by MIKE CHAIKEN
CONTRIBUTING FASHION EDITOR
The temptation is great.
You need a couple of tops and slacks. The global chain retailer at the mall is offering t-shirts for five bucks and jeans for less than 20.
But there is a problem with cheap. Chains aren’t in business to lose money. So that cheap tee may have cost the company a buck. Those cheap jeans may have cost 2 bucks to make --if that much.
How do they do that?
They buy cheap fabrics. No sooner do you pull on that tee, it’s on its way to becoming misshapen, torn, frayed and full of holes. The same for those jeans.
More distressing, however, cheap clothes require cheap labor. So, retail chains hire laborers in poor nations, where work is scarce and environmental regulations are lax. The workers barely receive enough wages to keep themselves alive. The land and waters around the factories become polluted, damaging the health of the workers in the surrounding ara.
The reality of cheap has spurred consumers to demand sustainability from their purchases. This means retailers must use quality fabrics, fabrics constructed in an environmentally friendly fashion and pay their workers a living wage if they are going to earn these consumers’ loyalty.
As a corollary, consumers are discovering small fashion designers – located in America and maybe their hometowns. In the name of sustainability, consumers are learning about the delights of supporting up and coming designers, who use quality fabric in their garments—garments built to last. These garments also foster a sense of individualty because many pieces are typically one-of-a-kinds. And these consumers are willing to pay more for these garments because they know they are helping the designers earn a living wage and they are paying for talent, creativity and labor as well as raw materials.
Another issue that has arisen with fast fashion is that it has resulted in more used fabrics entering the waste stream. Those old tee-shirts and jeans end up in landfills.
This has given rise to the fashion movement known as upcycling. Creative designers accumulate clothing destined for the trash, salvage the fabric and craft the pieces into something brand new. This keeps more of the waste fabric out of the waste stream. And, again, consumers who buy these garments help provide a living wage to the designers.
Upcycling is likely to grow in importance as the world tries to recover from the COVID-19 related economic crash. Consumers will be looking to find ways to retool their own worn out clothes into something that will allow them to forestall another trip to the mall.