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The High Cost Of Cheap Fashion

With Jacki Lyden in for Tom Ashbrook.

We’ll look at the real price of the ten dollar shirt.

A clerk rearranges a display where sweaters were offered at $15 as part of many day-after-Christmas-only specials offered at H&M retailer on 34th Street in New York. (AP)

A clerk rearranges a display where sweaters were offered at $15 as part of many day-after-Christmas-only specials offered at H&M retailer on 34th Street in New York. (AP)

Cheap fashion: Don’t you love it? Shirts for ten bucks. Shoes for 12. Closets full of disposable  stuff  we acquire by the armful.  The cost, though, of the fast fashion trends have radically altered not just the way we look. But the way we live, globally.

The devil may not be so much wearing Prada, but a cookie-cutter knockoff made in Bangladesh.  It’s devastated American industry, depressed wages, and created voracious competition.

This hour, On Point:  overdressed:  the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion.

-Jacki Lyden


Elizabeth Cline, author of the new book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

Andy Ward, acting executive director at Garment Industry Development Corporation.

From The Reading List

Wall Street Journal “Many books about fashion begin with an argument for why we should take fashion seriously. I’m going to take a different approach and say that fashion largely deserves its bad reputation. It’s now a powerful, trillion-dollar global industry that has too much influence over our pocketbooks, self-image, and storage spaces.”

Project Syndicate “I am talking, of course, about cheap trendy fashion. I’ll visit a Zara – or Hampamp;M, or, now that I am in the United Kingdom for the summer, the amazing Primark – and snap up items that are “cute,” effectively disposable, and so shockingly inexpensive that one does a double take.”

The New York Times “Floppy felt hats with broad rims gather like old friends on an antique green rack, greeting visitors at the door. Simple striped yellow, white and gray curtains adorn the front windows.”

Excerpt: Overdressed

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  • Sam

    Thank god!! Long overdue show.

    Part of the problem is over-consumption and shopping as a hobby.

    People don’t do anything else anymore in their spare time but shop, dine and watch tv.

    Women’s closets are overflowing with multiple pairs of jeans, shirts, shoes, etc.

    But who can blame them?

    We, humans, like novelty and get an endorphin kick when we purchase something new. It quickly wears off, but we have become addicted to it.

    My solution. Is not buying so much and buying from thrift stores (re-use) and “American Made” items – which is more expensive – but it is higher quality and if I am buying only 1 pair of jeans or 1 dress instead of 20, it ends up costing the same.

    I don’t NEED 10 dresses or 20 pairs of shoes or 30 pairs of jeans!

    Oh, and the media, the MEDIA, the magazines, the tv shows!!! They are the ones that promote this NEED to wear different OUTFIT every day and in the latest style!

    Until there is demand, there will be supply.

    And unfortunately not many Americans understand the real price of cheap goods.

    Those people screaming the loudest about job outsourcing are the ones that shop at Walmart. Granted, I understand that these people are the ones that are not able to afford a $40 made-in-US t-shirt and can only afford a $10 made-in-china t-shirt. So, it is a viscous cycle.

    • J__o__h__n

      Men don’t have more cheaply made consumer goods than they need?

      • Sam

        Of course they do.
        But, as a woman, I think that women LEAD the way, especially, in the clothing department.

        And, I think men are a lot more “picky” when it comes to quality of their “consumer goods”, no?

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           We just want to get out of the store.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           We just want to get out of the store.

  • Salzburg

    This theme is not so cut and dry!
    High end items are also produced overseas. Marketing costs drive up high end items.Sustainability and green living costs more.Sustainability in itself is a luxury good.Goods are also produced to wear out more quickly then they once were to keep the purchase cycle going.Credit also needs to go to clothing recycling beyond thrift shops, because old fibers can be broken down and rewoven into new cloth.

  • JGC

    This just in:  Governor Walker and the Koch Brothers, fresh from their historic re-call victory in Wisconsin, are currently in talks to develop a new garment industry, to be located in downtown Chippewa Falls…Tax breaks galore for all businesses relocating their foreign clothing factories to the new Wisconsin rag trade district…Job training programs being developed to prepare former teachers, policemen and firefighters for their new “minimum wage, no benefit” careers…

  • Victor Vito

    Not sure what the topic is here.  Cheap crap made by near slaves populating the shelves of Walmart.  It is capitalism and globalization.  In other words, it’s the “American way”.  Eventually American wages will be driven so low that the priviledge of making $10 shirts may actually come back home.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I want clothes that don’t fall apart after a few months. I want to find again what I liked the last time that I dragged myself to the clothing store.  Oh, and I like deep pockets made of strong cloth.  Other than that, fashion is lost on me.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Foreign-made goods, with REAL designer labels, versus Foreign-made goods, with Counterfeit designer labels, Foreign-made goods, without Name labels?  WHICH do YOU choose?

  • Sue

    Two words. Thrift shops.

    • Steve

      I apolgize for trolling.

      One word, thrift.

    • Fringarde

      …or consignment shops that take clothes that still have some value left in them and resell them. Cities all over the western world are seeing these types of shops mushroom all over their downtowns, basically reselling at a lower price what is being sold in the higher end shops located around them. 

      I see this as a good sign, because only clothes that still have some real life left in them are consigned. Perhaps this makes people think harder when they buy new as well. I know that when I saw a jacket at Zara with washing instructions that said “never wash” I realized that this item of clothing was literally made to be worn a few times and then thrown away. I bought a jacket at a consignment shop instead: machine washable, and made in France. 

  • Rex

    A whole show devoted to Old Navy? Patagonia lasts a while.

  • Andy

    I have bought everything secondhand for years, even shoes. They only thing I buy new is underwear. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I want a tailor, haberdasher, and a cobbler who works down the street and responds to my wishes.

    • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

      Yes but are you willing to pay them for their time and expertise? This is the point  I made about my sewing and tailoring skills when they put me on the air.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         I don’t have time to do my own work and make my own clothes.  It’s called specialization, something that we’ve had for ten thousand years.

        • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

          Ah you did not answer my question.  Like I said on the show, $1,000 for a custom made and custom fitted dress is not a lot money for a sewer with my skill set and at even $25 an hour I consider that on the low end of what my 35 years of experience is worth.  As soon as people see what my time will really cost them they *always* decline and go back to buying cheaply made clothing and complaining out it. But hey I’m ok with that – it gives me the time to sew more gorgeous clothes for myself and my daughters!

        • Mirliluck

          Why does Greg keep complaining about his lack of time? I’ve already seen about 10 + comments from him here today, and every day for that matter, none of which contribute much of value to the discussion.

  • AC

    i’m teaching myself to sew. i’m sick of the sameness of it all….

  • J__o__h__n

    People are making videos of what they bought?  Even worse, people are watching them. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Why does anyone listen to these shallow people?

    • Mjblatchford

      Why do you call “these people” shallow? Because we care about what we wear? Get over yourself.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         The woman in the video, not the guests.  Get over yourself.

    • Classie99

       Because they are rich and can afford expensive specialty clothing.

      • Nrifkind

        So you believe it your right to have volumes of clothes to keep up with ‘trends’ even though you are clearly restricted and resentful of people with their own perspective.  Think twice before you judge and be open to others.

  • IsaacWalton

    It’s insane how cheap clothing is (cost and quality). Growing up we had to buy cheap. Now that I’m older I have fewer higher quality items. I read the care labels and am sure to use older clothes for working in the yard or on hobbies. Quality not quantity is the way to go for us.

  • Rusalka

    Don’t women’s clothes sell for more money simply because the industry knows women will pay more (which really gets to the issue that society forces women to care more about their appearance). When I see extremely low and high prices of clothing (I am female), I often think of being told as a child that women’s clothing like high heels is uncomfortable because it is all designed by men. I dont know how much truth there is in this argument…as we move towards a more unequal society, we inch closer to the return of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Im sure all the “smart” people will escape though, leaving only the dumb dolts locked in the room. This is the bedtime story the exceutives tell themeslves at night.
    I am also interested in trade issues related to clothing. Didnt a quota lift a few years ago, making China able to produce a higher percentage of the world’s clothes? But now its getting more expensive to make clothes in China…I heard that sometimes they burn already made clothes in China too keep prices down when they dont want the articles on the market depressing other prices.
    Kind of like wheat.
    Where will the race to the bottom make our clothes made next? Middle East, Africa? South America? How do we get out of this destructive model of production? Make everything organic and fair trade so the rich people can feel good about their “impact” on the world, while the rest of people are forced to support short term profits and enviornmental devestation?

    • Adks12020

      I think womens clothes are actually cheaper a lot of the time because retailers know women will buy more of them.  Seriously, if I go shopping with my girlfriend she always gets more items for the same price.

    • Nrifkind

      Hummm, provocative.

