Where Did All of Your Stuff Come From?

This post is part two of a response to the nationwide, nay, worldwide, sudden motivation to declutter brought about by one powerful force – Marie Kondo.

Do you ever get overwhelmed looking in your closet feeling that you have too many clothes but nothing to wear? That is a common anxiety, especially for women, because shopping has become incredibly easy and cheap, meaning that it is guiltless and painless to buy, buy, buy. Purchasing a new top for $3 often feels like a reward, a treat, that gives the mind and body a rush of good feelings which is how all closet spaces, wardrobes, and drawers in our homes got so full of clothes on top of clothes. Did you ever wonder how you ended up with so much in the first place and where they came from?

Well, to answer where they came from and in a roundabout way, how you ended up with so many – all of those clothes came from lands far away. Places where industries are free to do as they please, to pollute waterways with dyes and chemicals and to pay labor as they wish. A much longer answer could be dug into, which will be done here, but not so much a big dive as a scratch on the surface. The thread from which your overflowing closets and drawers’ items came from is a long and winding one. There is a great telling of that story, where clothes come from, by NPR’s Planet Money from 2013 where the program followed a T-shirt that they created from seed to owner. If you have 30 minutes, sit down and watch all of the videos, it really is fascinating where our clothes come from.

In two words it is known as fast fashion, which is to say that is how the way clothes are produced today, in an industry that is forever producing in developing nations at low costs to producers and consumers, but at very high costs to the human beings doing the actual work. Most are women that are paid less than a living wage. Many of our clothes today are made in Bangladesh where workers were just granted a minimum wage raise for the industry of around $3.16/day, up from the previous $2.10/day. This rise in wages only just took place in December 2018.

Cheap products behave like cheap products. Shirts made from poor material with low quality stitching tend to come undone more quickly than durable, natural fiber materials, sewn with the purpose of a lasting product. Have you ever noticed that a cheap, fast fashion top doesn’t last too many washes before it pills or has a seam come out?

In a nutshell, the way that we consume now was changed by international trade laws, free trade, and outsourcing. Sending American jobs across borders to laborers who are paid less, although not always enough, as outlined above, and where lax environmental regulations equate to cheaper means of production, but with long term costs. This is not only true of clothing that stockpile up in closets, but of almost everything found around our homes. Cheaper, in all meanings, decor, utensils, furniture, etc.

A good sale feels like a win, but if the item bought quickly breaks or deteriorates then the value is lost, and honestly, how much value can be put on a cheap $3 top? Probably not much, which is why it got lost at the bottom of the drawer in the first place, it had no value. Plus, it cannot be ignored that, in terms of clothes, Fast Fashion items are not actually cheap, they have those, high costs that are felt by the laborers (mostly women in developing countries) who work long hours for little pay and have health risks from chemicals, dyes, and unsafe working conditions.

Learning the negatives of where things come from is not generally fun, but it might change consumer habits, so you’re not back to asking if this or that sparks joy in another 12 months. If you walked into the kitchen of your favorite kitchen and saw rats all over, you’d probably stop eating there, the same goes for the clothing industry and others. There are alternatives to modern shopping – clothing swaps, thrifting, and getting by with what you have. Those same principles can cross over to other home items and you get to keep your money in your wallet.

community clothing swap

This site has many more resources on fast fashion, just type fast fashion into the search bar to read more on the topic and how to shop in a more ethical, sustainable way.

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