Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

To say I read a lot might be the understatement of the century. I read books, both fiction and non-, tons of magazines (hey, even fashion mags count as "reading") and even the old-fashioned newspaper. Rarely, though, do I read a book that causes me to actually change the way I think and act.

This book changed me!

The author's premise is simple. Fashion and shopping have evolved to a place where stores like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M fill their racks with a constantly churning influx of poorly made, super-trendy items. Whereas shopping for clothes used to be seasonal, now it's become constant. Never-ending. There is always something new on the racks and it's so cheap you can shop every week! The clothes are almost considered "disposable"...wear 'em a few times, and toss them in the "Goodwill" pile.

But it feels good, right? What gal doesn't love to be able to pick up something cute and fresh for a bargain price? I do! Or that is to say, I did...

The thing is, this "fast fashion" thing is bad...really bad.
It's bad for the environment, bad for the economy, bad for the workers who make the clothes, and perhaps most importantly, bad for us psychologically...we're like junkies, looking for our next fashion "fix"!

The factories that make the textiles that make the clothes, mostly in China, but increasingly in even-poorer countries like Bangladesh, are completely unrestricted as they belch toxins and pollutants into the sky and pour poisons into the rivers. Most of these clothes are made of polyester and similar fabrics that are all petroleum products. The workers that make the clothes are paid, at best, less than the poverty-level limit set by the World Bank. There are fake "demonstration" factories, clean and cool, that are set up to fool visitors into thinking that the factories are all OK & safe, but they are not. In Bangladesh, hundreds of people have been killed in fires when there were no safety standards set in place. The factories are dangerous, sweltering, and the workers toil seven days a week for a measly wage to make that cute little Forever 21 top.

factories in China are environmental nightmares!
As if that weren't enough, there's another element:  these stores are counterfeiters. Copycats. They copy directly from fashion designers and artists, frequently knocking off entire collections almost identically. Forever 21 has been sued over 50 times in the last few years for copyright infringement. Zara in particular is known for reproducing entire designer's collections, and Urban Outfitters has been alleged to take the work of small, independent jewelry artists and has their items reproduced in overseas factories with no money or credit to the original designer. The copyright laws governing fashion in the US are appallingly weak, and these companies use this to their great advantage. As an artist, I find this especially disturbing!

So this is all really depressing, right? I know! It's awful to hear and makes me want to shut my eyes and ears and block it out. But we can't stick our heads in the sand, ostrich-like, and ignore these horrible facts.

There are things we can do! First of all, get a copy of this book and read it! It's well-written and just detailed enough to get a very complex point across. You can buy it at Amazon: here
If you feel like diving in deeper, the author cites many references.

Next, change the way you shop!! I did!
Buying vintage? Fabulous! Thrift stores? Another great step in the right direction. Most importantly, *new* clothing SPARINGLY and WITH THOUGHT and buy only from responsible retailers! Support designers using sustainable materials. Seek out companies that manufacture responsibly.
$$$$$$$$ We have power...the power of our dollars $$$$$$

I'm not saying this is easy. It's not. I went to the mall the other day, mostly to escape the heat, and let me tell ya...the siren song of those stores was mighty hard to resist. I DID resist it, though...and I'm going to keep trying. Because the health of our country and our planet is more important than another cute dress.


  1. I need to read this book. I love Forever 21 because my wallet loves it. I don't shop there often though, preferring to buy more vintage. I think in this day and age it is really hard to stay away from all this bad stuff, but by simply collecting vintage we are doing a big part.

  2. I agree! I'd love to hear what you think of the book :-)

  3. Very interesting post! I agree with TemperamentalBroad that we're doing good for the planet by buying vintage.

    Nice blog! I just joined, and I hope you'll stop by and visit mine someday soon.

  4. Thanks for the info - I'm going to read the book. I find it almost impossible to buy new things at the mall since I'm always in thrift stores. It's all there!

  5. Do you have the complete collection of Vintage Spoon? You can find it all here!

  6. I read this book and I agree, it's time for individuals to take control of their buying. My motto: Shop Responsibly.