  • Adks12020

    I’m a man that hates shopping for clothes.  I only do so when I actually need something replaced so I wouldn’t mind spending a little more on something American made; there’s one problem…where do I find it? Most major stores sell clothes made in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, India, etc. It’s not easy to go to a mall and find nice American made clothing…at least not in my area that I know of. I could shop online but that eliminates the possibility of trying something on before I buy it.

    Anyone know of places in upsate New York or even western Mass or southern Vermont to buy this stuff?

    • J__o__h__n

      I used to buy nice but not too overpriced shoes made in Italy from a well known designer.  Now they cost slightly less and are made in China and don’t last nearly as long. 

    • Nrifkind

      This is especially challenging when the population seems to value the expectation of an enormous volume of low end products no matter what economic limitations they live within.  How else can we resist the draw to cheaply made products with low paid workers.

  • Guest

    Go to high-end stories and buy quality clothes. I have clothes that are 20 years old and are still perfect. The clothes that I wear in the garden or to work with my horses are bought at resale shops and they are still better quality.

    If you want good clothes, you can find them but not at low-end stories. It’s a matter of choice, I suppose.

  • tim

    We only have ourselves to blame. Everyone opposes places like Walmart from going into their towns, but once they’re in the parking lots are always full. This problem isn’t going to be solved by our will to go against our own (short term) self interests or by our finding some social conscience to put an end to outsourcing of what effectively amounts to slavery.

    • Nrifkind

      Exactly!  However the local business are almost impossible to find and support these days.  I do whatever I can not to shop at Walmarts etc.  I always am frustrated what I cant support local economy.

  • Chris

    An option to imports is http://store.americanapparel.net/.  Their clothes are youth oriented.

  • Margaret

    I work at one of those big box stores and earn $7.81 an hour.  After an 8 hour shift I can barely afford to buy a couple of bags of groceries for my family.  I can only imagine how the people who make these clothes live.  I also return many items in the guest services department and can tell you that cartloads of all sorts of items get thrown away ( irons, curling irons, food, electronic cords etc…).

    This is not a sustainable system and the incentives are all wrong. I am not sure how this can be solved.  It is very discouraging. 

    • Nrifkind

      here, here!

  • mbly

    So what stores produce quality clothes? It seems we can’t escape it.

    • Nrifkind

      Often you have to be willing to pay more.  I repeat again and again. Need less, buy less.  Spent in total less maybe.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    What goes around, comes around – eventually all these people looking for bottom dollar prices will find their own jobs subject to the same pressure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1295209757 Deborah Stone-Richard

    I have a business making clothing out of reused clothing. I purchase clothing in resale shops weekly for my business. I am shocked and saddened at the amount of clothing that people toss aside every day. The volume is staggering (floor to ceiling bales in some cases) and this is only in one small geographic area. I rarely go to a mall but when I had occasion to last year, I said to myself, “I will be seeing this in 6-8 months in a resale shop”, and I was right.

    • Nrifkind

      I try hard to locate people who need clothes rather than dropping it off at the local thrift.  Especially in that I am a plus size and the demand in the lower income is enormous and the cost of such items is vastly higher for no reason that I can ascertain. Are size 6 clothes cheaper at stores?

  • Martha

    I’m a seamstress and know how to make good-quality clothing, and I’m often shocked at the poor quality of retail clothing at the mall.  I buy most of my clothes from Goodwill, and much of the rest comes from the local library’s yard sale or a friend’s “clothing swap,” and I’m happy with the “pre-worn” clothes in my wardrobe.

  • Artisticidea

    Everyone should familiarize themselves with the fantastic work of Charles Kernaghan, America’s leading crusader against child labour and sweatshops, and the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. His documentaries and research radically changed my consumer behavior and outlook on the Global economic order.

    Visit http://www.globallabourrights.org

  • AC

    i agree with what she’s saying, but you can tell the difference in quality in material and cut just by putting it on and seeing how it hangs…..
    maybe i’m a little overly attentive to detail, but i recently tried on a cheapo cocktail dress (i didn’t want or need it, but was out of town and needed it for an impromptu event) and the hem was at least 2 centimeters off on 1 side…..drove me batty

    • AC

      maybe i’m crooked and should work on my posture…..

  • IsaacWalton

    I think that buyers just need to research more and think a little. All of that stuff has to go somewhere. I don’t buy if I don’t have room for it in our walk in closet. Our home is one of the smallest in the neighborhood (brand new, higher quality but not a lot of sq footage). So we don’t have a lot of clothes, but they are higher quality (made in USA, made in England, and yes India, Vietnam but from what I think are upper mid-level retailers). 

    • lodger

      Where do you find clothing made in the USA?

      • IsaacWalton

        Filson has a few items made in the USA. Yes some are made overseas.

        • lodger

          Thanks; I’ve looked at Filson but what I find infuriating/bewildering is they now have mostly imported goods but they charge higher ‘made in USA’ prices, e.g. $80 for an imported flannel shirt. 

          Other similar brands, e.g. Brooks Brothers, have also been doing this. 

    • Nrifkind

      This is such an enormous challenge to accomplish, would if I could.  I do believe in buy less and USA if possible, but it is almost impossible!

  • Adks12020

    If I could find a place that sold clothes that last a long time I’d be overjoyed.  I hate shopping for clothes so the fewer times I have to do it the better.  I constantly find that I’ll buy a pair of jeans and a month later the seam will start coming apart or something like that….and I rarely buy the cheapest stuff.

    • Nrifkind

      Take your time and look as carefully as you can then, buy/need less

  • Brothersower88

    Please ask the guest where to get clothes.

  • Nancy

    Very unhappy with marketing to children.  I have daughters who insist on buying clothing at the stores marketed to girls ages 10- 18.    The clothes are cheap, but they do not wear well at all.   The quality is horrible – when t shirts are washed they are pilled and out of shape.   They are also tight and offer a very few options.    Because all the girls wear them it’s difficult to persuade my girls to buy better quality clothing.    Also where I live there are few options to buy clothing from anything but the Aeopostle, Old Navy, Justice type of stores.   

    • Nrifkind

      DONT give in to this!  Teach your kids about the impact of such choices and encourage higher values.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dotknott Michaela Knott

    Where do you get non-cheap (non-poorly made) clothes?

    • IsaacWalton

      I’m not a professional shopper or tailor, but I’ve found good shirts at Eddie Bauer, LLBEAN, Orvis, Filson. I buy thicker oz cotton, it seems  to last longer. Jackets come from Patagonia, Barbour, Filson. Wife buys a lot of her stuff from a local boutique.

      I buy higher quality (I think they are) and fewer of.

      The only two suits I have were handmade/custom from Canada.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dotknott Michaela Knott


      • bellavida

        Patagonia is outstanding.  I have a jacket that I bought in winter of ’95, it has been washed countless times and is warm and fits as well as it did back then.  Just now, I checked the label and it was made in the USA.  I doubt they are made in the US anymore though.  

  • jane

    Thank you for addressing the critical matter!  

    I suggest a correlation between “disposable” fashion and processed food.  Quantity now trumps quality.  While providing more options for those with less income has is a valid objective, we are causing more harm than good in both instances.  We all know the arguments by now about fast/processed food; $50 of whole foods is far superior in nutrition than $50 of processed food, yet the latter LOOKS like so much more and is applauded as a bargain.  The latter also serves as a force of destruction for our health and our planet.  

    Likewise, $50 of cheap textiles has a devastating effect compared to $50 of textiles that are produced with more sustainable resources and practices.  

    The industry has led the consumer to believe that petroleum and pulp-based fabrics are superior to cotton, linen and silk.  I refuse to give those manufacturers my money, preferring to have a single well-made, high quality and socially responsible product instead of a dozen pieces of trash.  

    I buy my food the same way.  It’s not only about my own health.  I have a responsibility to those involved in production today as well as future generations.

  • Jenn

    I recently tried selling some hand-made clothing and accessories at local craft fairs.  Even in this context, the impact of cheap clothing is apparent.  People will mull over whether to spend $15 on a handmade bracelet and ultimately put it down and walk on – only to spend $10 on a couple of gourmet vegan cupcakes at the next table.  What does this mean?

  • Elizabeth

    Welcome to the downward spiral – lower wages lead mean less money to spend on clothes, and the more cheap clothes dominate the market, the cheaper the clothes need to be, and so it goes. I agree with the commenter who would buy quality clothes if they knew where to find them. I don’t shop trends, and I go clothes shopping as infrequently as I can, but when I do, the options are limited and depressing.

  • Ping1

    I love informing my girlfriend that just because it says Armani doesn’t mean its made in Italy…..but most likely China

  • Aaron

    Starting in 2011 I began buying “Made in USA” only. $200 for a pair of jeans, $150 for two casual shirts, and I really can’t even find shoes. That said, the quality of the products I was able to buy is exponentially better than the clothes I used to buy from stores like H&M. I can wear them longer, have learned about the importance of versatility rather than quantity, and, frankly, it just feels good to support what is still high quality domestic production.

