First World Privilege
Leave your politics at the door and let’s discuss things on a purely human level. There is no doubt that we have a huge income disparity and poverty problem in the United States that certainly must be addressed. At the same time, if we take a step back and compare ourselves globally, the First World Privilege is our reality. This privilege for most of us is a result of simply being born at the right place at the right time. Essentially the point here is if you are reading this, you are privileged enough to have access to a computer whereas many people in other parts of the world do not even have access to clean drinking water. This privilege spans many things such as financial opportunity, religious, and political freedom that do not exist in other areas of the globe. If we focus on the financial privilege, consider this; our bottom 5% in the US live like 71% of the global population.1 On the other end of the spectrum, Americans hold 41.6% of the global wealth.2 First World Privilege not only provides us opportunities to excel, but conversely provides opportunities for us to live in a world of excess too easily. This excess is all around us; excess in food, particularly how much we take and throw away, to even excessive information overload, which keeps us glued to our phones. The excess in particular we want to discuss here is excessive purchasing, specifically clothes. We are certainly not the first to scrutinize the world of “fast fashion” but would like to emphasize a perspective that those of us who are privileged have more power than we think and are the ones negatively impacting those in the Developed World without even knowing it. As a society, we really need to start thinking like Global Citizens and understand what is outside our bubble.
How We Buy, How We Waste
A study of 2000 women in the UK has found that on average, women only wear a garment 7 times before throwing them to the back of the closet or discarding them.3 The average American discards 82 pounds of textile waste a year.4 Think about the environmental waste and carbon footprint that results and the subjecting of workers to dangerous conditions. How can we forget the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 in Bangladesh that left 1130 dead because the workers were forced to continue working under dangerous conditions?5 Fast fashion is dangerous on so many levels to our society, environment, and ultimately even our wallet. Yes, we said wallet. Although there are sources that say Americans spend a lot less of their income on clothing than they did decades ago, we question what is really the Total Cost of Ownership of those cheap garments to the consumer?
Buy Better, Fewer Pieces: Make an Impact
We are here to make the case to buy less clothing and guess what, we are owners of a clothing line. Logically speaking, if you go buy a shirt for $10, you have to imagine how much income the person who stitched it made after material costs have been accounted for? Was the person who stitched the garment paid properly for this labor-intensive work? Prior to that, what about the people that produced the fabric itself? Now after you receive the finished garment, how many times will you really wear it before you trash it? It is not a secret that fast fashion is of poor quality and is not meant to last after a few washes. It is better to live with fewer, but better made, pieces in your closet.
We recommend watching the Tedx Talks “10 item wardrobe” that the French adopt.6 Ten items in a wardrobe may be a little too difficult for most of us Americans to jump right into, but the idea is the same. Focus on versatile, timeless, pieces that you can wear repeatedly in many different ways. Clothes that are properly designed in a thoughtful way with better materials fit better and will last longer. Getting ready in the morning is suddenly not a burden. Looking polished with better quality clothes is empowering.
Cost – Yes, the up-front cost to purchase quality garments is higher, however it is cheaper in the long run. The Total Cost of Ownership of buying better, fewer items is something to really think about. Buying a $200 dress is cheaper over the course of 2 years, if worn 3 times a month, ($2.77 each use) than a $20 one purchased from Forever 21 that is worn only 7 times ($2.86 each use). This is such a modest example because chances are you will wear that $200 garment for much more than 2 years. One of us still wears pieces from over 10 years ago, which are still in better shape than anything purchased a few months ago from the common fast fashion shops like H&M, Forever 21, or Zara.
Challenge yourself to try it for a few months and you will look better and feel at ease when getting ready.
Our Social Media – Many say that its difficult to keep up with trends and that posting on social media will expose repeated outfits. Really? Who is paying attention to the simple jeans, black pants, or plain black dress you can wear over and over again in different ways? We personally repeat these basics all the time. Go ahead judge us- we don’t care and neither should you. The answer is to start small. Prioritize basics that should be classic and versatile and expect them to last years. Building your staple wardrobe with well made basics such as simple pants, jeans, black dress, simple skirt first will enable you to purchase less and less fast fashion items. After you have your staples, there will be room left for creativity; if you want that artisan made top at a local fair or some interesting jewelry, chances are you will have something to pair it with already.
Call to Action as Consumers and Business Owners
Apparently 97% of clothing is outsourced from the US, whereas decades ago in the 60’s it was quite the polar opposite.4 If we are business owners, we need to change this and investigate the possibilities of sourcing in the United States. Regardless of what some say, it is possible to produce in the US. Be aware that even in the US, we need to ensure sweatshops are not being promoted. If you do produce outside of the United States, work only with those that provide fair wages and safe work environments. Hint: if you are able to sell a dress for $20, chances are you may not be partnering with the most ethical of sources! Someone is being taken advantage of and people deserve fair wages for their skill.
As a consumer, try to make small changes. We promise, you will survive and may actually feel liberated with fewer, better pieces and knowing you are not contributing as heavily to the world of excess.
Take Home Message
It is our moral obligation as those who are fortunate enough with First World Privilege to ensure that our decisions are not knowingly harming those who are less fortunate than us in the Developing World. Start with small changes by at least recognizing what the consequences are from the fast fashion industry. After all, as Americans we are the ones driving that 400% increase in garment demand in the last 2 decades.4 We as Americans hold 41.6% of the global wealth1 and have the most influence both as consumers and business owners. We need to be aware and make ethical decisions, as they will have a ripple effect on people locally and globally, driving industry, and soothing our conscience. We sense a Fashion Revolution coming and we want you to be a part of it.
- Kochhar, Rakesh. “How Americans compare with the global middle class.” FactTank, Pew Research, 9 July 2015. Web.
- Sherman, Erik. “America is the richest, and most unequal, country.” Fortune, 30, September, 2015. Web.
- Morgan, Maybelle. “Throwaway fashion: Women have adopted a ‘wear it once culture’, binning clothes after only a few wears (so they aren’t pictured in same outfit twice on social media).” DailyMail.com, 9 June 2015. Web.
- The True Cost. Morgan, Andrew. Untold Creative LLC, 2015. Documentary Film.
- Scott, Jennifer L. “The ten-item wardrobe.” Tedx Talks. Web. 30 September 2014.