Should the onus to consume more responsibly be on the manufacturers, the government, or the shopper?
I wrote the book with the idea that the consumer has the power. We have to get to a place where we’re frustrated with the options out there, and I think we’re getting there: People like shopping for deals but they’re generally unsatisfied with what’s in their closets.
People like shopping for deals but they’re generally unsatisfied with what’s in their closets.
If people can channel that frustration into pressuring the brands and retailers where they shop, then I think that’s going to be the biggest source of change. In terms of government involvement, I would like to see more municipal textile-recycling programs and more government support for factory resources here. It’s very difficult for factories to stay up and running now, and I think the government should be involved in training and resources to build that industry back up.
Is outsourcing our manufacturing to the third world a key contributor to the problem we have with disposable fashion?
It’s a complicated issue, but I think that cheap fashion is only possible because garment workers across the world are being paid so abysmally. And the reason why we’re overconsuming is because clothes are so cheap. There’s something about human psychology where you see something that’s less than $20, you think “well, why wouldn’t I?” It’s like getting something for nothing.
Cheap fashion is only possible because garment workers across the world are being paid so abysmally.
The problem is that garment workers are not being paid a living wage; their wages are just not sustainable from an economic standpoint. They can subsist but they can’t do much more on those wages, and that’s a real problem. That’s what the book talks about regarding externalized and “hidden” costs in the price of cheap fashion.
How can consumers break this buy-and-toss cycle we seem to be trapped in?
I think the main takeaway here is that we really need to be more mindful. Right now people buy clothing on impulse a lot of the time. They buy clothing when they weren’t really meaning to; maybe they were just walking into a store on the way home from work and they walk out with something cheap. And of course you’re not going to get a lot of use out of it since you didn’t put a lot of thought into why you were buying it.
Right now people buy clothing on impulse a lot of the time; they buy clothing when they weren’t really meaning to.
I think what’s most important is for people to be strategic and mindful about their clothes. And that could mean sitting down at the beginning of the year and laying out a clothing budget. Americans spend $1,100, on average, on clothes, so you can stick to that.
If you decide “well this is how I want to spend my money; this is what I need in my closet,” then that’s how you’re going to get away from just having impulse purchases you don’t get a lot of use out of.
Has writing the book changed the way you approach clothing today?
There’s been a complete transformation in my life. For instance I never used to look at fabrication labels but now fabric is now the most important thing for me when I buy clothing, and I’m not saying that that’s how everyone needs to be; I’m just saying that it was a personal shift for me. I don’t want to wear polyester; I want to wear silk and Tencel and modal and things that feel really good next to my skin.
I feel like I have a more interactive and meaningful relationship with what I wear.
I have most of my clothes tailored now. I learned how to sew. I certainly don’t make most of what I wear but I refashion a lot of it, so it’s like an old pair of jeans will become shorts. I alter most of my T-shirts, take out my skirts. I feel like I have a more interactive and meaningful relationship with what I wear, whereas before I would just walk into a store, get something off the rack, wear it one or two times and that was it.