The Hidden Cost of Cheap Clothes

That three-dollar T-shirt may sound like a bargain, but think again. Our demand for cheap clothes pushes retailers to cut production costs, and that unavoidably leads to tragedies like the recent Rana Plaza horror in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,127 people (2,438 rescued) or the Tazreen Fashions factory fire that occurred in November 2012. Retailers scramble to separate themselves from the disaster, or to immediately establish "victim funds" and make great promises regarding the future, but the cycle only continues.

As consumers, we are caught up in the cheap clothes mindset, but in reality the cost is great. The demand we create is warping economies (Bangladesh brings in $20 billion a year through the garment industry, yet the workers make some of the world's lowest wages - $38/month), causing horrendous working conditions and thousands of deaths. In a Washington Post article, Harold Meyerson wrote, "Making sure that factories have staircases sealed off by fire doors simply wasn't a priority for the global retailers who went to Bangladesh because it was the cheapest place on the planet to make their goods."

And if that isn't enough, we should also not forget the negative effects on our environment.

Producing textile fibers and manufacturing cloth burn considerable quantities of fuel that releases CO2 into the atmosphere. From the water needed to create a garment and the pesticides used to grow the cotton, to the millions of tons of textiles that end up in a landfill, this demand for cheap and disposable clothing is killing the planet.

Take into account the following:

  • Approximately 3-4 pounds of CO2 are saved for every 1 pound of clothing that is spared from disposal.
  • Approximately 0.02 pounds of pesticides are used to produce one pound of new clothes
  • One T-shirt consumes about 700 gallons of water

Simply put, for every 10 pounds of clothes you decide not to buy, you prevent 30-40 pounds of C02 gases from polluting the atmosphere, save 14,000 gallons of water, and avoided the dispersal of a significant quantity of insecticides.

Our consumer-based lifestyle is causing irreparable harm - to human lives and to the planet. What will it cost to finally put an end to business as usual?