The Price of Fashion

Picture this: My 92- year-old grandmother said when she was young she got two dresses a season for less than $10 a piece! Back then, she made about $1 per hour. In today’s world, a person would have to work about 10 hours for one dress. Let’s say someone today works 10 hours at $15/hr, that is $150, which would allow a person to buy two ethically made dresses at Passion Lilie.

Then vs. now

Today’s world is much different. According to Next Gen Personal Finance’s State of Fashion 2019 report, the average person today buys 60 percent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago. The report also says consumers keep clothing half as long as they used to. Where does this leave the fashion industry? Where does this leave the world if every consumer is consuming at an unprecedented pace? Where does this leave the workers? 

The price of fashion has changed throughout the years at the expense of the livelihood of other human beings. Various sources say the average person spends anywhere from $125 - $175 a month on clothes, obviously taking into account income, etc. While that may not seem like much for an individual, collectively we’re looking at a larger issue, globally. 

A Sears catalog from 1978 shows an open weave, knit sweater and a blazer made from polyester and cotton. The sweater was $20 and the blazer was $45. Now, decades later, Sears has close to the same prices – in many cases the garments even cheaper. How does Sears (along with all the other mega-manufacturers aka big box retailers) keep prices so low?

Then: Images from Sears Catalog 1978

 Today: Images from Sears Online Website 2013

In 1978, the blazer was likely made in the United States and the workers likely making a living wage. The United States didn’t have many “Made in China” apparel items in 1978. Also, during those years the factories were unionized, so the workers were getting a fair wage and good working conditions (unlike most of the overseas factories of today).

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, textile, apparel and manufacturing jobs in the US have declined from 2.4 million in 1973 to 650,000 in 2005 to 341,300 in 2017 - 2018. The reason these jobs are declining year after year? Import competition and technology improvements.

So what does all this mean? 

Today it is very difficult to go to a large retailer and find a product that is made in a way that we would call ethical or human-friendly - especially if you are shopping fast fashion. Many “fast fashion” brands these days also partake in green washing, making you think you're getting an environmentally or "human-friendly" product when in fact you aren't. Global outsourcing has made it much easier for companies big and small to find the cheapest manufacturers possible, with no regard to the long-term effect those decisions have on the economy, the workers who are being exploited or the environment. It is what has made American mass-market fashion so cheap (fast fashion). Just think - most people would rather throw out a stained t-shirt rather than try to clean it (or even repurpose it). 

Fast fashion vs. the world 

Literally. Fashion is too cheap, at the expense of people’s lives – in China, in Bangladesh, and even in the US. Do we need or even wear all the garments in our closet? I personally believe in having a small collection of ethically-made, versatile garments that provide living wages for those who are in most need. There is nothing better than telling someone a unique story of where your outfit came from. We should not be afraid to shop seasonally, but we should consider where and how we shop, and what brands we support. 

YOU have the power to decide what you buy, so support those working toward a better world. Because if you don’t, what are you leaving behind for the generations that will come after you?

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