For a long time, I’ve been wanting, promoting, and expecting a change in fashion manufacturing and production. The problem is that this way of clothing manufacturing that was so financially profitable caused all other types of clothing manufacturing and production to fall by the wayside. It was like this really cheap way of making clothes that became a behemoth which ate up all the other forms of clothing manufacturing – good and bad. What’s worse is that the consumer got so hooked on the pricing structure that the financiers and investment backers all thought it was the only way to do business. When young designers, in their search to create a model by which employees were paid a living wage and have it a lasting way of doing business, present their case to financial sources, they simply scoffed at it and hit the local Starbucks for coffee to finagle the next season’s fashion at a lower price.
The dilapidated factories, the exposés on the poor pay and slave labor abused in the dangerous working conditions, and even political prisoners forced into slave labor to make clothing across all brands and makes became the normal way of doing business. Even the revelation that prominent companies like Nike, Apple, BMW, Sony, Google, Lacoste, and Nintendo were the beneficiaries of political prisoners like the Uighurs. The Uighurs were a once autonomous ethnic group in China. They are being
persecuted re-educated by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) by procuring them for slave labor and organ harvesting.
For many in the fashion industry, this has gone on too long. Companies like American Giant have been trying to buck this trend of cheap clothing. It’s not as profitable, but it’s far better and far more sustainable. But companies like this are not the norm. They are the exception. They survived and started because of some out-of-the-box thinking either from a financier’s point of view or because the company founders had enough financial backing on their own to start their business.
Driving the trend: the relative stability of upper-middle-class incomes in China throughout the pandemic. Many white-collar workers are able to work and ride out the crisis from home. In contrast, up to 80 million Chinese people, mainly lower earners in services and manufacturing, have lost their jobs this year due to the pandemic, according to the state-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.From Wall Street Journal 8/19/2020
So those who have suffered the most are those who have the lowest-paying jobs which are mostly those working in these fast-cheap fashion factories. Most of these jobs are not only lost temporarily but lost forever. This not only includes the fast-fashion manufacturing but the knock-off factories which provide a huge drag on original successful designs as well as the old standards. IOW, if you have designed a look, garment, and/or accessory that has become popular, then you can demand a higher price for it, except when copies of that design end up on the streets at a fraction of the price which the original designer produces the item.
New businesses and alternative prospects in retailing, which have been on the fringe (to make fashion and retail just as affordable as the maligned fast-cheap fashion business model), are now being embraced on a broader scale. Instead of dumping unsold items, some luxury retailers resorted to destroying their luxury goods to prevent them from ending up in the resale and budget shops, thus destroying their luxury status. Retailers like Selfridges in the UK (Selfridges is one of the top department stores like Harrod’s or Fortnum and Mason’s) are embracing selling concepts like certification for materials. This certification will tell consumers where the contents are from and how sustainable the products, manufacturing, and sources are. Another selling concept is circularity, which is the resale, rented, and/or repaired market, to get away from the fast-cheap fashion business model.
Reselling is the easiest to carry off. Online merchants like Vestiaire and peer-to-peer reseller Depop have made entire businesses out of it. Others have embraced, such as Farfetch, which reckons the luxury resale market is worth more than $24bn and growing f our times as fast as primary sales. Second-hand goods appeal to bargain seekers and eco-warriors alike. Making a new pair of jeans and T-shirt can use up to 20,000 litres of water, according to UK NGO Waterwise, enough to grow 70kg of potatoes.From Financial Times (a UK publication)
With the refusal of closed or closing stores to accept the clothing shipments, these manufacturers were forced to close. This caused a whole industry to collapse as these manufacturers had no means of recourse for the payment of the goods they had made. The low-cost production did not include safety nets like legal-recourse contracts or sustainable wages to their employees. Thus they had no alternative than to quit and close their manufacturing business. Even
Today, there is very little replacement or a come-back scenario for these manufacturers. The process has become so toxic that to rebuild this fast-cheap fashion process again would be hugely unprofitable and enormously unpopular. This creates a massive void in the clothing retail industry. With major high-end stores closed or in bankruptcy, no one is safe. And that means the once almighty behemoth fast-cheap fashion industry is just as much at risk as to the other clothing retailers.
With the dearth of shopping stores growing daily, Steinmart and Bed, Bath, and Beyond are some of the more recent closures, the consumer is going to be faced with some serious decisions about where to get clothing? The shopping mall may be open, but there will be fewer and fewer stores there to shop in. And that’s not very far off in the distance.
Here’s the real question consumers will be forced with. First, there won’t be much available in the fast-cheap fashion category (those factories are mostly shut down and gone now, and the ones who aren’t gone are on a limping leg) so the output from those who are left will be minimal at best. Second, the product that will be available is a more sustainable and durable product at a much higher price – close to 5 to 6 times what the consumer was used to paying for. As an example – take the photo below.
A classic white blouse – who doesn’t want one and who doesn’t need one. The consumer will be faced with two choices: the one on the left for $118.00, or the one on the right for $10.99. The only problem is that the one on the right will be available in a size 22 and a 2 and that’s it, and won’t be restocked for six weeks. The one on the right will last for 10 years, and will be in your size and fit like a dream and will be made more durably and sustainably. The price is about ten times higher, but which one will the consumer purchase? This is the price barrier that a more sustainable and durable garment will have to undergo to be sold.
