I am not the world’s most frugal clothes shopper, spending $750 to $1225 per year on my wardrobe for each of the past 10 years. So with over $10,000 spent in 10 years, I must have a stunning wardrobe, right? I wish! For every piece that was just right, I probably have two shapeless, stretched, twisted, shrunk, faded and worn-out items.
I am a reasonably educated shopper and I know what quality looks like. So why do I keep allowing myself to make exceptions?
- I get tired of shopping, so I say, “This item is good enough”
- I hate trying on clothes, so if I can get something on, I say it fits! (usually buying everything too big)
- I don’t want to pay more to get something better
- I tell myself, “This pair of boots will do until I can afford better ones”
- I want more of something I already have (such as black jeans) so I pad out my wardrobe with cheap variations
- I can’t find clothes appropriate for my age so I fluctuate between younger and older styles
- I am attracted by colours and details (buttons, pockets, ruching)
- I “have to” have something because it “speaks to me,” such as a robot cartoon T-Shirt
My last post was about how hard it is to buy new Canadian clothes. I did some online research about where clothes are made and what various brands have to say about their production choices. It seems they can all “talk the talk,” but it was hard to know what to believe.
I just finished reading Elizabeth Cline’s book, Overdressed, looking for information and advice. The book hooked me right away. How could it not, when the author describes her clothing inventory on page 4 🙂 It’s a very chatty, accessible book but it’s also packed with facts and figures. Some that jumped out at me were:
- The average US shopper spends $1100 per year on clothing and purchases 68 items plus 8 pairs of shoes
- For American shoppers, 2% of clothes for sale are US-made and 41% are imported from China
- Less than 3% of the average household budget is spent on clothing
- US garment workers at American Apparel have a quota of 2300 items per worker per day
- In chain fashion stores, retailers typically charge 2.25 times the cost of the materials and labour that went into the item
- Polyester now accounts for over 40% of all fabric produced, because it makes production cheaper (I never thought about how polyester, acrylic and nylon are plastics!)
- Only 20% of the clothes we donate to charity shops are re-sold as clothing
The book explained the fashion production system very clearly, and how it has changed over the years. Chapter 2 tells us how it is done these days. A designer pitches an item to a brand or a retailer; or an in-house designer comes up with an item. They can easily rip off another designer because copyrights on design are very lax. The company sends drawings, specifications and their target cost to a production “middle man” who shops it around to various factories, getting bids on the best price. The factories offer to “source” the item, shopping among its vendors for the lowest priced fabrics, fasteners and trims. The agent informs the retailer or brand what they will have to do without to come in at their target price: fabric quality, the exact colour wanted, and so on. Then the schedule has to work: sometimes the factories are booked up a year ahead. However, the producers will often accept jobs, and then subcontract them to a cheaper factory in another country. (Your Made in China top may find you via Viet Nam). Essentially, the whole production process is a sustained effort at keeping costs down and profits maxed.
You probably know that manufacturers have to meet local labour laws and local minimum wages. Most brand names only design and distribute clothes; they don’t own the factories or employ the workers. Somehow I always thought that, say, American Eagle would have a factory in Malaysia where all its goods were made, and they would be more-or-less the “employer.” But no, almost all brands choose the cheapest and fastest among thousands of factories worldwide bidding for each production run.
My favourite chapter was the one about thrift shops and what happens after you donate your old clothes to them. I hope you’ll read it!
The author’s strategy for dealing with clothes buying is exactly the same as what my costume-designer child, Link does: sew for yourself, buy the work of affordable local designers, buy vintage, buy used, modify and repair clothes, buy less, buy quality, don’t be a sheep, and have fun with accessories.
My approach is to know what I don’t like: I don’t shop at teen stores, or look at business suits and dresses, or browse evening wear. I try for smart casual at work and simple basics at home (jeans and T-shirts). It helps me a lot that I just don’t shop much, going to clothing stores only when I specifically need something – quite often a replacement item. I am not big on accessories, but maybe someone could train me, LOL! I check what clothes are made of and how they should be washed. I obey.
I will leave you with two pieces of advice:
First, be kind and do not donate clothing that is worn out, torn, stained, missing buttons, or has a broken zipper. A real person has to sort it, and it will not be sold. Unfortunately, there is no enterprising poor person out there waiting to scoop it up and bring it back to life. (Well, maybe if it’s Chanel).
Then, at the very least, ensure that everyone in your household knows how to promptly remove stains from clothes and sew a button!