Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Book Review)

“I bought a ton of cute clothes today and guess what I spent!” This is a phrase that my sisters and I have said dozens of times to each other over the years. The few times I directed my fashion purchases towards my father however, the first thing he would say was, “What’s it made out of? Polyester? They don’t make clothes the way they used to.” This echoed a comment a customer made to me one day when I worked at an Ann Taylor store in college.

Years ago, my customer remarked how she had shopped at the original Ann Taylor store when they first opened in Connecticut and as she felt the material on the sleeve of a blouse, said “Boy, how the times have changed.” Though I could nod my head and accept what they were saying as true, it wasn’t until I read Elizabeth L. Cline’s 2012 book, “Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” that I truly understood what my dad and this customer understood.

Book jacket image by Tom Schierlitz. Courtesy of Amazon.

Today, we can go out on a lunch break and instead of opt for a coffee, we could elect to purchase a $10 dress instead. This is a phenomenon that would never had been imaginable in the early 20th century. With retailers such as Forever 21, H&M, and Walmart, bringing new clothes to market at a faster-than-ever speed, we have gone from a generation that treasures clothing, to one that throws it away each season.

Cline’s book was exceptionally shocking so I want to share a few quotes from the book that resonate:

  1. “Carbon monoxide and other pollutants from Asia have been documents on the West Coast since the late 1990s are are actually affecting weather patterns there as well. Global climate change as a result of global industrialization is now a reality no matter where we live (124)”.
  2. “It’s a natural assumption that a book about cheap fashion will cover the grim issues of sweatshops and child labor. A common refrain is that garment workers should be glad to have jobs. Our expectations and standards for ethics in the fashion industry are embarrassingly low, but the potential for change is also grossly underestimated” (159).
  3. “China’s garment industry operates on an intimidating scale. It’s several times bigger than any garment industry…they have more than forty thousand clothing manufacturers and 15 million garment industry jobs [and there are 1.45 million garment and textile industry jobs that United States had at peak employment some forty years ago” (169).
  4. “Not shopping was not a total solution….human beings have been sewing for thousands of years; some peg it to the last Ice Age” (191).
  5. “Localism and more thoughtful, slow approach to eating [like with farmer’s markets] the movement has a huge following, and slowly but surely the movement is spreading to fashion” (208).

Though taking down the whole fashion industry is not a feasible goal, making more educated choices about the fabric and craftsmanship of our clothing is what this book advocates. The above quotes are just the tip of the iceberg for what Cline’s book delves into. She thoroughly investigates the Chinese textile markets, working conditions in mills domestically and abroad, and deeply delves into the ramifications of having so many clothes thrown away. Alternatively, the book discusses how we choose to re-use, mend, and place more thought into pieces that are meant to last.

To learn more about this book, visit overdressedthebook.com.

My Best Advice for Being Happy

Someone once told me, “let go of what does not serve you.” In other words, let go of negativity. If you’re like me, you will try to find the flaw in logic in just about anything (a year of law school did this to me). It’s true that we cannot drop everything (or people) from our lives because they do not agree with us. I think running from every negative situation that comes our way actually does the opposite of help us! However, we can choose to not be affected by negative situations or people, and that has been some of best advice I have received to date.

In order to stop negativity in its track, I had to self-correct my own thinking, in addition to “letting things go,” there were some changes I made to my everyday life that made big differences.

My largest moments of growth – and subsequent peace of mind- came when:

1) I learned to embrace criticism. Recently, I heard that a family member of mine did not like me – not for any real reason other than the fact that they don’t. Despite them not knowing that I know, I forgive them and still love them. In addition, I know that not everyone is going to like me or agree with me. Criticism can help us BE better. If it is truly unwarranted and people feel *gasp* jealous, I feel like I am doing something right.

2) I learned to say “no.” I would consider myself a do-er: I work full-time, get up early to exercise, study for class, go to salsa lessons, and the list goes on…However, there are times where I have reached my bandwidth. Knowing when to say no to drinks after work or an upcoming party is OK, but the key is to be upfront and honest. I personally like to keep my promises and dislike flakiness.