  • Fionavernal

    I just went through my sons’ (ages 10 and 13) jeans pile and have 14 pairs of pants with holes in the knees. Even as a middle class parent, I need those price points $15 price points; the $40 pair of jeans we got as a gift has the same hole in the knee.

    • J__o__h__n

      They were probably sewn by people ages 10 and 13. 

      • Sam

        I buy used clothing for my son who is younger than your sons.

        Also, I think Sears has a program where they will replace children’s clothes that are worn out, yet still fit, specifically for those worn out knees.

    • Nrifkind

      I always patched my jeans in the old days.  I come from a middle class background and I would NEVER have been let to dispose of clothes because of a knee hole.  We had school/dress clothes and play clothes for which holes were acceptable if unrepairable.  

      • Nrifkind

        need/buy less

    • Elizabeth L Cline

      Thanks for your comment! I completely agree that the quality of clothing at most price points has gone down. It’s frustrating when you pay more and still get something that doesn’t last. Consumers have to demand that retailers of all stripes and price points sell better products. Also, I’ve started patching my jeans and you can get another 6 months to a year out of them that way!

    • wiji

      I remember patching and mending…but now that is soooo yesterday

  • Anne

    Just yesterday I was thinking that I need to go shopping for some new summer clothes…..because most of mine are worn out, shrunk a few sizes, have stains that won’t come out, or are literally torn.  They don’t fit right and they don’t wash well.  I try to buy relatively decent quality clothing, but I am replacing most of it yearly.  When I was younger clothing would last for years.  It is difficult to find high quality clothing even in some of the “traditionally” high-end department stores.  And trying to find good quality clothing for active little boys is even more difficult.  Clothing has become a disposable item like everything else in our lives.  I don’t particularly enjoy shopping for clothing, so I would love to know that I can go once or twice a year, and get what I need that will look good and last!   

    • RK

      You are right, I did not hear this issue addressed at all in the program – whether the low-quality trend is spilling over to the high-end market.  I occasionally go into places like Barney’s and Neiman Marcus, and am shocked to see the items that they are charging $400 bucks for – poorly constructed and sewn garments with no shape and no design to speak of, maybe slightly better materials, but still made in China.  In fact, I recall one day when I received two packages from my online shopping with dresses from Target and NM, and the $40 Target dress looked so much better made and fit better than the NM dress, which was just cheap crap.  I remember telling my friend – what is this world coming to? :)  This is making my H&M habit harder to break – why spend tons of money on something in a high-end store, when it’s just as crappy as something you can get at H&M or Target?

  • Mike from Rutland

    HA, maybe Gustavo also wipes his butt with $100 bills and burns $20 bills in his fireplace while smoking his Cuban cigars.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    Please explain why 99% of all boys & men now wear something with a sports logo on it, every single day. Sociologically, I find the trend disturbing.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Ninety-nine percent?  An exaggeration, no?  And why would it bother you, if true?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

        A slight exaggeration overall, perhaps, but the average stat in my neighborhood. What bothers me is that so many young men will voluntarily don a status-bearing “uniform” rather than dress in a more imaginative manner. It’s the lack of personal creativity involved in daily dressing that bugs me most. It’s visually boring.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           True enough, but human beings have been seeking status for as long as we’ve been around.  This is nothing new.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

            I grew up in the late 60s into the 70s. Men & boys dressed much more colorfully back then, in a wider variety of styles. Not that they were all good-looking, but they were not identical, like today. The sneakers, the ball-caps, the jerseys & sweats with team logos….argggh…please take me back to the pastel leisure suits with ruffled shirts of yore.

    • Adks12020

      I’m a man and I think hat must be a local thing in your area or something.  I don’t know anyone that wears items with sports logos on them all the time.  Sure, people do occasionally but definitely not the majority of the time.  I find it’s usually when playing sports, watching sports, or going to games.

  • Smart shopper

    Wow, $300-$1000 for a dress? Do your guests sincerely expect people to accept this as an acceptable price? They’re really talking to a super-high-end audience. There must be some middle ground between this and $7 sweat shop jeans. You’ve completely lost me.

    • Adks12020

      The point is that the $300-$1000 dress will last A LOT longer.  You can buy a dress for $50 but then you will end up buying sveral of them of them over a few years as they fade or fall apart rather than having one that will last longer than that.  In the long run the more expensive price isn’t really more expensive.  I’m surprised with a name like smart shopper you didn’t pick up on that.

      • Sam

        Even a $50 dress is expensive for some people.

        Plus, I don’t know about you, but other people fluctuate in size over their lifetime, so the dress you bought 10 years ago may not fit now.

    • Elizabeth L Cline

       Thanks for your comment! I certainly don’t advocate consumers buying $1000 for a dress! Sorry if this came across somehow on the show. I still spend $1100 per year on clothes, which is the national average, but I support local, independent designers who are moderately priced, rewear the things I already own (shop my closet!), shop secondhand/vintage, and make and refashion my clothes. I’m still just as price-conscious as I ever was, I just advocate shopping in different ways and caring for what you own.

      • Rusalka

        I think you attack a lot of important ideas, but by implying this is a choice “we” can make, you belie the issue of systematic oppression and short term thinking. Same thing goes on with organic food. Organic food has been around since the 1970s, and has got extremely popular in the past 10 years. Unfortunately, organic food has NOT made all the world’s food problems go away. Doubtful that more awareness about the fashion industry will either, unless it addresses the systematic, not just the personal choice aspect. However, systematic change gets a dirty name, because the only kind of systematic labor change around is still marxism. Americans absolutely refuse to accept this, and believe that “personal choice (ie consumerism)” will reign over the land and solve all our problems. Personally I dont think marxism is the answer either.
        Ultimately clothes are just clothes, and buying “sustainable” clothes is still buying clothes. My 85 year old grandmother has monogramed leather suitcases with her father’s initials on them. I always think those suitcases are reminders… material things, even quality,,,, its just the clothes on our backs, not our lives. Life is not infinate, and unfortantely I will never meet GB, even if I see his suitcases every year without fail.

  • Artisticidea

    I was certainly the first caller into the show and was patiently waiting to be taken on the air. I wanted to bring up the issue of sweatshops and Global Wage Arbitrage. That 10 year old children are working 110 hours a week in Dhaka for 11 cents an hour under deplorable and dangerous conditions, sewing clothes for the Gap, WalMart, Hanes and H&M is immoral. But your guests will not speak of these documented realities. Those who sew the clothes are receiving less than 1/100 of the revenues. This is a much lower cut than the workers in industrialized countries received.  The Globalist regime, in 10 years erased 150 years of labor advocacy and organization in the West. It is pitting worker against worker across borders, bargaining us down to zero and laughing all the way to the bank. We will all suffer from this development, whether in Detroit or Dhaka.  In Dhaka, 3 general strikes – involving hundreds of thousands of garment workers each – have rocked the government of Bangladesh, demanding increases in the minimum wage. There are brutal pictures of crowd control police, garbed in expensive Western-imported riot gear, beating children as young as 11 with clubs and steel boots published by the UK Guardian in the event of the 2009 strike.  The industrial revolution and the grind of its human gears is alive and well.

    Predictably, my call was discarded by the moderators before being put on the air. Disgusting.

    • Elizabeth L Cline

      Hi, Thanks for your comment! I’m sorry to hear that your call did not make it to air! I address the issues you’re talking about in my book Overdressed; I talk at length about my journey to Bangladesh, where so much labor unrest and factory fires have happened in recent years. I also talk about how the U.S. industry was once unionized and we’ve rolled back working conditions and wages for workers around the world. It’s an issue I’m particularly invested in, but unfortunately there wasn’t time to get into everything on the show.

      • Artisticidea

         It’s excellent to hear that child labour and degrading sweatshop conditions and wages are issues that touch your heart – as they should the lot of us, even if only for enlightened self-interest in order to prevent rollback of workers’ protections and wages here. I wish you would have made it a priority to forefront this issue and hope that you do so on your next radio interviews.

        You’re probably familiar with the work of Charles Kernaghan, whose reporting first introduced me to the pervasiveness, gravity and accelerating nature of global labor exploitation by western firms.  Global divide and conquer; global wage arbitrage – which inevitably leads to declining tax base and austerity which then reinforces the whole cycle and promotes oligopoly. This in turn, opened up a whole world of related issues to me – from international trade & intellectual property agreements to the Geopolitical agenda of multinational corporations that use the United States to secure a periphery belt of cheap export zones and cheap commodity extraction sites via credit/debt manipulation and currency devaluation (via IMF, World Bank, IADB, etc.), orchestrated coup d’etats, and outright invasion and occupation.

        Anyhow, Ms. Cline, I urge you to continue on your quest to awaken consumers to the systems they are supporting which undermine the livelihood and security of both themselves and the producers. Best wishes, and please make an effort to highlight the labor issue in further interviews: your robot hosts will do all in their power to push it under the rug.

