The low prices of high-street chains may look like a bargain but fashion claims its victims elsewhere. Before you invest in any more wardrobe additions, the question to ask is whether your wardrobe can handle it. British closets are suffering from their own obesity crisis. Women now buy twice as many clothes as they did a decade ago, and men are not far behind, which provides some explanation as to how 900,000 tonnes of textiles find their way into UK’s landfills each year.
Since the late Eighties, the price we pay for womenswear has dropped by nearly 40 per cent and menswear by more than 10 per cent. If you’re still looking at these design-savvy bargains and asking how they manage it, the truth isn’t very pretty. As one industry insider puts it, manufacturers and retailers are involved in ‘chasing poverty round the world’. Consider the lot of a garment worker in one of the 160 countries which furiously compete to export fashion goods for just 30 of the richest nations. Then add China to the global fashion equation – Chinese factories undercut other competitors by around 60 per cent, and provide one-fifth of Europe’s clothes – and low-cost fashion is quickly explained.
Naturally, retailers attribute the low price of this season’s skinny jeans or metallic handbag to economies of scale: Asda, for example, can sell 7,000 pairs of £7 trousers and 1,800 of its £23 jackets in just one week. This leads to a pro-bargain fashion argument based on the democratisation of style. But the ties between cheap fashion and garment workers subjected to classic ‘sweatshop’ conditions cannot be severed. Millions of these workers are still children, overtime is mandatory (and unpaid) and attempts to unionise factories are met with brutality (in China, unions are illegal). All of which, from an ethical perspective, makes the so-called cheap fashion look suddenly quite expensive.
True or False?
1. Only women buy more clothes than ever before in human history.
2. Annually around 900,000 tonnes of clothes are thrown away in the UK.
3. One has to pay less for either womenswear or menswear than in the eighties ultimately.
4. Chinese textile trade is the only reason of the current prices.
5. ‘Sweatshop’ conditions means that the factory workers do love their work as it is so easy that they have fun while working like children in a candy store.
1- F, 2- F, 3- T, 4- F, 5- F
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