The real cost of fast fashion


Portrait of Elizabeth Cline. Photos of Keri Wiginton

Journalist Elizabeth Cline, an expert on sustainable fashion who has long warned consumers about the high cost of fast fashion – producing trendy and cheap clothes – signed up with Northeastern when she decided that awareness was not enough.

The author, who is in Northeastern’s master’s program in global studies and international relations, has been at the forefront of the eco-responsible clothing movement since 2012 when she published her book “Overdressed: The Incredibly High Cost of Fast Fashion”.

The talk detailed the labor exploitation and environmental waste that goes into the production of cheap clothes. Cline has since become a leading expert on sustainable fashion, writing articles and making media appearances to tout sustainable materials and fair labor practices while urging consumers to stand up for their wallets. She discusses her decision to return to school as well as the next steps in her advocacy in the slightly edited interview below.

How did you decide to write about the cost of fast fashion?

In the early years of my career, I became both this environmental activist and a quick fashion addict. I just filled my closet with all these really cheap clothes. It was ironic because I saw myself as a conscious consumer in so many other places in my life, but my closet didn’t have the same amount of thinking.

Was there an “aha” moment when you started questioning the cost of fast fashion?

I had a lot of ‘aha’ moments on this trip, but the first one happened on a day when I walked into a Kmart, and there was a pair of shoes I liked that cost $ 7. I ended up buying all the pairs in my size, I think it was seven pairs. On the way back on the subway, I was carrying this loaded bag of shoes and they smelled a bit like toxic chemicals, and I started to think, “How can a pair of shoes cost $ 7?” Who pays the price?

What attracted you to the North East?

I have covered sustainability and working in the fashion industry and the fashion supply chain for a while, and about three or four years ago I felt I had to shake things up. things in my career. I wanted to get more into the space of change and felt like I really needed an even deeper understanding of the area I’m working in. Northeastern was recommended to me by a good friend of mine, Kathleen Grevers, who works for another nonprofit that works in a sustainable and ethical fashion space.

Did the pandemic play a role in your decision to return to school?

The behavior of fashion brands towards garment workers during the pandemic has really completely changed my life. Virtually all of the big fashion brands tried not to pay their factories for clothes that workers had already sewn. It was a product worth about $ 40 billion, and everyone tried to do it. Zara, H&M, Gap, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hillfiger, The North Face, Timberland, Supreme. All. And for me, it exposed the limits of trying to make changes through writing. I realized that I needed to take more action.

Do you still love fashion?

I love clothes, and I own a lot of clothes. I have a collection of vintage Escada blazers. I’m really into the ’80s and’ 90s power suits, so I like anything that has serious shoulder pads right now.

I think there is this perception that people who work on labor rights in fashion don’t like fashion, but the ethical and sustainable fashion movement is among the biggest and fiercest supporters of fashion. fashion. We get there in part because we love the clothes.

What do you think of the boom in second-hand clothing sales?

The reseller sector is really exciting. There is this huge generational shift in people who are interested in sustainability and understand that their consumption choices are totally tied to the environment. What’s great about the occasion is that it’s affordable and it’s the original version of durability because you keep the clothes out of the landfill and reuse them.

What’s the next step in your career?

I joined a nonprofit organization during the pandemic called Remake as director of advocacy and policy and to be honest he’s made some pretty remarkable progress. It started with the PayUp campaign to get brands to pay factory workers for their orders during the pandemic. We have recovered $ 22 billion from factories, avoided countless layoffs and a humanitarian crisis. It was amazing to see young people on social media, celebrities and people from all over the world participating in PayUp.

What really annoys me is how much these big companies have to be pushed to accept a basic level of responsibility for their most essential workers. This is what keeps me from sleeping at night. Fashion still has so much systemic, long-term, everyday exploitation, and I’m really trying to change that.

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