December 13, 2019

Credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Americans buy, on average, almost 70 items of clothing a year. And many of those garments are worn just seven to ten times before being thrown away. This breakneck consumption of clothes is only possible because of fast fashion, a system in which clothing is made quickly, sold cheaply, and seen as pretty disposable. Dana Thomas, author of “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” walks us through the origins and effects of fast fashion.

Three Takeaways:

  • One of the reasons Americans consume more fashion? Well, in the US, mass-market clothes are cheaper than they’ve ever been. Thomas points out that garments cost the same amount today as they cost during the depression, not taking inflation into account. 
  • Making super cheap fashion turns out to be super profitable. Companies like Zara, H&M, and Fashion Nova dominate the space. And online, fast fashion accounts for around 66% of all clothing traffic on the web. Amancio Ortega, owner of Zara, is now one of the ten richest people in the world.
  • Thomas says that the price for cheap fashion is paid, largely, by garment workers and the environment. She notes that, while Ortega’s net worth is over $60 billion, she met with Bangladeshi garment workers who made only $68 a month. Cheap fashion necessitates exploited labor. And clothing production accounts for an estimated 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which doesn’t even take into account the chemical runoff caused by garment manufacturing. 

More reading:

Listener Feedback:

We heard from a lot of you about fast fashion and whether you would be willing to pay more for clothes that were sustainably produced. Here are some of your responses:

  • "Honestly, I have had pretty much the same wardrobe for about a decade. Most of it is fast fashion items I bought as I was growing up and through college. Over the last few years I have bought higher quality items that were on sale, but I've only probably bought 1-3 items per year. I don't really understand this need to buy new clothes after a few wears. I'll usually wear something until it starts to tear." (Hammad, TX)
  • "I am willing to pay more for clothing ethically produced. I avoid cheap clothes and question friends when they boast of paying so little (in a tactful way, I hope!). I do not patronize stores like Walmart and Target. The great idea of clothing swaps seems to be catching on with the younger generation." (Susan, MD)
  • “I think definitely price is important…I probably would pick the cheaper shirts, to be honest. I think it depends on what I’m using it for. If it’s something that I plan to wear for a really long time, then I would spend that extra money because I think it would be good quality, and I think the fact that it’s ethically sourced is important too. But I think if it’s something that I’m buying for a short term reason, something for the holiday season…I’m going to do something cheaper in that case.” (Michael, MA)

If you have any thoughts about this - or any - segment, you can always reach out to us. We’re at @iHubRadio on Twitter, @iHubPodcast on Instagram, and our email is innovationhub@wgbh.org. 

economy, dana thomas, Culture, fast fashion, Clothes

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