Rag Trade

Friday, June 15, 2012

Brooklyn-based journalist Elizabeth Cline discusses her new book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion—a look at the downside of inexpensive clothing.

→ Event: Reading and conversation with Elizabeth Cline, hosted by Alison Feldmann of | Thursday, June 21, 7pm | Powerhouse Arena, Brooklyn


Elizabeth Cline

Comments [56]

yoyoMama - LINK from nyc
Here is the transcript from This American Life speaking to the REALITIES we live with regards to "sweatshops"

Jun. 16 2012 01:02 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn,nY

hi, i used to buy high end clothes before my foreclosure in GA. now, when i get something, I go to a thrift shop or the Salvation Army. if you look at the labels,some clothes from the thrift shops are expensive stuff, like from Prada, Armani or Ungaro. Sometimes they are on sale, 59% off. Eugenia Renskoff

Jun. 15 2012 05:40 PM

Great segment!

Jun. 15 2012 02:38 PM
Angela Muriel from Manhattan

Thank you Elizabeth for exploring this topic. We are so over the top in consumerism it is a sport to shop. I have such a minimal amount of clothing friends have poked fun at me for having so little. Just the other day in conversation with my friends 8 year old daughter: Me:" I have 3 pairs of shoes, one are sneakers" She: "THAT'S ALL??!!" This is outrageous to me that even a person so young is so aware and invested in possessions. How much can one have? It blows me away!

Jun. 15 2012 12:07 PM
Eric Odier-Fink from New York, NY

I have been struggling for the past 8 1/2 years running a web site that only sells clothes from unionized shops in the US and Canada, Our jeans, made in a union-shop in Chicago, sell at full retail for $36.00. Less than Levis. Less than most. They last. The myths about cost-quality overseas-domestic sweatshop-union abound. In our experience, even people who call themselves anti-sweatshop activists have never even searched on line for alternatives to sweatshops, with the "exception" of American Apparrel (who are held in questionable view by most anti-sweatshop NGO's).

Jun. 15 2012 11:43 AM
Joyce Antila Phipps from Plainfield, NJ

There are many fair trade and nonprofit companies abroad that produce high quality inexpensive clothing -- marketplace of India is a good example. Look up fair trade clothing and voila! You can buy good quality clothing that makes you feel good to wear

Jun. 15 2012 11:36 AM
brad from brooklyn

I think the point was that if you buy fewer things, you can afford to buy better quality on the ones you do get. As far as how to recognize that something is well made, I think you need to just go look at some better-end stuff- the quality should be obvious once you know what you're looking for. And the 'net is a great place to find out how a company treats its employees, whatever their pricepoint.

Jun. 15 2012 11:32 AM
The Truth from Becky

PPS...WalMart sells American Made clothes, ok now I'm done.

Jun. 15 2012 11:31 AM
The Truth from Becky

Christina, I learned sewing about a 'hundred years ago in middle school, I mean if I take a sleeve off and hem some pants, I have to call out of work for the day!!

Jun. 15 2012 11:29 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

For those of us that seek out American-made goods and, in general, are mindful about where the things we buy come from, there is a great "American List" at that details many manufacturers in our own country.

As someone who is a 24 year old freelancer in NYC, it can sometimes be hard to find what I want at a reasonable price. As mentioned by the show's guest, thrift shopping is a good way to find high quality clothing at a reasonable price.

Also, many small brands that produce clothing locally/in the USA almost always have sales on their products which mark down goods 50% or more. Two brands that come to mind for me are Unis and Left Field. Both make quality goods and always have sales. They key here is maybe buying a pair of pants in the summer months, or a sweatshirt when it is too hot out to wear it. But planning in advance and buying goods that will last many many years makes shopping like this worth it.

Jun. 15 2012 11:29 AM
Bonn from East Village

Just got a call from my credit card company, wanting to lower my interest rate if I had more than $3,500 in debt to transfer. I said I pay off my cc at the end of the month, since it's low. He rudely hung up. A little discipline, girl. What does your therapist say about your shopalcoholicism?

Jun. 15 2012 11:27 AM
Christina from Union Square from Union Square

Also sewing is not the worst thing in the world. I've re-done dresses by removing sleeves, had things hemmed, replaced buttons, etc. I guess sewing is one of those life skills that no one knows how to do!

Jun. 15 2012 11:27 AM
The Truth from Becky

"buy my book, so I can keep shopping!"

