Why are my clothes so cheap? Fashion's dirty (not so) little secret

While shopping, who doesn’t love a good deal? Hard to walk away from a 70% off discount right - don't we all love buying t-shirt for Rs 300 or a jacket for Rs1000. But do we ever stop and ask ourselves, how are my clothes so cheap? We've seen the insides of the fashion industry, and we're here to tell you why

Fashion is cheap because the people who make your clothes are underpaid


Many fashion brands assure us that their workers are at least paid the minimum wage. But does minimum wage guarantee decent life above poverty line? Not always. Economists have defined another term, called living wage which is the minimum amount someone needs to earn to pay basic expenses. But in Manufacturing countries, the minimum wage is 1/2 to 1/5th of living wage. So in essence. costs of manufacturing are diminishing, not because of technical innovation but they’re borne by someone else in the developing world – working in poor conditions. In other words Your clothes are cheap because minimum wage doesn’t guarantee a decent life.


That’s not all. Fashion companies also engage in practices that are bad for environment. How? By Volume.


More more more: The Fast fashion mentality that harms the planet


For fast fashion companies to be profitable, huge amounts of clothes are produced to increase factory utilization and reduce per unit costs of raw materials. This makes clothes cheap for consumers who shop for more than what they need – leading to the 'shop till you drop' mentality. These clothes are disposed without being worn, in fact, the average item is worn only 7 times before being disposed. And not just that, many of these clothes are synthetic, take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and end up polluting our landfills and oceans .

This is the hidden cost of fashion. Low wages, high volume, over consumption, and overpollution.

So what now?


It may seem like a Herculean task to improve environmental and labor practices. But small steps can help. Next you go shopping for clothes and see a tempting deal, think of the human and environmental cost, and ask yourself: do you really need it? And is there a more ethically and sustainably produced option? Chances are there is. Align your spending with your values and support sustainable / ethical brands. The needle will move.

The data for this post was taken from:

- The True Cost, Documentary Film by Andrew Morgan (2015)

- A New Textiles Economy, McArthur Foundation Report (2017)

- Vox Article (2019) https://www.vox.com/2019/9/12/20860620/fast-fashion-zara-hm-forever-21-boohoo-environment-cost

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