  • Steve

    Do we live as if we value every person – not just those in our country, state, city, neighborhood, and block?

    Is this possible or is the community best served by self interest?

    How do resources enter into the equation?

    • Nrifkind

      I do worry about international economic impact of these issues.  However, much of the issue here relates to the American expectation of buy buy buy.  This exasperates the the problem of the value of labor as well as the challenges in local/national economy.  This is such a complicated issue that I am not sure if I am expressing myself very well.

  • dsws

    The guest is saying there’s no efficiency to be had with mass production compared to home-made.  I don’t believe it.

    I recently gave up on finding a shirt that fits properly (I’m fat), and decided to try making my own.  Throughout my first attempt and part of another so far, I’ve constantly been thinking how much more efficient this would be in a factory.  The cloth would be cut for dozens of copies of each piece in a single stroke of a die-press machine.  The fussing around would be completely gone: instead of spending time getting things lined up, making sure I have the piece I think I do, making sure it’s facing the way I think it is, and so on, almost every second would be spent with seams and hems being sewed as fast as a commercial-quality machine can physically move the thread.

  • Sam

    I just bought 2 (I think American Made) dresses, for $70 each.
    That’s $150 for 2 dresses.

    And I spend $250 at LOFT for 10 items. I got, 2 pairs of shoes, 6 t-shirts, 1 skirt, 1 pair of jean capris.

    I also bought about 20 items of clothing at thrift store for about $50 – jeans, shirts, skirts, that were 50% discounted during the Memorial Sale, unfortunately because I didn’t try them on, some don’t fit. :)

    I will be returning the things back to Loft, with an exception of 1 pair of capris, shoes and 1 t-shirt.

  • Classie99

    This is NOT an American phenomenon. Go to any country and see the bins of cheap clothes in front of stores. It’s what people the world over demand, rather than hundred-dollar items that supposedly last longer or contain special fibers or whatever. Your guests sound completely out of touch with markets in the U.S. or anywhere.

    • Guest

       You are mistaken! It might be a matter of class, instead.

    • guest

      To the contrary, I think the guest was addressing precisely what you are saying.  The fact that consumers EVERYWHERE are mindlessly consuming cheap textiles, which results in problems on many fronts.  

    • Jcmuhr

      there has been a collapse of the textile industry all over Africa due to the dumping of our used Crap over there. It has affected everyone in the chain from farmers to retailers.

  • Stephanie

    As I listen to the show I’ve been coincidentally sewing a quilt out of my son’s old t-shirts so they won’t go into a landfill.  My concern is what happens to all these poorly made clothes once they can’t or won’t be worn anymore?  What percentage of old clothes can be recycled and why aren’t there more facilities for accepting old worn out clothes for recycling?

    • Nrifkind

      Exactly what the speaker addressed. It suggested that only something like 25 percent of our donations to reuseable clothing actually happen.

  • J__o__h__n

    Cheap crap in clothes is like pink slime in food. 

  • Mark

    Recently I found sport coats made locally in New Bedford Massachusetts at Nordstroms. Good quality, the feel, the construction, way better. You need to be willing to spend $600 – $700 for a sport coat rather than the two suits for $100

    • Classie99

       Do they have a place to park your Rolls Royce?

  • Noelle

    I work for an internet sewing community with hundreds of thousands of members worldwide- folks are responding to cheap, and poorly made garments by sewing their own. Perfect fit, with exactly the right materials and individual results every time.

    • Sam

      link please.

    • Nrifkind

      I would like to see statistics on this. I have to believe that the numbers on this statement would represent a minute number of cases.

  • Lee

    I would like to ask the panel how can we as consumers be better informed about both the quality and the ethical background of our clothes? Clothes from Boden or Garnet Hill are more expensive than clothes at Marshalls but are they better or are we paying for the cache of the brand? And how can we know if people were exploited in the making of the clothes we buy?

  • Guest

    I can barely buy off the rack clothes since today they seem to be sized for women with huge hips. I have to buy men’s jeans and usually a skirt and blouse combination so I can get a smaller skirt. Along with poor quality, the sizing of clothes is no longer accurate. For example, a size 6 in really a size 10, if you compare to years past.
    Are people truly fooled?   

    • Adks12020

      haha…very true.  I’m a man but I’ve noticed that I can no longer buy “regular” sized dress shirts.  I always have to buy “slim fit” otherwise I swim in them. Up until I graduated high school (in 2000) I bought medium or large t-shirts most of the time.  Now I buy small most of the time, occasionally medium.  I’m 5’10″ 160 lbs.  I’m thin but not tiny.  I also have a problem finding pants with my waist size.  The stores seem to stock way more 33″ and up pants and I’m a 30 or 31 depending on style.  People are getting fat.

      • Sam


      • Nrifkind

        Yes, people are getting fat!  But this is another issue.  I am finding a reverse problem.  Clothes being made for different body types.  The percent of the need for large sizes has drastically increased and the quality and volume has not met the need 

      • dsws

         Be glad you’re not trying to shop as a typical fat American.  The clothes are made for people your shape, and just scaled up as though the rest of us were the same shape and just larger in every dimension.  You have to buy “small” or “slim fit”.  We can’t get clothes that fit at all.

  • Hayley

    I house paint for a living and don’t wear anything special tO work, however I spend what I can on cheap clothing at forever 21 and stores alike. I have not had to ever purchase painters rags because sure enough, every 6 months as trends change, I just shred up my clothes and use them as rags, which tends to be the best use for them anyway as they likely never fit well in the first place or survived a run through dryer for that matter

  • I_harten

    I am shocked by how arrogant these guests are.
    Can they not even fathom the idea that fashion isn’t as important to everyone as it is to them? They speak about the average consumer as some sort of ignorant plebian who cannot make the right decision without a self-appointed “fashion expert”.

    If fashion designers go the way of the buggy-whip maker then so what. My heart will not bleed for them.

    • Classie99

       Hear, hear!

    • Nancy Rifkind

      This is not the issue.  Try not to be offended, I also just need ‘clothes’ not a statement.  It seems to me that the issues presented are far more complicated, national/international effects on economies, value placed on disposable purchasing on resources and american production. I am feeling the conflict of the ‘need less, want less and buy better stuff that support our national economy.  Think about it?

      • I_harten

         There were two separate arguments presented by Ms. Cline.
        One involves the international trade/environmental costs that you are referring to. I actually agree with this argument.
        The second argument is that consumers are not as fashionable as Ms. Cline feels they should be. Here she is simply being a snob. It seems that she has never thought that clothes might not be as important to some people as they clearly are to her. I will not be looked down upon by the likes of her because my clothes were not made by her favourite fashionista. She seems to think that we are all too stupid to make informed decisions about our own clothes. Are we supposed to thank her for helping us lowly cretins to be as fabulous as she thinks she is?

        • RK

          It’s not about who makes the clothing, but the fact of the matter is that Americans do tend to look like slobs by wearing the latest Walmart couture.  When you’re in Europe Americans stick out like a sore thumb.  That’s nothing to be proud of.  

  • Sara

    Where does the author shop?

  • Salzburg

    One has to first have the income to spend big. 

    If you sew you need to be willing to offer your free time and space to produce your own wardrobe. (I can sew & tailor. Had to learn it as a child. I hate it.)

    Why shouldn’t everyone be entitled to dress in the latest trends?

    Is having a cute outfit only for the rich? Humans have always ornamented their bodies through clothing.

    This show is not offering real world solutions to sustainability.

    • guest

      In my opinion, the point is that we need to change our idea of “trends.”  We have responsibilities as consumers.  Why can’t we make quality and sustainability the next trend?  

    • Nrifkind

      People in most of the world I believe value wearing clothes that suit needs not industry inflicted trends that are short lived and disposable.  It is the in my opinion a failure of our society the values of our TV culture.  Wearing timeless clothes of quality should be what we stand for.  In fact, the only people that I see wearing enormously expensive trendy clothing are celebrities.  The upscale, above average incomed people I see here in NYC have much smaller wardrobes of long lasting, timeless items.  Think about your values and what kind of economy you want to support.  A locally based, competitive waged, economically and environmentally responsible one versus a ‘right’ to have what you think you ‘should’ have. Hummmm…

  • Majadin

    I’m in my 40s and have always been disappointed at the quality of clothes in the stores. I don’t like the cheap stuff very much and if I am buying for work or more formal occasions I start at the thrift stores and look for good designer names and better quality items and have them tailored for me. After that I make my own clothing whenever possible, but have been disappointed in the offerings in the fabric stores and the lack of interesting patterns in the pattern books.

  • Dave B

    Industry is always non-sustainable. It is a constantly changing entity, responding to consumers’ habits. The most sustainable approach is to make one’s own, or buy local from smaller producers. Sooner or later, it will get too cheap at the bottom and collapse.