Jun. 15 2012 11:26 AM

The flip side of having too much is knowing how constructively to give some away. Our building in Washington Heights has partnered with, a joint effort of Housing Works and the City Sanitation Department. Next week they will install bins where residents may deposit clothes for recycling. The bins are monitored by our Super; when full, he calls re-fashionNYC and they arrange for a pick-up within 5 business days.

Jun. 15 2012 11:26 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Wait- so she just agreed with Jon's comment that price does not necessarily denote quality...except with "luxury" brands...since mid point quality items are not being produced....

But since most people cannot afford "luxury" brands...I guess she's saying that we should stick to buying cheap clothes contradicting what she said earlier?

I love being told I have to shop more responsibly by someone who can afford to own by her own admission at least "30 pairs of shoes"....

Jun. 15 2012 11:26 AM

Any suggestions for folks who wear odd sizes and don't usually find much that fits at thrift shops, etc?

Jun. 15 2012 11:25 AM

I'm a pretty picky buyer, and the quality of most garments at a place like H&M is just incredibly low. After several summers of being disappointed, I splurged on some shirts from a local NYC clothing manufacturer (outlier, a bike clothing company, and it's been a really nice change. They're well-made, fit, and are wearing a lot better than anything I've worn from the big guys, even if they cost five times as much.

The sewing comment might not be practical as far as making your own clothes, but it definitely makes you more aware of construction and detailing, as well as empowering you to repair (or customize) something when it starts to wear out. Even just a couple classes or making some potholders or a shopping bag is a great introduction; you don't have to make ball gowns to understand how it works.

Jun. 15 2012 11:24 AM

Don't buy cheap -- buy better quality clothes on sale! NYC is the discount capital of the world! Look for sales or purchase off the sale rack at dept stores. I've acquired some great stuff on sale. Also look for smaller shops and get to know the owner -- they'll look out for you. BTW, vintage is not necessarily cheap. Even thrift stores require savvy shopping to make sure you're not overpaying. Last year I cleaned out my closets and gave a ton of stuff to Housing Works -- felt great!

Jun. 15 2012 11:24 AM
Maria from Brooklyn

You can't, at the same time,

1. Have more expensive clothes,
2. Pay higher wages abroad,
3. Have more American garment workers and,

4. Keep jobs going in the foreign world.

Has the author been to Bangladesh, to China? Does she know the job alternatives that people have in other countries? The Dominican Republic is not Bangladesh. Maybe she should learn a little bit more about developing countries.

Jun. 15 2012 11:24 AM
rj from prospect hs

Sweatshops have always been legal osverseas-that was the point. and when unions talk about govmt involvement it's called protectionism and unions are blamed for stopping us from being competitive.

I shop for good quality on sale at end of season and keep for a long time, or go to thrift stores.

Jun. 15 2012 11:24 AM
Catherine Ho from portola valley ca

EBAY. Ebay has high fashion (or good clothes) at a much affordable lower cost, but better selection and better prices than thrift stores. You can also sell after you have gently worn it and want something new. It is a 9%5-99% trusted international trading community

Jun. 15 2012 11:24 AM

Sew your own clothes, and buy my book!

Jun. 15 2012 11:23 AM
AmyMLitt from Astoria, Queens

I'm listening to the Overpriced segment and wanted to respond to Sara, the first caller: there's a stigma against "thrift stores," but in New York City there are a lot of wonderful resale stores that offer lightly used, department store quality clothes at 1/3 the price. Second Time Around is one of my favorites, and I find things there that I get complimented on all the time. You can also consign your own high quality clothes and get some of that investment back.

Also, I have a clothing swap with my friends once or twice a year, which is a great way to get a lot of new clothes for free while cleaning out my closets.

Jun. 15 2012 11:23 AM
Christina in Union Square from Union Square

I know that a lot of people want to look for clothing from companies that get their clothing that aren't from sweatshops from people paid from sustainable wages, but a lot of companies (like the clothing company I work for) also donate quite a bit to charitable causes within the US. Our company just bought school uniforms for an inner city school in NJ and is collaborating extensively with several public school programs across the US.

Jun. 15 2012 11:23 AM
Joseph from Long Island City

I do feel that my clothes purchased inexpensively at Target is just as reliable and long lasting as some much more expensive similar articles purchased elsewhere. I used to shop for my suits in boutique clothiers and would spend a lot of money only to have the suits wear out in the same amount of time as suits purchased in suit warehouses. Same for casual clothes purchased at Target and Khol's etc. The only thing that drives me to spend more on similar clothes is fashion, and I am just not that interested in using my money for fashion.

