There has never been a more pertinent time in my opinion to attempt to follow the trails of how our garments are made. It is no secret that cheap imports have swamped the High Street in the past 20 years, but the extent to which they have destroyed home-grown manufacturing is quite shocking resulting in 52% of jobs being lost in the textile industry since 2000. The choice of closing down or remaining competitive in today’s market by relocating to countries where workers put in up to 80 hours a week to earn a pittance is ethically wrong. Clothes in real terms are cheaper than they have ever been at any point in the history of clothing, and in times of deep recession like these, we welcome lower prices, fuelling in return the demand for more and more cheap clothes that barely last a season.
The Dhaka factory disaster in Bangladesh on April 24th may already be a distant memory for some of us but it’s a testimony that too many retailers are taking a hands off approach and turning a blind eye to fundamental safety issues and unscrupulous owners because, what ultimately matters, is the profit margin…and I’m sure Primark still makes a very decent profit on that £2.50 t-shirt that I saw the other day. But how can you sustain such prices when the standard of living understandably rises in countries such as India and China? It seems that the short term solution is to relocate to poorer countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia but what’s next in 20 years’ time?
Can we reverse the process by making manufacturing come back home? Probably not, at least not in comparable terms as we used to know it 30 or 40 years ago. But there are certainly glimmers of hope and small windows of opportunity emerging lately. Mary Portas proved that thanks to unprecedented levels of co-operation between government, suppliers and retailers, that you could promote a British brand of home-made knickers on the basis that we might be prepared to pay a bit more for better quality and supporting home-based industries. Ethical & sustainable home-made fashion has been getting a lot more press in recent years but there is still a long way to go.
So where do we draw the line as consumers? When do we stop giving more importance to the price of an item than its place of origin? Let’s not forget one important consideration: cheap clothes aren’t that cheap after all. The price may be cheap but so are the fabrics and construction methods used, ultimately affecting the overall durability of the garment. We can certainly afford to cut back on how many clothes we buy, how much we consume heedlessly and buy better quality sustainable clothing instead. We may not afford the price tag of some coveted Chanel or Burberry clothes but a well-crafted piece of clothing doesn’t have to be associated with a major Fashion label, nor does it have to be expensive. Simple economics like these might not change the world but there is an extra thrill in knowing your pound, dollar or euro is supporting home-based products. We already do it in food…why not translating this into fashion?