Way back in the mists of time, back before I was aware of such things as quality high end selvedge denim, vintage production and weaving techniques trained from generation to generation and ethically sourced materials I used to wear jeans from (shock!), high street retailers. To people not involved or aware of the of the aforementioned things there is probably nothing at all wrong with buying jeans from high street retailers, but there is, and not just for the reasons that might be immediately apparent.
Firstly let me quantify, I know that many of the ideas, concepts and information here is just as relevant to electronic devices, children’s toys and every other item of clothing, footwear and accessories as it is to denim, but this site isn’t about electronics or toys so we always come back to denim. It is a well trodden path, but one worth exploring again to keep it fresh in our minds, that just about all of the worlds clothing is made in countries where people are exploited to work unfeasibly long hours in unsafe conditions for barely enough money to exist so that we in the first world can fill our wardrobes for an increasingly brief amount of time with the constant rotations of the “latest fashions”.
It is also slightly less well trodden but still largely known that the decreasing attention span of fashion conscious consumers, and the rapid availability of cheap clothing has lead to many people in more affluent countries operating a revolving door policy on their closets. From sweat shop to high street to wardrobe to land fill in a matter of weeks. The clothing industry is a monster who exploits the vulnerable, deceives the gullible and is slowly but surely choking the life out of our planet by wrapping it in a sheet of polyester and nylon.
The part in all this not often considered is the effect to the humble customer, the average Jo who’s main consideration is the cost of the item. We who make our purchases in the market of quality denim and work wear should always remember that we are privileged to do so, we are in the top 5% of wealth in the world and even when we consider that we are a little short of funds we should certainly be aware that our standard of poverty is insignificant in comparison to most other human beings. However, even those in countries which are traditionally considered to have a relatively affluent populace the effects of the economic crisis are changing spending habits and forcing consumers , in many cases, to regard price as a superior consideration to quality.
The effect of this is that many consumers are now operating a false economy, the low quality of their purchases leading to them requiring quick replacement, and at the price of high street jeans it will not take many replacements needed before the cost of a good quality, ethically produced item could have been purchased, whose life cycle is far greater than the hastily assembled, poor quality readily available item. Taking it back a few steps and looking again at the ethics of production and sourcing materials, considering the buying power of the major retail chains and the amount of poor quality material being produced using process’s which damage people and the environment, the containers of low grade clothing being produced by the millions to reach ever expanding markets, add this to the self perpetuating problem of consumers feeling forced into a false economy of cheap purchases and you will appreciate the issue at hand.
So what is the answer? It is far from easy, but there does need to be a mind set change, people need to consider that a bargain is not solely based on the price on the ticket of the item, the considerations are much wider. If you are the kind of person who can consider the moral implications of their purchase then this will change your mindset and force you to source things which are ethically produced through the supply chain. However, even if you will only consider purchase price as your deciding factor you have to concede that repeatedly purchasing the same disposable items is not a long term answer, buying items which will remain with you for many years has to be the way to go surely?
Take the average cost of buying a pair of really Japanese or American jeans in the west, I guess we’re talking about around $325 (£215) right? These jeans should last you and still look great after 4 or 5 years, giving you an actual cost of between $65 (£39) and $81 (£49) per year of their life cycle. Now go and take a look at the cost of a pair of jeans from H&M, Next, JCrew, Forever21, American Eagle, Primark or Topshop and consider how many times you have had a pair of jeans from any of these retailers which has lasted longer than a year with regular wear. These are fashion items, made to be throw away rather than made to last, as is the want of modern consumers, but the implications of living like that have dire consequence today and for years to come. I’m struggling to find who is getting the bargain here outside of the faceless corporations marshalling fashion for the masses.