Jun. 15 2012 11:22 AM
Ellen from Brooklyn

My mother always told me to buy fewer, better-made garments so I would have them for a long time and they would always look good. And I've mostly done that.

However, this does not satisfy younger shoppers' desire for clothing that is of-the-moment; the lower-priced stores seem to have the most fashionable, trendy clothing, almost designed to last just one fashion season.

How does one combat that trend? How is one to tell if a higher-priced garment made in India is leaving less of a damaging footprint than the cheap garment made in Bangladesh?

Jun. 15 2012 11:22 AM
Amy from Manhattan

On cotton vs. polyester: now there are clothes made of organic cotton & recycled polyester. You can find online catalogs for them. Or go to thrift shops & avoid the environmental impacts of buying either kind new.

Jun. 15 2012 11:22 AM
Marie from Brooklyn

The clothes I bought 10 years ago from JCrew and Banana Republic are still with me in few cases (I am not an over consumer and fall in love with favorite items). They were remarkably well made. Now, when I shop at the same stores, some of those new clothes show serious wear after a few months. the Tshirts fall apart. They are made differently, and badly. They are also all made in China.

Jun. 15 2012 11:20 AM

Those of us who have experienced the trauma of bedbugs aren't as enthusiastic about thrift stores these days.

My general rule is to invest in good jeans and a few other pieces, then augment with moderately-priced smaller designers/companies, then a few disposable summer tops (I certainly don't buy 64 pieces a year!).

Never cheap out on quality shoes, especially if you live in a city and rely on public transportation and walking!

Jun. 15 2012 11:19 AM
YoyoMa from garment dist. nyc

Last word...I promise...Also, storage industry expereinced a BOOM during the cheap-cash era. American bought and over bought on cheap credit and got it stored away for cheap every month. You can do a whole month long sereies on over consumption and the media and USA and trends.

Jun. 15 2012 11:19 AM
ursonate from Boston, MA

sewing doesn't necessarily take that much time if you do simple things - dresses, skirts, etc. I made a coat once and it took forever! But I was so happy when it was completed and it was fun to see people's reactions when i told them i'd made it.

Jun. 15 2012 11:19 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

What's with these women and their speech always sounding like a question? Fellow ladies, speak with authority!

I personally stay away from cheap and plentiful clothing and shoes; if you buy a pair of shoes for even less than $50.00, you can expect that those puppies are going to fall apart within a few weeks of heavy wear. And cheap clothes are cut horribly, and the fabric is thin and not durabl

I buy 2 pairs of very high-quality shoes probably every 4 years, and think it's worth it to spend $300.00 on shoes that fit, are made well, and that will last for years. I maybe mix in some cheap sandals during the summer, but I try to make it a point to buy quality that will last longer.

Jun. 15 2012 11:19 AM

i think of this is as a womens issue. do men have this issue

Jun. 15 2012 11:19 AM
Jonah from Bklyn

Buy vintage!

Jun. 15 2012 11:18 AM
Sandra from New York

The Clearance Racks at the better stores will garner great deals. Talbots, my favorite, regular price dresses $129 -$179 just had all their dresses on sale $49 each.

Jun. 15 2012 11:18 AM
Suzan Bruner from Hell's Kitchen

I am unemployed with a closet full of size four Armanis. I've also gained a lot of weight and am now a size 12. So now I'm broke and shop at Joe Fresh, H and M and all the other cheapies. Yes I shop Salvation Army for my wardrobe now. And your idea of sewing is good but I have no money for a machine or lessons.

I was in the fashion business and all my life have bought couture and other high quality clothes. Now I dress like a bum and it's demoralizing.
Also going to Bergdorfs and Bloomies, etc. was a great mood booster so I don't have that pleasure anymore. Boohoo!

Jun. 15 2012 11:18 AM

Don't assume that low wage jobs in Bangladesh are a bad thing. As N Kristoff points out- the only thing worse than a sweatshop is no sweatshop. These jobs help women.

Jun. 15 2012 11:18 AM
Sunny from Williamsburg

Buy vintage clothing, well made, well priced, sustainable. And of course I'll plug my own vintage shop.

