The Cost of Fast Fashion

Overdress book coverI just finished reading “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” by Elizabeth L. Cline.

I first heard the term “fast fashion” about a year ago. Basically this refers to how quickly trends change and how quickly manufacturers get new clothes to the market. Fast fashion is poorly-made clothing made as cheaply and quickly as possible. The whole point is to make low-priced clothing that consumers buy in mass quantities and they don’t care if it lasts for more than a few months because the trends change. I have definitely bought into fast fashion, shopping at stores like Forever 21, H&M, and The Loft.

I was really interested in the comparison to the quality and quantity of clothes produced 100 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, the average price of an everyday dress in the early 20th century was around $200. I would consider that an expensive dress! Because clothes were much more expensive, people owned fewer clothes. And because people were spending a lot of money, they demanded higher-quality clothing. The fabrics were better, the types of stitches used were better, and the clothes lasted longer.

The author clearly did a lot of research for this book. She visited factories in multiple countries and discussed employee wages, working conditions, factory pollution, and business practices.

She talked a lot about the environmental impact of fast fashion. I didn’t know before reading this book that most synthetic materials are types of plastics. I don’t buy plastic water bottles or use plastic bags, so why would I buy plastic clothes? Also, so many tons of clothes get donated every year that there is too much to resell. Americans are picky about buying secondhand clothes and only a small percentage of what is donated stays in the US. The bulk of donated clothes gets sold overseas in developing countries. But even the developing countries don’t want the cheap clothes from H&M and Old Navy, and a lot of it ends up as trash.

The writing style of the book did bother me quite a bit. The author seemed to go off on about 5 tangents in every chapter, often times repeating what she had already said in earlier parts of the book.

The author did offer a few solutions to fast fashion. First, consumers need to relearn how to check for quality. Read the labels and look at the stitches. And just because something is expensive does not mean that it is good quality. Second, people need to mend their clothes and have them altered, rather than throwing them away and buying new. She also recommended that people learn to make their own clothes, just like our grandmothers used to do. And third, consumers need to understand that quality and skilled labor do cost money.