  • Sam

    I often find things at a Thrift store new with tags.
    Just my last trip I got a totally new shirt and scarf, still with original tags.

    I got the shirt for $2, when originally it was marked at $50 and then discounted for $20 on sale, and even further the thrift store marked it at $4 and memorial day sale was 50% off everything.

  • nicedoggie

    A number of us are in a pitched fight against the incursion of corporate vulgarity in the form of a discount retailer working to bully itself into a New England town here in Vermont. The cost of cheapness is pervasive, not only in slave labor overseas, but in the perpetual degredation in American quality of life.

    Are we Americans just low brow knuckle-draggers struggling to put lipstick on ourselves?

  • Luisella Simpson

    THIRTY PER CENT of the European population and not far from
    that in the USA
    are over 55 years of age. Many such consumers are willing to pay more for good
    shoes and quality clothes.


    As an Italian-born Frenchwoman, living in Boston, I hardly ever find, say, good shoes
    (NOT Chinese-made shoes!) at a reasonable price. In the meantime, the Italian
    shoe industry is in crisis because of the Chinese shoe tsunami. Thus, many
    customers like me are constantly looking for higher-end products which do not
    cost a fortune. I am sure that a solution exists, by connecting directly with
    the manufacturers (European or American) who still produce quality item without
    being in the luxury category (with its vastly inflated prices for a quality
    which is not always guaranteed).


    Luisella Simpson

  • Sam

    But then again, that $2 shirt is still made in china.
    so …

  • Jill

    the problem with thrift stores now is that they have the same junk as the stores except used. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I don’t want fashion brands.  I want clothes that fit and function.

  • Seasonsofthevalley

    This is a great interview! I am listening to this as I design my own eco-friendly clothing. I make organic cotton clothing with fabric manufactured in the USA. It’s very difficult to find fabric that is made in the USA, but I decided that was very important to me. 

    • AC

      that’s interesting, i’ve just started sewing and have been studying the diff kinds of materials, but never paid attention to ‘where’ they are from…..

      • Seasonsofthevalley

         It’s hard to find out where fabric is from! Often you can find out if it’s certified organic or fairtrade, but finding the origin is challenging.

  • Em

    I’ve heard mass-produced clothing is often treated with a chemical to make it look better hanging on the rack in the store.  When you get it home and wash it, it instantly looks cheaper, wrinklier, and flimsier (or I should say, like the cheap, flimsy garment it actually is).  Is it true that chemicals are sprayed on clothes for this reason?

    • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

      yes it’s called “sizing” it keeps the garment from wrinkling during shipment

      • Babci

        One can check “wrinkling” by grasping a corner of a garment or yardage & scrunching fabric by making a fist with it in hand.  When released, the end result is readily visible. 

    • Dave B

      I work in retail and have never encountered this. Materials, however, have different thresholds for cleaning. Many do not wash well, nor do they respond well to detergents or household soaps. You may also be washing out the residual dyes and chemicals used in making the garment. Lighting in the store also plays a role in presentation. It may sound gross, but fits into the conversation, I think, try not to wash your clothing often, materials degrade quickly. I’ve recently heard that many denim fanatics will freeze their recently worn jeans to kill the bacteria and avoid the degradation problem. 

  • zendegy

    Check out Etsy.com. You can buy quality clothing made-to-fit at prices even a teacher can afford. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     Caller, you must have more time than I do.  Of course, I have a strong allergy to shopping for clothes.

  • Garnet

    There is a LARGER, health problem looming with cheap, fast fashion in that some dyed clothing imported into N.America is not finished properly. As a textile professional who has worked in Canada & the US, I recently encountered a situation in the store of a well known US urban retailer. The mother of a young customer was complaining to the fitting room attendant about the colour of her daughter’s skin after she wears denims from that brand. 
    The store associate was un-educated and could not respond so I jumped in and told her that all denim should be washed in a salt bath before wearing to remove excess dye. Skin is porous and over time I can only think that chemicals from industrial dyes could present health issues. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     Cline apparently studies clothing for a living, so she has the money and the time to deal with this.  What about the rest of us?

    • Jill

      Yeah, like I have time to sew.  What happened when my mother went back to work?  She stopped sewing clothes.

    • guest

      The “rest of us,” including me, have a responsibility to be mindful consumers.  I don’t sew, I don’t have much money, I don’t have much time, but I know that it’s my responsibility to spend my dollars mindfully.  

    • Elizabeth L Cline

      Hi Greg, Thanks for your comment. The clothing industry is the second largest consumer sector behind food. The way we structure this industry has a huge impact on American jobs and the global economy. It affects the pocketbooks of millions of people and workers around the world. That’s why it matters, and it matters a lot.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         In other words, you didn’t answer my question.  I never said that it doesn’t matter.  I asked how people whose jobs are concerned with other matters have the time for what you’re describing.

        • Mirliluck

          Greg has plenty of time to post endless amounts of snarky comments on here and who knows where else, yet he has no time to consider his shopping habits.  

  • Khaliawilkinson

    This was a very informative and well timed show. I enjoyed both speakers!

    Khalia Wilkinson

  • nrb

    As with shoes now, the more expensive clothing isn’t necessarily made any better but just carries an expensive label.  Also the 3% we used to spend on clothes that cost more now has to compete against a family budget that includes exorbitant housing, cell phones, computers and other appliances, much more expensive gas. THis fact was not mentioned.

  • Swan&stone

    I make handmade, locally sourced one-of-a-kind hats in Vermont using wool and alpaca fiber grown right on out farm. We sell the peices at craft fairs because we have trouble competing with wholesale prices in the fashion district. Our customers love the unique look and story of our hats and I think there is a real hunger for unique local and handmade fashion.

  • nrb

    This program is one of the worst aired on On Point.

    • Brandy

       why do you say that?

  • guest
  • Eetelli

    I used to sew all my own clothes, grade school through my 20s, because I could individualize what I wore.  Before that, my Mom sewed for all of us 6 kids, and I fondly remember my blue & white seersucker play suit.  I learned so many skills through sewing; I use many of these skills today. Sewing builds courage and imagination, and teaches patience, and provides calm. Yes, I still sew, but I don’t need as much, and now it’s about updating something great from my past, or altering, mending, and hemming. 

  • AnnaB

    I am all about taking pride in my clothes and things that I own. I don’t buy the cheapest clothes, and it lasts a long longer. There are so many easy preventative measures you can take to make it last longer ( change into a set of house clothes after work, do simple repairs, hand-wash in cold water, take shoes to a shoe repairer, etc.) Stick with more classic designs, but accessorize with silk shawls, hand-made jewelry, hand-made crochet pieces, new cutter buttons, or more contemporary jewelry and you will always look fabulous and unique. And that is what I teach my children, too. Take care of your things, be mindful of your belongings.

    • printreader

      these are super suggestions. 

    • njeri

      AnnaB, you are exactly on point. This is what my mother, grandmother and aunts did. Up to this day mom, in her 60′s now, hand washes the good stuff.

  • mikeyt

    People with limited incomes want to dress nicely and they can’t afford high prices.  This is why they search for cheap fashion.  It’s not enough to simply say they should be wiling to pay more for better clothing.  

    • Author Elizabeth L Cline

       Hi Mikey, Thanks for your comment. Americans used to make their own clothes or hire a dressmaker or tailor when they couldn’t afford high-end designer clothes. There were also far more middle-market, mid-priced options a few decades ago. We now live in a retail environment where there are few choices between super cheap and super high-end clothes. This is not fair to consumers. Please see the chapter High and Low Fashion Make Friends in my book, Overdressed, for a further discussion of this issue.

    • mumzie

      It is also about buying much less. A handful of quality that lasts years, versus a closetful of crap.

  • Kiven

    your average working class american don’t have the time or the money to live your fantasy rich, white, single 1% new york life style. ya i realize you hate china i get it. maybe the rest of the world should make a fashion statement by spit on american and american products that represent the babies kill by american bombs!.oop there it is.  ya another example of a pseudo intellectual hipster turds trying to make a million selling another anti chinese bull shit book. you want to make a fashion statement that is not pretentious? stop the war american are making around the world! i wonder what greenpeace think about all the toxic waste american dump in bombs around the world over the past 50 years? oh i forgot you think greenpeace is so yesterday..

    • http://www.facebook.com/jhayesboh James Hayes-Bohanan

      This book IS anti-war; it is taking a stab at the war on workers waged here and abroad. Sadly, underpaid workers have become the allies of the 1% in that war.

    • Elizabeth L Cline

       Hi Kiven, Thanks for your comment. I’m not anti-China, but I’m certainly pro-American jobs. We’ve lost a half a million textile/garment jobs in the last ten years, and those weren’t jobs occupied by rich, white, single New Yorkers. They were jobs held largely by people of color and immigrants who have now been pushed into lower wage work. We need to raise the wages of garment workers around the world, including those in China.