This is going to be immensely confusing for the consumer. For three decades the consumer has been told to buy, buy, buy because it’s so cheap, you can afford to wear it once, twice and throw it away. Those clothes won’t be available anymore, and the once high-price clothing that was drummed out of business in the 90s, 00s, and 10s is all that will be available. It will be the quality item that is available but not the cheap item. This is going to be hard for the consumer cause that quality item will be a lot more expensive – a lot more expensive, and there will have to be a budgetary adjustment on apparel purchasing in the future.
That is, unless…..you knew it was coming….you sew! That’s right. That quality item that we make for $15 to $25 is now going to be sold for $100 and up. Sewing becomes a real alternative again.
The under-valuing of sewing as a life skill has led to other unforeseen consequences. The consumer has ended up being duped and lied to. This has continued for so many decades that a return to more rational pricing and selling parameters will be shocking to the consumer. In many ways, the consumer is already feeling that shock. But for me, more than the economic impact is the educational skill set that can and will again value sewing as the knowledge which will be required, sought after, and used in the future.
Less you think that this folly or something from someone’s imagination, let’s compare clothing costs to the cost of gasoline and a loaf of bread. I purchased a Yves St. Laurent blouse in 1989 for $189.00. I thought it was pretty expensive, but I still have the top today. I keep it cause it’s YSL and because it’s still fashionable and it’s still wearable. If I were to purchase that top today compared to the cost of living for the last 30 years, it would cost about $400. I wouldn’t pay that today, I would go out and buy the fabric and make it for $100 today, because I can and because I can tweak it in a myriad of ways that will make it far better than anything I can or would purchase. Back then I wasn’t sure I could make it, so I bought it. But it’s cost me $6/year which is a pretty good price for a garment. This is why buying durable, sustainable clothes is cheaper than purchasing fast-cheap fashion.
In the last 30 years, having clothes made by slave labor has meant that clothing has not kept up with the rest of the commodities that we purchase. There will be a huge learning curve here. Yes, the laborers who made the clothing were paid, but not even a living wage.
What excites me about this change, and yes it comes with pain, and yes there will be closures, is that sewing will once again be a valued skill. The whole idea of making something for oneself or one’s family becomes not only doable but a viable alternative to purchasing quality, durable and sustainable clothing. Yes, we can purchase clothing in the future, but there won’t be this throw-away purchasing. It will be more thought-out and careful about what is purchased and what is not purchased and even what is made.
It will take a while. First what has to happen is sticker shock, and it’s going to be a hum-dinger. After that, will be a lack of supply – mostly of the cheap-fast fashion. After that, consumers will be looking for alternatives to purchasing clothes. Although part of that is happening now with folks not able to shop or getting things online and then messing with them a little, the real push won’t come till after stores open, and the full effects of the breakdown of the fast-cheap fashion industry are felt. This may take as long as a year but it will happen. And in some cases, it’s happening right now. You can hear the worry and cry in some people’s voice when you are reading in the Twitter cesspool and Facebook about “Stores are closing! Where am I going to get my clothes?”
When stores and the fashion industry wake back up after this lockdown, then the first thing that will happen is that the in-stock products will run out and stores will start ordering more, only to find the fast manufacturing and shipment, will be non-existent or at the best/worst (depending upon your point of view), slow and not very reliable. And although they will get products, it will be a lot like the grocery stores are right now – half full, unreliable shipments, and stock that is not there. There will be a few lines of manufacture of the “old” kind, but not nearly enough. And although some will try to gear back up to the pre-lock-down level, they really won’t be able to.
It will take some time to get more sustainable products through the production process and then to the consumer. In the meantime, there will always be the hangers-on but like stores that sold gold lamé shoes way past their day, they too will die. But it’s coming. I hope to see substantial changes in 2021, but I’m always advanced in thinking about these things and live with a Casseopia complex (Apollo got mad at her – cause she went back on her word with him – and he cursed her with knowing the future, but no one believing her)!!! And I haven’t even made Apollo mad!!!! Ha, ha!
In 1967, my mother purchased me a $90 camel hair suit. I thought she was crazy at the time. But I went through college and my Mary Tyler Moore days in the big downtown of my metro city, into my early marriage, and finally had to give up the skirt, but kept the jacket another 5 years. That was about 9 years – at $10/year – what a bargain. That suit today would cost $700.00. I’m not sure there are that many consumers who would purchase that today and consider it a good deal. (I wouldn’t because I know how to make that suit today for $100!) That’s the leap of faith that the consumers are going to be asked to make. It’s only the annihilation of the fast-cheap fashion manufacturing line of products that has caused purchasing sustainable and durable clothing even plausible, but it’s coming.
As the price of clothing begins to climb and it will climb a lot, more and more people will begin to turn to sewing as an alternative. It will be on a very basic level at first, and might even be taught more in school – not as a means by which everyone will want to sew, but so that the public can be a much better consumer of clothing. For we sewists, as more people turn to sewing, stores like fabric stores, and sewing stores will begin to become more common. Now this won’t happen overnight and at the least will take 5 years, but it’s coming. The pendulum is swinging back our way!
Back in the 50s and 60s, sewing was a treasured skill and people wanted to know about it. Clothes were much more expensive than they are today, and people wanted to know how to purchase clothing, and that meant they had to know how the garments were constructed. Everything in life is cyclical, and fashion is no exception. What was old, tired, and worn out is now high-fashion, and sewing is about to come into its own again.
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