Supporting emerging and small-scale designers costs more than buying clothes at a big retailer like the Gap or H&M. But if you have the extra cash, Erica Cerulo of Of a Kind (a fantastic site) explains why it’s worth investing in some emerging-designer pieces:
If a designer wants something custom-printed with a motif she’s dreamed up herself — something that makes the thing ultra-special — that’s a whole other story that Jesse Kamm (above), who has a cultish namesake line, is game to tell. “I come from a printmaking background and was hand-printing everything myself. When my son was born, I decided to outsource some aspects of my business because I wear so many hats. I found a place in California to do my printing, but it was so expensive. After I create the design, there’s a $300 to $500 setup fee just to get screen made. Sampling is a $75 setup plus a $35 per-color fee and then $5 per yard of fabric you have printed. If a dress takes two yards of fabric, then the print is $10 — and that’s not including the fabric itself or the sewing costs, tags, and whatnot,” she explains. “I visited a fabric supplier who said, ‘Jesse, why is your printing so expensive? We do ours overseas. They don’t have the EPA overseas.’ It was profound. So what you’re not factoring in is the cost on the environment — which will come back to get you. It was so much cheaper that I had to think, ‘Is this that important to me?’ Then I was like, ‘WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? This is all that matters.’” When manufacturing locally, those environmental costs have to be offset at the very least — you can’t just go dumping chemicals in the Gowanus in 2012.
Clothing production costs money, no matter who’s doing it. And if the clothing is cheap to buy, that means that someone else is paying the price — the textile-makers who are working under appalling conditions, the seamstresses who are paid pennies, the environment that’s being destroyed by contaminants and chemicals. Underpaid clothing laborers are disproportionately female, and are also routinely subjected to environmental hazards, sexual harassment and physical assault, with little or no recourse. Cheap clothing comes at a cost.
Of course, the economic realities even in “developed” countries don’t make real-cost clothing an option for many of us. So the point of this post isn’t to say, “Everyone must buy pricey but less exploitative clothing.” Many of us can’t afford that clothing but also can’t go outside naked, so we buy what we need. And large-scale change isn’t going to happen by buying sweatshop-free clothing alone.
But there are a lot of folks who buy far more than what they need, and from exploitative retailers (and I will absolutely cop to being one of those people). For many of us, it is worth taking a few minutes to think through our purchasing decisions. Actual laws obviously need to be implemented to protect workers and the environment, but clothing manufacturers also respond to buying patterns — if enough consumers are willing to shift their purchase patterns, manufacturers will shift their behavior. And articles like this are a nice reminder of what’s behind an $80 price tag — it’s not always just someone looking to line their pockets.
I’ll also put in a quick plug for Feministe friend Kate Goldwater’s store AuH20. All of her clothing is sweatshop-free and affordable — the $10 and $5 racks are always stocked.
Other sustainable fashion suggestions are welcome in the comments.