that you'd go out of business. That's why clothes are made overseas. So that they can pay sub-standard wages to people who don't have employment options. If you're buying cheap fashion, you're contributing to this vicious cycle of low wages, and most likely, poor employment conditions. Most factories aren't climate controlled. Other countries aren't governed by US employment laws so there may or may not be breaks, even to use the restroom. Think about working a mandatory 12 hour shift in a stifling room that's 95 degrees, just to put meal on your table, and only able to use the bathroom once during your shift! When you buy cheap fashion constructed overseas, you're supporting that.

The flip side of this is the American side. Let's say you bought a shirt off Amazon. You got it for a whopping $5! It's so trendy and you'll wear it all season. That's great. But outside of the international labor conditions you're supporting, think about Amazon employees. Not the corporate ones, the warehouse ones. The ones who are indeed paid a living wage (thank God) but who have to walk MILES each day and meet order fulfillment numbers. There's a documentary on how hard Amazon warehouse employees have to work. Essentially, they can't sit down or take breaks unless they RUN their entire shift to cover all the ground of their order fulfillments. They can either use their break time to make up orders they're behind on or eat. They don't dare take bathroom breaks or they'll get get behind. In order to meet Amazon's nearly immediate shipping standard (I know here in Dallas, where there is a warehouse, I can order something in the morning and have it by the evening!) they've got to hustle for their entire shift. For a whole $12 or so an hour. 

The sad news is, when you buy ANYTHING off Amazon, you're supporting this. Now, I buy things off Amazon. I love how they have everything and it's free and fast delivery. As a mom to four kids age 5 and under, I struggle with how to rectify this. I love how they have everything so I don't need to go to multiple stores searching for it, getting four kids in and out of car seats, into carts, and so on. I love how I can search something, find it and with one swipe of my finger it's at my door step same or next day. I do like how Amazon pays a living wage to it's employees. But I don't like the working conditions of warehouse staff or the profit margins I'm supporting for Bezos. So, I greatly limit what I order off Amazon. That's the best solution I've come up with.

I also realize I've posted cheap Amazon fashion on here before. That was before I knew better. I now know better, and won't be buying $5 tank tops from them again.

I posted about this shirt last summer - it was $3.77! I wore it all summer long, and will again this summer. But I won't be buying cheap fashion from Amazon again

There it was in action! Hey, I can call myself out just as well as I can call out anyone else.

Finally, the environmental impact of "affordable fashion" is pretty devastating. We all know the quality of these items are sub-par. There's no way those $10 leggings are going to hold up like Lululemon. I have a pair of Lulu leggings that I've worn for workouts for 12 years, and they're still going strong! Those $10 pair will probably only last a year. Then they'll get a hole in them, or they'll lose their shape or a seam will fray. Because of that, they won't even be donateable. You'll throw them in the trash, and they'll end up in a landfill. After just a few wears.

Not only does cheap fashion clog up landfills, you have to think about what it took to get that garment to the US (or Canada, Europe, etc) for you to purchase. It likely went on a boat that burned fossil fuel to cross the Pacific. Perhaps leaked oil on it's way. Or maybe it was flown on a massive freight plane, burning jet fuel. Then it was shipped on a semi-truck across the US to your state. From there, a delivery service put it on another truck to drive it to your home. After all is said and done, all the fuel burned to deliver a pair of $10 leggings to you contributed to major greenhouse gasses, all of which increase the temperature of the air and oceans, and lead to more extreme weather patterns that cause massive storms, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and damaging winds - not to mention, the melting of the ice caps that are creating rising sea levels, abnormal algae growth that's damaging native species and on and on! The environmental impact of affordable fashion, to me, is the most damaging part.

I realize this post comes off as a bit (a lot bit?) elitist because not everyone has the funds for high-quality clothing. Frankly, if you're in the economic position to rely solely on affordable fashion to outfit yourself and your family, I don't think this post applies to you. Odds are good you're wearing those items for longer than a year, and just dealing with the lower quality, mending the seams and ignoring any small holes that appear because hey, you're doing the best you can. I get that. I've been in that spot before. Rather, this post is geared towards the people who can afford high quality items, and certainly buy those too, but simply love to consume a LOT of clothes. They have a walk in closet (or more) full of things, and talk about doing closet purges often, and love to shop shop shop and buy buy buy. The hyper consumers. The ones who have clothes in their closet that still have tags on, because they've never been worn.

We live in a capitalist society that offers us choices. I think that's great, overall! But when you're in a position of power to CHOOSE where and what you buy, make sure you're making good choices. Affordable fashion is costly. It's costly to those who actually make your clothes, it's costly to employees to deliver your clothes, and it's costly to the environment. If you're in the position to freely choose whom you buy from, I challenge you to MAKE BETTER CHOICES, and avoid "affordable fashion." It's just too costly to everyone else. And not everyone has a choice.


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