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.

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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.

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Mind the (Wage) Gap: The Power of Corporate Sustainability

I’m lucky to work for a company that takes sustainability so seriously. I work for one of the largest conference organizers in the world and as you can image, the event industry creates waste. To combat this and other sustainability issues, my company engages in recycling programs, community engagement, women’s leadership events, and more.

Why take on such big initiatives? Simply put: 1) It helps the world; and 2) Being good is good for business. People like companies that care about the world!

In a 2015 Gallup survey of 1,527 random adults in America, they found out “the majority of people¬†were three times as likely to express confidence in small business as they are in big business.” Caring about your customer’s perception of you is just one reason why a corporation should care about sustainability. A corporation tends to have more money/resources, so they can actually make an impact. A positive public perception is great but making an actual difference is much more important.

Social Sustainability – Is the wage gap that important?

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Photo: Mike Licht, Creative Commons

This Investopedia article breaks down sustainability into 3 pillars: 1.The environmental pillar; 2. the social pillar; and 3. the economic pillar. What is sometimes overlooked is how much the wage gap between men and women comes into play. I strongly recommend everyone to watch this Vox video on the gender gap (also below), if you aren’t too familiar why or how it occurs.

I’m sure many people have heard that women make around 70 cents for every dollar a man makes. What you don’t hear often though is closing this gap will allow the world to prosper. I was actually at an event at Harvard Business School back in December that demonstrated how worldwide equal pay would relieve the world of all debt! This would be an enormous feat, but it would have a positive effect on our worldwide economy. Experts at the World Economic Forum predict it could take 170 years to close this gap but that doesn’t mean that this issue should be set aside.

What projects is your business undertaking to promote social welfare, especially in terms of female equality?