    • Jodi

       I don’t hate China or any other country, but I do have an issue with American manufacturers outsourcing to countries with low-cost labor and minimal environmental regulations because they don’t want to pay workers a living wage.  We give a lot of lip service to creating American jobs while closing factories here.  There is also the fuel cost involved in shipping items halfway around the world.  It is unsustainable.

  • Ball and Buck

    Ball and Buck is a clothing brand that sells only Made in USA clothing and accessories.  This is a great article that goes right along with our philosophy of conscious consumerism.  It’s about purchasing fewer higher quality products that last a lot longer.  While it is more expensive to purchase a quality garment up front, you gain more ultimate value out of that garment because inexpensive and low quality garments will fall apart and need to be replaced far before a higher quality garment.  

    Check out our selection of high quality Made in USA garments online at ballandbuck.com or at our stores in Boston, MA

    • printreader

      nothing for women though?

  • Lexiek

    I love beautiful clothes.

    But, if I spend a lot, I expect them to last.  And, they don’t–even if they are well-made.

    Once they have been washed or cleaned, they never look the same.  (I am old enough to remember when this was not necessarily true.)

    The skill level of dry cleaners has declined.  In most cities, there is no one who can make a white silk suit look good.  Skilled  labor is required, and it is not there. At the same time, dry cleaning has gotten very expensive–clean it 3 times and you have exceeded the purchase price. 

    Excellent professional laundries have disappeared altogether.

    If I wash new clothes, they never look the same again. A single wash makes them dingy, and lot of fiber ends up in the dryer filter.

    My solution: I buy a lot of tee shirts at the GAP, and look like anyone else.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jhayesboh James Hayes-Bohanan

      You’ve identified yet another example of the costs of disdaining labor, your last line hinting at the reason.

    • printreader

      even when I was earning high six figures, the cost of drycleaning, and effect on the clothes, drove me nuts.  So I hand washed my silk blouses, even if they said dry clean only, and ironed them myself.  Relaxing, even if not time-efficient.

  • http://www.facebook.com/martimu Marti McGinnis

    I think of high fashion in the same way I think of art collecting. Some people can afford the original and most of the rest of us can afford the prints that are made from the original. Or so we think. We forget that there are high quality, maybe even better quality, alternatives that just aren’t as ‘discovered’. You can find these at your local art fair or online at a site like: http://www.etsy.com.
    Indeed those are excellent places to find amazingly affordable, completely unique accessories that will elevate any ‘little black dress’ (or similar high functioning, high quality wardrobe staple) you’ve invested in into a fine and highly fashionable outfit.
    Buy your basics well, then accessorize from artisans selling their own finely crafted work. The result: An awesomely unique you, and more closet space because you won’t have to lay in cheap outfit after cheap outfit any more.

  • Swanandstone

    It’s hard to even find high quality clothes anywhere; even fine old brands seem to be made in the same factories with the same weak materials – they’re just using their name to mark the products up.  I try to buy vintage or directly from a maker whenever I can; and I pay attention to where the raw materials come from too! 
    Handmade and local is the way to go! Indy fashion, eco fashion go go go!

  • Pudyson

    LET’S FACE IT…we women have too many clothes…purchase of them often reflects NEEDS other than to cover one’s body.  Apart from the obvious desire to impress men and other women, and protection from the elements, clothes symbolize STATUS, PERSONALITY, NEED FOR AFFECTION, SUBSTITUTE husband, boyfriend, LOSS REPLACEMENT, it’s SHOPAHOLIC DISEASE when there are bargains and cheap clothes available.  Incredible – boxes of unworn clothing are dropped off at consignment shops by one shopper. Such a societal waste of resources, money and time …all because something is missing in the psychological lives of women.  I say,
    GET A LIFE…without senseless clothes shopping.

  • Pudyson

    Wonder if the author and guests ever read the Italian book (translated) Gommorah about how the Camorra and other Mafia type groups, in Italy, China and southeast Asian countries are in control of the haute, designer dresses favored by celebrities and wealthy women in the West. Very revealing (and that adjective goes to more than the dress styles!).

  • printreader

    I’m old enough to remember the day when my mother  – who had very little money to spend on unnecessary clothes,  and had four children – would inspect the seams of a garment and reject it if the inner seam wasn’t good.  And my grandmother and aunts, who also did not have money to burn, but always looked well dressed, would practice what they preached, which was that it is better to buy one well made suit than several cheap outfits.  I try to remember this, tempting though it is to get  a lot of different stuff.  So I stick to a pretty limited color palette, heavy on blacks and neutrals, and if love an outfit I wear it all the time, no matter what others might do.

  • Grace

    I have spent the last few years of my “consumption cleanse” trying to battle my personal final frontier of owning an ethical wardrobe and this, for me, includes anything second hand. As someone with a very humble income who has always been considered stylish I can continuously find affordable, beautiful and well made pieces that last for years. It is definitely true what they say- true style and fashion is timeless and with all these people buying junk, there’s just more treasures waiting to be discovered on the racks of your local thrift shop.  

  • Gwen

    Has anyone mentioned how men’s clothing is higher quality with still affordable prices. I suspect women’s clothing could have the same quality and pricing, if we were more picky consumers. I.e., we didn’t buy clothes with poor quality material or workmanship. It seems like a lot of women’s clothes will shrink or distort when washed. We should definitely ban hand wash only clothes.

  • dsws

    How are we supposed to know what cloth will fall apart after it’s laundered a dozen times, and what will last for years?  All of it looks new when it’s new.  It’s not as though you can learn anything by checking the seams: it’s the cloth that tears next to the seam, not the stitching.

    • Alan

       Gwen & dsws make valid points.  There are no standards in the fashion industry to evaluate clothing against (quality, stitches, weight, sizes, etc.).  How women shop amorphous sizes is beyond me.  And men do tend to shop differently – shopping less often so looking for things that last longer.  As a non-fashion person, and someone with a BA in Economics,  I find fashion people sound very snobby about what they do without making the case for change that has impact on the average consumer.

  • Sara

    I absolutely loved this segment. I spent most of my time in grad school studing business ethics in modern apparel supply chains. Just one thought, as a Boston based program, it would have been great to hear a mention of some of the innovative Boston companies that are focused on local/sustainable/fairtrade production, like Proxy Apparel, Project Repat, and Osmium.

  • Markus

    A friend of mine in marketing in the athletic shoe business told me several years ago that inner city kids spend $105 per month on athletic shoes. This enormous (seemed enormous to me) amount was because, they thought, inner city parents didn’t have nice homes, fancy cars, expensive vacations, etc. So, they wanted to give their kids at least one thing that they could afford that was as good as the wealthier kids. Interesting.

    • Guest

       Shoes are often a status symbol in many cultures, not just in inner0city America.

  • Sara

    Back in the 30′s and 40′s almost every woman knew how to sew and most made their own clothes.  By being able to sew, one can identify superior tailoring such as a well made buttonhole, french seams, silk lining instead of acetate etc.  Shoddy clothing that was not well made did not get bought and therefore the companies did not last.  Quality mattered! Unfortunetly, many of these skills have been lost, and consumers lose out.  I don’t know a solution to this problem because  people are to use to buying cheap clothes.  Even if you learn how to sew, it will be more expensive to make your own clothes than buying at the big chain stores.  However, it will teach you what to look for when clothes shopping.

  • Soobiesoob

    This is why I always buy my clothes second hand from a thrift store. I am able to save a lot of money while purchasing the higher end / better quality items. You can tell what is better quality, because it has already been worn! 

    Buying from a thrift store also allows me to see what clothes are most often thrown away, and therefore what brands to avoid.

  • Roy Mac

    The consumers didn’t insist on 3 or 4 or 5 fashion seasons in each year; put that on the retailers.  There’s no reason for clothing to be well-made when it only needs to last for 2 or 3 months.  Rags will do just fine.

  • Jane

    I went to Italy this year and loved the clothes I bought at the boutiques.  I spent way more money but the quality is so much better.  My girlfriend and I have decided we will pay more, buy less and collect.  I remember my mom used to buy a few expensive items a year but she always had beautifully tailored clothes that lasted many years.  I still have some of her clothes that are classic designer pieces.  I like to buy t-shirts at vintage stores because the cotton is thicker, more comfortable, and they last after several washes.  Cheap t-shirts lose all of their shape after one wash.  Hate that.

  • Jean Horstman

    I grew up in a family where all the women sewed and all the girls were taught to do the same.  Part of this was a matter of economic reality.  Clothing off the rack was beyond our pocketbook. Part of it was a sense of individual style.  Sewing gave us the freedom to to have clothes that enhanced our natural features – the color of our eyes or hair, the cut of our hips, the length of our torso.

    Making clothes was an act of self-respect and an expression of care for ourselves.  We may not have had money, but we had style. 

    Because we made our clothes, we took care of them.  In my teens, back in the distant 70′s, we washed my clothes by hand and ironed them.