Jun. 15 2012 11:17 AM
The Truth from Becky

Seriously..sewing?? Too extreme, it will never work.

Jun. 15 2012 11:17 AM
yoyoMama from garment dist. nyc

BTW: There is nothing normal about cleaning out a store in your shoe size coz it's on sale. That's very abnormal. And why did she mention Michele Obama going out in "cheap" clothing. JCrew makes elegant clothing for everyone. Michele was trying to connect to the ordinary American, not trying to promote people buy out a store in their size.

Jun. 15 2012 11:17 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

First of all, there is an issue of quality. It may be nice not to pay high prices for clothing, but if it is of questionable quality - like KMart or Target clothing - or especially shoes - I wouldn't take them if THEY paid ME.

Secondly, there is something about finding the perfect item at a really good price, and I can do that at any reasonable thrift shop. Even thrift shops carry new/unused merchandise from time to time and the prices there will trump almost any discount store. I paid $13 for my (brand new) wedding dress at Salvation Army.

Thirdly, how many clothes does a person need? My mother had a policy whereby every time she bought new clothes, she gave away that same number of items to charity. Kept her closet fresh and from getting overstuffed and conspicuous consumption never entered into our lives.

Jun. 15 2012 11:17 AM
David from West Hempstead

Jobs in textiles are disappearing because of automation and I don't think we particularly want to bring that sort of low-skill manufacturing back to the united states. It seems like the author here is objecting to globalization.

Jun. 15 2012 11:16 AM
Lauren T from Brooklyn, NY

I was hoping that by "shockingly high cost of cheap fashion" the author meant the moral cost -- cheap labor in developing countries, non-organically grown cotton (which is also a water-hogging crop). Also, why are Americans so greedy? Where did we get this idea that we need 7 cheap pairs of shoes? So impulsive and non-thinking ...

Jun. 15 2012 11:16 AM
The Truth from Becky

Note to self: *write new book about shopping to be released next fall*

Jun. 15 2012 11:16 AM
Donald Mcneil from Poughkeepsie, NY

The guest mentioned buying things that are a little better made. How do you identify or find clothes that are made with better quality?

Jun. 15 2012 11:16 AM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn

One word -- J. Stoop. Go to Park Slope and wander around. You'll find the best clothing at stoop sales or just left on the stoop. Just throw the clothes in the washing machine.

Jun. 15 2012 11:16 AM
Debbie from nyc

When I get a Kohl's coupon for 15% off and feel that I must use it, my mantra is "I save 100% if I don't buy anything." It helps me with the "addiction."

Jun. 15 2012 11:15 AM
yoyoMama from nyc garment dist.

A bit of a tangent:
I have heard the opposite, i thik it was on This American Life, where they spoke about how much the textile industry helps keep young women in developing world off of prostitution. It allows their economies to grow and establish a middle class even on $50 a month. In those countries that's a lot.
There is another side to this story and a reason countries compete over textile jobs. They are extremely poor and need the cash, it's legal and helps establish a women's middle class!
I like the idea of supporting garments made in countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Lesotho and others.

Jun. 15 2012 11:15 AM

Who the heck has time for sewing?

Jun. 15 2012 11:15 AM
The Truth from Becky

Wow, did you just take YOUR irresponsibility, excess and impulse shopping behaviours and make it into a book with an opposing opinion?!!

Jun. 15 2012 11:14 AM

How's about a segment on all the consumer money wasted on all these excess books written on common sense topics.

Kudos to the author though for turning a personal shopping addiction on throwaway clothes into an opportunity to make profit selling throwaway books.

Buy less, go to the library!

Jun. 15 2012 11:14 AM
Jon Pope from Ridge, NY

Are not all clothes made in the same foreign shops with insane mark-up? Is it not true that high price no longer means better quality? Has it not been that way for a while now? So why pay a lot for crappy quality clothes?

Jun. 15 2012 11:11 AM
Richard Binkele from Tarrytown

There is nothing normal about someone with that many clothes. She needs to investigate debtor's anonymous or help for hoarders.

Jun. 15 2012 11:10 AM

i feel this way about food but not clothes or shoes

Jun. 15 2012 11:09 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

"I already have 30 pairs of shoes"??????


Jun. 15 2012 11:09 AM

Now that Information Technology is being marketed as fashion are we witnessing a similar phenomenon with smart phones, etc?

Jun. 15 2012 11:04 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.