3) I helped others in negative situations. Look, I’m not here to tell you I am the next Dalai Lama or a therapist, but helping others when they are in need has always been an important part of my life. After training my own brain to be positive, looking out for the well-being of my friends and family has been paramount. Plus, I think we all know we need to practice what we preach. The next time you help a friend, let your own advice sink in.

I continue to learn ways to be happier, and to juggle work, school, and a million other things that come my way. Do you have a quote or saying that helps you?

My Experience with Mental Illness

As you may have seen from my last blog, I was hard at work on a Library Science course for school these past few months. I have filled my evenings with schoolwork after the work days, and blogging was on the back burner. However, in the midst of it all, I was undergoing a major life transformation. In early May, I revealed to my family that I was suffering from depression. Though it is an incredibly common mental illness, my family did not understand how badly it was affecting my life. I had to teach them about what I was suffering from them and adjust to this truth. Again, I know how common it is but it turned my life upside down.

As a youngster, I knew how to be myself. It took therapy and medication to feel this way again.

I had a traumatic breakup in January of this year and I think my whole brain went on airplane mode. I accepted my circumstances and felt empowered to move on. It wasn’t until a few months later that I began crying at work and could not control it. Why? I couldn’t tell you. It was a swell of emotions fueled by anxiety over the fact that I could not stop crying. My patterns of sadness and anxiety were circular, one always leading to the other but I wouldn’t know where one started and stopped – it reminded me of the chicken and the egg dilemma: which came first? It became abundantly clear that even with all that I loved and appreciated about my life, I was seeing the world in black and white. I found joy in nothing. I made myself do activities that I knew that I used to love, just for the sake of doing them to maintain a sense of normality. I later learned from my therapist that by choosing to take part in hobbies I normally love, it was a positive choice. But it wasn’t enough.

I later went to a psychiatrist. Though many people take antidepressants, the choice to discuss these options were a last resort. I hardly even take Tylenol! When I was prescribed Prozac, I was skeptical but was willing to try anything. Side note: I once tried a birth control that gave me anxiety so badly that I was scared to leave the house! These drugs are powerful but I was clearly desperate.

In addition to medication, I joined a support group that met every other week in Salem, MA after work. Nothing I learned was Earth shattering, but it definitely showed me what I should be focusing on my life. Most importantly, it showed me that I was not alone with my struggles. I have had to put these sessions off for about a month due to travel, but I think in a future blog post, they would be beneficial to discuss.

Lately, what I have noticed is that I have had an amazing transformation and I think it has to do with the Prozac.* At first, the effects were subtle. It was like every time I had an anxious thought surface, Prozac would keep me calm and not allow it to manifest. Over the course of months though, I feel like I have discovered my genuine self for the first time…in a long time! I used to love reading and would lock myself in a room with books when I was little but I think anxiety plagued my reading skills (in all seriousness). I would get to anxious to even start a book. Let me remind you I have a B.A. in English and am almost finished with my M.A. in English. This is a huge deal!

Most days, I can’t wait to lock myself in my room with a book, just like I used to. Is this very social? No. Do I care? No (and I’m not anxious about that fact). For me, I am catching up with what I lost due to depression, and re-discovering my joy for learning. When you do not constantly have a cloud looming ahead, it changes a lot. For me, this is a start and I look forward to the journey ahead.

*A disclaimer: I know this medication will not work for everyone who has depression (cue “ask your doctor if Prozac is right for you”).

Top 10 Things Educators Should Know about Technology

The following is an assignment for a course I am taking called “Emerging Technologies in Libraries,” a library science course I am taking as an elective for my M.A. in English program. 

On the weekends, I spend time volunteering at my local library. Volunteering there makes me feel engaged with the local community, and I like giving back to the institution (I also ran a 5k recently to raise money for the library). What makes my library extraordinary is that they do a lot to integrate themselves into the daily lives of the residents. For instance, they have a diverse range of programs (“Learn to Bellydance” and “Learn the Ukulele,” for instance) and their web catalog is exceptionally easy to use.