    We planned our wardrobes, keeping a list of what we had and identifying what we needed to complement this wardrobe.  I kept a book of fabric swatches in my purse so I could match new fabrics to my existing ones.

    Clothes were recycled, cut down for younger friends and family members.  Scraps were integrated into patchwork quilts, fabric-based gifts, the covers for jam jars…even the selvedges were saved, twisted and integrated into coiled rugs.

    All the women in my family worked and I was active after school in the band, playing sports, and working a job.  We had the time to sew because we didn’t spend any time watching any screens.  We sewed together, telling stories, passing on tips and techniques, helping each other to fit our clothes.  Sewing was a group activity; not a solo one.

    I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we put away our smart phones, turned off our computers, switched on the radio, and gathered with our neighbors to learn to sew and to keep sewing together.  I would love to pass on my skills with a sewing machine and with hand sewing to the next generation.

    Perhaps we would stop wearing the advertising of corporations (logos and brands) and create our own personal style.  Would we walk with the pride and elegance of my grandmother who worked in the bakery? Would we experience the glories of texture, color, and line the are tailored to our individual beauty?

    • Kurt Mayer

      You so eloquently offer a richly rewarding answer to at least part of this problem, both materially and culturally. My brother and I grew up in the 60s and 70s working in the yard, on the house and on the cars, and I saw my sisters also learn to create in the way you describe. I remember the Simplicity patterns, the discussions about prints and the characteristics of certain fabrics, and I saw my sisters wear the dresses, the jumpers, the culottes they made. There was a pride in creation that seemed to buoy them when they did, and it gives me joy now to see my 9-year-old daughter, taking a sewing class, proudly offer gifts and show the seams she’s rendered. It heartens me that such elemental craft is not a lost art in the digital world. “I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we put away our smart phones, turned off our computers, switched on the radio, and gathered with our neighbors to learn to sew and to keep sewing together,” you say. You’re right – cast the glowing rectangles into the corner and be alive. 
      Cheers to you. If you choose your fabrics and sew in the same way you write, your clothes must be resplendent, “rich with the glories of texture, color, and line that are tailored to your individual beauty.”

  • WltonusSam

    I’m surprised that your guests haven’t commented about the knock-offs made in China.

  • Shay

    I was taught to sew as a girl, so I can recognize quality, but I find the threads and fabrics in suburban stores to be of deplorable quality! I won’t waste my time using inferior materials. When everyone I knew was raving about Target, I stuck to the high-end department stores to support quality over quantity. Now, however, the department stores are selling garments made in offshore sweat shops, too. Even mail order it is difficult to find things made in the U.S. 

  • Deserthackberry

    While I can’t say I like the fact that most of my clothing is manufactured overseas, it’s NOT all junk.  I have beautiful nightgowns made in Cambodia that I bought years ago.  On the other hand, I’ve had capris made in India fall apart the first time I washed them.  On yet another hand, living in the Sun Belt, I appreciate the cool, lightweight blouses I can get from India and Bangladesh.  In fact, when I first started buying clothes from overseas in the 1980s, it was specifically because I couldn’t get American-made clothes appropriate to the climate in my half of the US.

  • Dcsmith

    What about using a different cloth then cotton? Such as nylons, polyesters and hemp?

  • esmemommy



    • wiji

      thanks!  nice to learn about this project

  • HHeidi

    We used to make our own clothing, but have you priced fabric and patterns in the past 10 or so years?  Fabric is $10.00 per yard for good quality cotton and patterns are very expensive.  Then we have to take into account the precious time it takes to make the clothing.  I know- I sew every day and work full time.  It can be a challenging hobby!  One caller said that the price of her labor would put a dress that she makes up to $1000.  Wow! We do buy too much- myself included- clothing.  This book has helped me be more aware.  Do I really need all these clothes? No!

    • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

      Sewing patterns range from $0.99 cents to $20 depending on the company and $10 a yard for a good fabric is not expensive.  A day dress in a non-plus size can easily be made from two yards of 60 inch fabric so $20 for a well made garment is worth it to me.  Of course if I was making a day dress for a client it would be much more expensive ($1,0000 like I said on the show)

      • Michele

         I have made many garments (dresses, suits, skirts, etc) and while I sympathize with your position – I think your fees are very high. If I am inferring correctly from your comments above you are charging $1000 for a day dress.  That is exorbitant.  I could see paying that for an evening gown.  Regardless of your skills there are economies of scale and while a $7.00 day dress is ridiculous – no sole proprietor could stay in business with those prices your pricing has to be realistic.

        • http://profiles.google.com/phyllis.craine Phyllis Craine

          Are you aware that a haute couture Chanel jacket costs about $100,000?  My skills are a bargain compared to that price point.

      • Leslianne

        How do we find you, in Westwood Mass, Phyllis?  I’m not far by and I’m interested?

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  • Abr0893

    What I got from this episode is that we are overbuying fashion items that we do not need just because the price is cheap.  So we talk about how we don’t have the money to spend on more expensive items, yet if we think about what we spend on cheaply made items that we often don’t even wear, we could probably buy less and buy quality.  This definitely made me think about what I buy and where.  I need to spend more time in thrift stores and less time in walmart and target.  I have 3 preschool age kids and 95% of what they wear is hand me downs that I was given or I bought from another mom for less money.  I don’t have a ton of clothes but unfortunately they are cheaply made.  My goal is to start by better quality and start looking in thrift stores.  Have you seen the blog http://www.newdressaday.com/
    My goal is to start being more like her and less like everyone else who just buys the same old cheaply made items and end up wasting my money since they will not last.

  • gracious_gaze

    I love this discussion and would really like to be better informed about independent boutiques and clothing made in the U.S. Does anyone have good links? So far from the posts, a little bit of internet snooping and the show’s guests my list of brands is: Theory, Nanette Lapore, Anna Sui, J Brand, Rag & Bone, The Row & Feral Childe. I’d love to know about more independent boutiques or individual designers, though, who we could support. Especially if they have online stores! Is Emerson Fry made in USA? http://shop.emersonfry.com

    • Laura

      If you are looking for a basic cotton t-shirt produced locally in the United States (with organic options) check out http://tsdesigns.com/  They’re in the printing business, but you can also buy a plain t-shirt with nothing on it. 

  • E Abrfams

    1) how does the consumer tell if a more $ piece of clothing is worth it ? Not only has the industry done little or nothing, it has acted in a manner to undercut the value of good, but $ clothing; the story of Ramie is illustrative (As you may know, most clothing is imported; the US congress has passed laws restricting how much each country can export to the us, and these limits are by fabric; China can export so much cotton, so much wool, so much linen; Pakistan has a separate set of limits for each fabric and so forth. when the laws were enacted, there was no limit on clothing made with “ramie” as it was such a cheap fabric, no one thought americans would wear it. In the80s, the US fashion industry discovered this, and began promoting the new “luxury” fabric , ramie – you could go into super $ NYC dept stores, and spend 200 dollars on a ladies ramie shirt.
    2) Even if it is better, is it worth it ? Today, I was actually going to target to get pants while listening; pants are 18 dollars at Target. “Good” pants are two or even three times as much; do the pants really last two or three times as long ?

    3) the phenomenon of tons of stuff to buy, but not a lot of real variety, only variety within narrow trends, is widespread. I have been looking for new prescription glasses recently, and have been to 6 stores. Unless you are willing to pay a lot for frames, all the frames are similar, in that they have narrow (top to bottom) lens -  you can’t get nice frames with wide lens (that such lens cost more and are harder to make may play a role)
    similarly, have you ever looked for a 1960s mens narrow tie ? I sometimes shop at the Chestnut hill mall in Newton MA; 1,000s of ties, not one narrow.
    Or coffee makers – last year I went to Rt9 in Framignham, one of hte largest shopping areas in the Boston vicinity. I went to a whole bunch of stores – wal mart, targets, khol, sears, some others. In each store, they had a limited variation of the same basic coffee maker desgin, and the same set, essentially, in all the stores – despite the apparent wealth of stores, very little variety and choice

    4) Cheapness – I do minor electrical repairs, like putting in new pull switches, and in the last few years, I have noticed that the switches are failing at an unusually high rate; we have had the phenom of cheap wallboard causing problems thruout the south, esp in the post kat repair. So cheap ness is widespread; I’m waiting for NPR to do an investigative report on stainless steel cookware and silverware from China; I bet a lot of this cheap stainless is full of toxic concentrations of chromium and lead (I mean, you are a cheap vendor, you can cut the $$ stainless with lead, who is gonna know ?)

    • RK

      3)  There are tons of narrow ties around – have you looked in Express (young men’s store, but they have plenty of narrow ties).
      4)  Go to higher-end stores like Sur La Table (there is one in the Chestnut Hill Mall) – they have a much better variety.  But it will cost you more.  Places like Kohl’s, Target and Walmart won’t have anything good.  Online is also a good bet.

