The High Price of Cheap Clothes

May 24, 2011 2:12 PM ET
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The High Price of Cheap Clothes

From Glenn Croston's blog post at Ecopreneurist

Most of us get a thrill from finding cheap clothes. Money is tight for plenty of people these days and spotting that cheap dress or shirt can feel like finding buried treasure but the thrill is all too fleeting. Cheap dress shirts or dresses come with a hidden high price if they aren’t made well, don’t fit, and don’t last. Cheap clothes can come with an environmental cost from wasteful and dirty mass production, and a human cost as well from poor treatment of workers who make them. Taking a broader view, cheap clothes are not always the best value.    Hooked by a low sticker price, it’s easy for us to forget the real value that higher quality clothes provide. A well made custom dress shirt will still be in use years after a cheaply made shirt has lost its buttons and come apart at the seams. The cost of frequent replacement is one clear way that cheap clothes cost more than you think. And a well-made shirt will also look better and feel better to wear, which must be worth something as well.    The environmental cost of low quality is not always obvious, in part because the manufacturing often takes place in far off locations and all we see is the shirt in the package. The production of fabrics and clothing has historically taken an environmental toll in the form of wasted fabric, discarded clothes, and polluted water, leading to growing interest in sustainable fashion. These environmental costs of cheap clothes are not included with the shirt inside the package we buy, or we’d be more likely to realize the high cost of cheap clothes. But just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean that these costs aren’t real.   And there’s often a significant human cost that comes from making cheap clothes. Millions of textile workers around the world endure poor working conditions for long hours and little pay, with sweatshop conditions still prevalent in some parts of the industry.    Taking all of these costs into account should help us see the value of higher quality clothing, particularly when it can be produced for a reasonable price such as with Solosso, a producer of men’s made to measure shirts.    Solosso specializes in producing high quality men’s custom dress shirts starting for $89, giving each consumer the opportunity to create just the shirt they are looking for, tailoring the product for their own unique needs and tastes, as opposed to mass produced goods where standardization and cost reduction are the focus. You’re happier, and with less waste as a result, the world is better off.    Shirt wearers everywhere can go to the Solosso website and hand pick their own fabric, design, collar, buttons, then submit the shirt for hand production by an experienced tailor. Since shirts are made from quality materials, according to each person’s specifications, they should be higher quality and last longer.    The production method Solosso uses for their hand-made quality dress shirts also reduces their environmental impact and boosts wages and working conditions. The cotton they use is not yet organic, but still cleaner than most conventional cotton still, with reduced but not eliminated pesticide use, for example. They are working to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint, and to use sustainable packaging. Solosso doesn’t claim to be perfect, but they are transparent and working to make progress, which counts for a lot.    The founder of Solosso, Severin Jan Ruegger, sees a demand for a return to quality, from many perspectives. “After the fast fashion trend in recent years, many consumers are rediscovering timeless quality clothing,” said Jan Ruegger.  “I see a particularly strong demand for affordable high quality products that can be tailored to the specific preferences of its wearer. These are the products that consumer will keep and value for years to come.”   These shirts may not be the cheapest shirts you can find, but there’s more to value than being cheap. And with the cost of cheap goods so high for people and planet, we cannot afford many cheap shirts.   You can find more about Solosso at   Glenn Croston is the author of "75 Green Businesses" and "Starting Green", helping businesses to start green and grow green at


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