Likewise, when educators utilize technology to the best of their advantage, it can be quickly integrated into the daily lives of students. Here are 10 important things educators should know about technology:

  1. It changes the mediums in which we learn. Gone are the days of index card file systems and spending hours in a dusty library. More and more schools are embracing “learning commons” where e-readers and tech devices are embraced, so that books can be accessed anywhere. One school in Chelmsford, MA had a big revamp to make their library digital back in 2008.
  2. It changes how we learn. In an age of obtaining information quickly, having online classroom resources and knowledge on how to use them -including an online library catalogue- is a critical skill for learners.
  3. Blogs, in addition to giving a voice to people all over the world, is a tool that can help students collaborate through commentary and peer review.
  4. Online tools like blogs improve creativity, enforce social interaction, and promote critical and analytical thinking.
  5. Blogs and other e-tools can assist students in creating an online portfolio. By having information stored online, students can track progress throughout the course of time, and reflect on their work.
  6. Students can use online skills to translate to career success. Many times, successful blogs have attracted the attention of preeminent though leaders, and has helped launch careers on the blog’s topic.
  7. Online tools have helped educators stay in touch with parents, so that parents can quickly learn what their children are working on.
  8. Though blogs are known to not always be authoritative, blogs can serve lessons to students on what sources are actually authoritative. Sometimes blogs CAN be as such, based on the background of the writer.
  9. Electronic tools such as blogs can help educators and students connect with other schools, should other institutions have similar web pages.
  10. Having new technology is an overall new opportunity to learn something new! Learning how to adapt will help students in the long run in their careers, as new technology is inevitable during the course of our lives.

On Embracing Pain

Everyone experiences pain or grief at some point in their life. This is all a part of the human condition, and it is normal because no one is immune to getting hurt or experiencing loss. If we allow ourselves to grieve and wallow (at least for a small amount of time), then moving on becomes attainable. Also, accepting that we are not alone in our pain can help tremendously.

We can feel alone, but we don’t always have to be. (Me seated on a train in Switzerland. I wonder what I had on my mind.)

At the beginning of the year, I went through personal turmoil because I found out that my boyfriend and best friend decided to date someone else, and also had been unfaithful throughout our relationship. I failed to see the “red flags” because I was in love and believed what he told me. It wasn’t until I found out about his cheating weeks after our parting (from the other woman actually, who did not know about me and I enormously respect), that I was able to take him off of a pedestal. Though his behavior is not excusable, I realized that his actions stemmed from his own insecurities and painful past.

Recently, I read a book by Brené Brown, Ph.D. called “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone,” which was published in 2017 to stellar reviews. The main message of the book is to stay true to yourself, but the last section of the book emphasizes how when people grieve collectively, they are stronger. She cites the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012 as an example and talks about if more people share their pain or insecurities with others, many ills of the world could be alleviated. We are all in this together.

As someone who does not like to share my personal life with others, sharing my relationship woes is something I would do with only a few individuals (never mind on this blog). Frankly, there are far more important problems going on in the world. However, if I or anyone else doesn’t take the time to call pain out for what it is, it would be hard to move on. No one move forward without learning to live, and even embrace, their pain because it leads to growth.

I recently decided to harness all I have learned and am writing my first book, which is a series of poems dedicated towards those who have overcome pain, especially due to toxic relationships.

I hope to help others feel empowered during times of struggle, so that they can live confidently.

How has pain helped you?

Lucky to Be Born on Women’s Day

My birthday is on March 8, International Women’s Day. I hadn’t heard of this international holiday until a few years ago and at that point, you did not hear as much on social media about it. Now, it seems like everyone knows about this day. I even had a coworker text me on March 8 to wish me a Happy Women’s Day, not knowing it was also my birthday. That’s how powerful this day has become!

A few days prior to this day, I attended Harvard Business School’s 27th Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference with my closest girlfriend. The event truly is dynamic, bringing together women from all sectors and industries. I attended three panels that made me proud to be a woman because together, women can make a difference! Here are sessions that I attended:

  1. Profit vs. Impact – discussing successful women-led businesses in the for-profit and non-profit sector and debunking myths about of these types of businesses. This was an interesting session for anyone but especially useful for aspiring business owners that are unsure of what type of business is best for them.
  2. The Wage Gap and What to Do About It – Though not a new concept for me, I like how the speaker discussed how when mother’s become parents, they are usually penalized and father’s tend to be given a pay bump.unnamed-1
  3. Understanding Gaps in Healthcare for Women – Since I work in the life sciences space, I wanted to attend a healthcare panel. It is eye-opening how the healthcare field tends to treat men and women as if they are biologically the same and have the same needs! For instance, heart attack symptoms appear differently in both men and women. If you are a person of color, symptoms and health issues could be entirely separate.