  • Reallybigc

    So, apparently the fact that a poor person today can do something only a rich person could do 100 years ago (buy and wear fashionable clothing) is a bad thing? I have difficulty understanding this. I also don’t understand why specialization between countries (China’s production of textiles vs. US development of a lot of other things) is bad. Anyone care to explain intelligently?

    • SomeGuyNamedMark

      I think the point is that people are getting very poor quality in return.  You get what you pay for I guess.

    • Wildchildtiedyes

       Specialization isn’t necessarily a problem (though it does cut down on self-sufficiency and the high cost of fuel may make it untenable in a few years) but sweatshops and fleeing our country to avoid environmental regulation are definitely a problem.  Our country is not without labor problems, but it does have environmental laws, laws to protect workers, and minimum wage standards.  Our country now has very high unemployment because the manufacturing jobs have gone overseas.  We give lip service to job creation, yet insist on products so cheap they can only be produced with foreign labor.  You know that if it’s cheaper to manufacture it on the other side of the world and ship it here, through a series of middlemen no less, the workers are being paid squat.  And so much of it is junk that quickly ends up in landfills, another environmental cost to figure into the equation.  I have a small home tie dyed clothing business and will only use garments that I know are sweatshop-free, preferable organic, preferably made domestically.  Sourcing has gotten harder and harder because nobody wants to pay more for their clothes.  A $2- T-shirt does have a cost.  I thank the author for getting us thinking about it.

  • LP

    I am really trying to advocate thrift shop shopping (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.) as an ethical, responsible thing to do. You can find designer clothes new with tags, or gently used “rags,” but either way, you are not contributing to the supply and demand cycle from sweatshops. I call it “guilt free shopping.”

    Almost all of my clothes come from Goodwill, and when I receive compliments I always let the person know that my outfit came from Goodwill and only cost several dollars. The money goes toward worthy organizations AND wearing used clothing is a form of recycling. Please help to reduce the stigma of thrift shop shopping, and to increase the stigma of supporting sweatshops!

  • Katie VanVliet

    There are fabrics at the Gap that at first look like normal tee shirt jersey, but give a little effort and you can poke your finger right through it. Appalling. 

  • lianhall

    This was a confused discussion between interviewer and interviewee. The discussions were pulled into many different directions and they could not be logically related to the questions interviewer was asking. I did not know how to think so I decided to tune to 99.5.    

  • ChevyChase32

    I was very disappointed by this show. I was expecting it to get into a much deeper discussion regarding consumer responsibility (how are clothes made, what are the environmental impacts of buying “disposable” clothing, what are the ethical implications) but I found it to be very simplistic and superficial banter about the lack of style and quality in today’s clothing. Frankly, if the biggest problem with low-end clothing were that people were running around in unfashionable outfits that could potentially fall apart after one washing, that would just be a non-issue from a public good/public policy perspective. Unfortunate.

  • http://twitter.com/seylulleyl Ahmad Alhassan

    A society that uses so much “self-storage” space in spite of the biggest houses is over stuffed & over stressed,Ahmad Al-Hassan TheOriginalAmEd.blogspot.com

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  • jane

    we over consume, that’s the bottom line, we are a wasteful nation and self-consumed in our petty needs, we need to wake up and stop buying things we DO NOT NEED!!

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  • Brian

    Inexpensive clothing has several effects. It effects sewing culture because clothing is so cheap, demand for cloth increases to make up for their losses. It is more expensive to buy cloth at JoAnn Fabrics (or another retailer) and make clothing, than to buy a new item at a large chain. 

    For those who buy at second-hand stores such as Salvation Army, clothing is more abundant and cheaper. Fewer young people sew because sewing is a luxury that is not always affordable.

    • http://www.evelynrowland.co.uk/ Evelyn Rowland

      i think it may also have to do with the fact that sewing takes time and people want instant. I know it’s not cheap to make your own but there is a part of you which doesn’t get to see the daylight, if all you do is run to the shops. Secondly I think that a lot of kids want what everyone else has, which of course is the exact opposite of the personally hand made!

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  • Paxtriot

    When you reward growth in volume, that’s what happens. Unless we change the social-business interface we currently have, this will keep going until we get extinct. Not soon, but not far either. My prediction for the “middle-class” american in 2062

    - 350 lbs average weight
    - owns multiple models of “mobility-assisted” shopping carts in assorted colors with different features (e.g. soft drink dispenser)
    - 18-ft long SUV to transport said mobility-assisted device
    - 4.5 mpg on coal-liquids fuel
    - 3 times a day change in McClothes
    - 450,000,000$ average credit card debt
    …fill the blanks

    Of course, there may be fewer middle-class people than now, but then again, the owner class likes us plump and sedate rather than hungry and wild…

  • ThePlayChannel Games

    What are clothes?

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  • DC Friend

    There are several places to shop in Washington, DC that are second hand. There’s some shops on U Street. They tend to be pricier. But I have found stuff at pricey second hand shops that have lasted me YEARS, as in ten plus. Then, there is the St Albans shop. There are yard sales and there is of course Craigslist. St Margaret’s church has a yearly sale in October with a great clothes section. This is just the tip of the iceberg, not even having discussed the burbs. Second hand shops have much much better clothes. Better quality and better styles. Because the buyers are better. 

  • DC Friend

    I forgot one of the best – Frugalista in Mt Pleasant. Also – never dry your clothes in a dryer if you want them to last and last. Dryers tear up clothes. Probably washing machines do too, but until I can afford $40,000 to carry someone on my paycheck to do my cleaning, I must use them. Salvation Army and the like were kind of disparaged on this program. Maybe it was the donors who were being criticized for using those places as dumps. But I know people who rely on SA and thrift stores for furniture AND clothing, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Also, thrift stores provide JOBS.

    I would love to shop in the small New York City stores, too. If Washington DC had any good local independent retail, I would shop at those boutiques also. There are one or two in Georgetown but the clothing scene overall in DC is pathetic, as is retail in general. There’s just too much transience here to make an impact. Soil is always getting disturbed, so we have overgrown weeds now, and not the wonderful flowers.

    Finally, the guests said there is no mid-level clothing retail, but I have no idea what they are talking about – Banana Republic? Hello? Ann Taylor? Anthropolgie? Lots of “mid-level” retail. Yes, like the guest said, the design and quality are lacking, but the volume is certainly there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507369664 Eva Bowering

    I am a owner of a vintage clothing store in Toronto, ON.I am 27, so a young business owner who grew up after the 80′s (a millennial of the “Girls” generation).A generation of which I would agree have not seen quality clothing at least being mass produced. I grew up in a lower class household. My grandparents were from the Depression era, and I was greatly educated by my parents about consumption and they regularly shopped at thrift stores as I was growing up. It was always apart of my life, and I easily realized the differences in quality vs. quantity through this. What’s talked about here was instilled at a young age on me and increased my interest in vintage. No matter where you’re living I am sure you have a vintage store (not Salvation Army, not Goodwill). We are the ideal middle men in this situation where we offer quality clothing which you can have altered to make more contemporary, while being unique, not made in China and you support small/local business. These are really the places you should be shopping at. I don’t wish to be impartial, and will gladly admit that the vintage community is competitive because even the quality stuff is running out. Which really does come down to how we will choose to having more middle market clothing. But there are TONS of great people taking clothing and re-purposing it and there are a ton of great local business and collectives you could surely be shopping at to fulfill clothing needs. These truly support a local economy and give jobs to people like me who struggle finding jobs in a recession. This is how I have made a living, and not a big one but enough to sustain on. Also, please reconsider asking for deals at vintage clothing stores. One pet peeve is the fact that because most customers are used to shopping in malls they expect because clothing is used you should be paying bottom of the barrel with us as well. Not the case. You’re just hurting the business when they give you a additional discount on your vintage clothing for no real reason. Please think twice about where your money is going!

  • http://www.JunoAndJove.com/ Jobo

    Elizabeth’s book is a valued service to modern life. We, at JunoAndJove.com consistently have the mission to offer stylish and sustainable alternatives to the ‘fast fashion’ industry. It is, indeed, a challenge to find beautiful items that are not only affordable to our customers, but can also be priced with fairness to the individuals that source the materials, manufacture and deliver the products. We are proud of our designers and vendors whose philosophies align with the respect for resources which we promote. Competing with major brand or ‘cheap chic’ must-have mentality is a daily reality for us.  Obviously, there is need to provide goods for all economic levels, but our hope leads to acceptance of responsibility within the entire garment industry.  As we move towards that change, JunoAndJove.com will continue to help our shoppers discover a fashionably conscious lifestyle.

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Aug 22, 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Florrissant, Mo. (AP)

The National Guard and Eric Holder in Ferguson. ISIS beheads an American journalist. Texas Governor Rick Perry gets a mug shot. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 22, 2014
In this image from video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the ice bucket challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP)

The Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS, viral fundraising and how we give in the age of social media.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

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