Whether you are interested in beginning a business, making the world more equal or healthy, I think it is important to find your “tribe” and support programs or initiatives that make the world better. The sky is the limit!

Holiday Reading: Body and Soul by Anita Roddick

After successfully finishing my second semester of grad school, and taking off time from work for the holidays, I wasted no time picking out books for holiday break! You would think (and I thought), because I am getting a Masters in English Literature, I would not want to only watch Netflix and sleep. Those things are happening too BUT my desire to read for pleasure has surged! A week prior to break, I went on Goodreads and did my research to pick out books via Interlibrary loan.

These were my picks: 
1) “Body and Soul: Profits with Principles – The Amazing Story of Anita Roddick & The Body Shop” by Anita Roddick

2) “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

3) “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac with an Introduction by Harold Bloom

3) “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

4) “The Bettencourt Affair: The World’s Richest Woman and the Scandal that Rocked Paris” by Tom Sancton

5) “The Sun and Her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur (I actually purchased this off of Amazon because the wait list was so long. Can you imagine being 25 years old and #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List?)

Some of these are classics that you probably know of that I have not read yet. They are all diverse topics from business, poetry, and human evolution. There are genres that I love like nonfiction, but branching out is good for my soul.

In two days, I have read Anita Roddick’s book on the creation of The Body Shop, written in 1991. For those who haven’t heard of The Body Shop, they sell bath and skincare products, and are #1 in the world. They are famous for vigorously campaigning for social causes and using ingredients that come from fair trade. Anita Roddick was actually named Dame of the British Empire prior to her 2007 passing, for all of her contributions towards global welfare.

When I was 19 years old, I worked in my local The Body Shop store as an assistant store manager and it was one of the best jobs I ever had. Management was hands-on in their selling approach – which isn’t really about selling at all: it is about educating the customer about our core values, the benefits of the product, and about building rapport. We certainly weren’t taught to pressure people into buying or only making sales goals. I was lucky to work on a campaign aimed at remediating Safe Harbor Laws for victims of human trafficking, a massively successful petition with millions of signatures, presented to the United Nations.

After reading this book, it all makes sense as to why management at my store were so hand-on. Roddick cared about being as transparent as possible when discussing the products and never claiming that they did things that they didn’t – the 80’s were big on “anti-aging” and gimmicks, she discusses. Roddick wanted to provide natural skincare products without the hype.

Here are my favorite parts of the book:

  • The Body Shop NEVER paid for advertising and when a Harvard Business School professor predicted TBS would require a massive advertising campaign to make it in the U.S., they provided postcards in-store responding, “We will never hire anyone from Harvard Business School.”
  • Roddick never intended her store to become a worldwide brand. Her goal was to make 300 pounds a week for her initial store, so that she would be able to feed her two daughters while her husband was on a two-year horseback mission.
  • The business is co-owned by a man who owned a garage in the 1970’s and lent Roddick 4,000 pounds to open her second store with the stipulation that he would own half the company. Little did he know that by 1991, the business would grow to the hundreds of millions of pounds.
  • At one point, Roddick hired an anthropologist with the sole mission of finding tribes and groups in destitute need, to see if there was a possibility to trade with them. She was a firm believer in “Trade Not Aid,” because many times donations go to the people at the top of the social food chain, and not to the people who need aid the most. By utilizing fair trade practices in all TBS products, people are given fair wages for their labor.
  • TBS’s first partnership campaign was with Save the Whales, and this was the first time a nonprofit partnered with a commercial entity.
  • Roddick made a lot of mistakes but was able to quickly change by listening and adapting. For instance, TBS’s second campaign to stop acid rain initially flopped but they quickly changed the image for the posters to be less confusing.

If interested, you should try to find this book through your library or find it on Amazon. Even better, walk through your local The Body Shop store and ask the salesperson about the products. If the shop workers are anything like my team from way back when, you will begin to believe simple body creams can be magical!