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8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion

8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion

Not too long ago, fast fashion megastore Forever 21 announced plans to launch a new brand called F21 Red. Already known for low prices, these stores would offer clothing at costs that make Goodwill seem pricey — jeans for $7.80, tanks from $1.80 to $3.80. How can a retailer sell jeans for $7.80 and still make money? You don’t want to know, but it’s vital that you find out. All of those inexpensive finds might seem easy on your budget, but the world is paying a high price for fast fashion.

1. Fast fashion exploits overseas workers.

Remember the boycotts against the Gap and Nike back in the 90’s for using sweatshop labor? Today, business practices have gotten even shadier — and perhaps because clothes are cheaper, shoppers seem to care even less. Fast fashion stores are particularly culpable here, due to their drive for lower-than-ever prices and the frequency of their demand for new goods.

Back in the day, companies ordered clothes for each season. (This is still the way most high fashion labels work — the clothes that are on the New York runways in October showcase what will be available for spring of the following year.) Garments might take up to a year to actually be produced, and if an apparel company wanted something faster, they’d have to pay up.

Now, fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara introduce new styles as often as every two weeks. Practically as soon as photos from fashion week go up online, there’s an immediate chain reaction of fast fashion stores rushing to duplicate the trend. How do they do it? By subcontracting manufacturing overseas to the lowest bidder — generally in countries that already have some of the leanest production costs on earth. Rather than having long-term relationships with the factories, companies are comfortable with abrupt break-ups — so if they want something faster, the factories have to keep up or lose their contracts.

The push to quickly create clothing that costs buyers as little as possible leads, predictably, to factories that put production schedules and companies’ demands ahead of safety or workers’ rights. This was highlighted by the catastrophic Dhaka fire in 2012 and the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed a combined total of over 1,200 Bangladeshi apparel workers and injured many more. The faulty wiring, lack of exits, crowded conditions, and poor construction are reminiscent of New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. But that happened in 1911. It’s 2014.

Why is so much clothing manufacturing is going on in Bangladesh? Mainly because rising wages and inflation in China have made producing clothing there prohibitively expensive for manufacturers who seek to feed U.S. tastes for ever cheaper clothing. It won’t stop there, either — U.S. News recently reported that the Gap is looking to move some production to Myanmar (a country not exactly known for a stellar human rights record), and H&M is expanding to Ethiopia.

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2. Fast fashion contributes to the decline of U.S. manufacturing.

Politicians and pundits often the lack of U.S. manufacturing jobs that pay a living wage, allowing people who maybe don’t have a college degree to support themselves and their families. When people ask where the “good jobs” have gone, one answer is well, we can’t have decently-paid factory work and shirts that cost less than $5.

According to Northern California public radio station KQED, in the 1960’s — when roughly 95% of clothing manufacturing was made in the United States — the average American household spent over 10% of its income on clothing and shoes (like $4,000 in today’s dollars). Your average American shopper bought fewer than 25 garments per year.

Now, all of those figures have flipped. Today, less than 2% of all clothing is manufactured in the U.S. The average household spends less than 3.5% of its income on clothing and shoes (less than $1,800). The most shocking number: Now, your average American shopper is buying roughly 70 garments per year. That’s nearly 3 times as many items as 50 years ago — and yet our annual household spending comes out to less than half of the amount spent in the 60’s.

Though clothing design and marketing still generally happens in the U.S., from the 1970’s onward more and more apparel manufacturing went overseas (and in case you forgot how that went, scroll back up to item one on this list). To maintain their profit margins while feeding appetites for inexpensive clothing, manufacturers have country-hopped to wherever can provide the lowest costs. You can guess how well U.S. factories have fared. Given the higher cost of manufacturing in the states, today only about 150,000 apparel manufacturing jobs remain. Those workers make about 38 times the wage of their Bangladeshi counterparts, so yes, clothing that is legitimately American-made is not going to be that cheap.

3. Fast fashion also exploits U.S. workers.

That said, apparel manufacturing in the U.S. isn’t all decent wages and reasonable working conditions. It’s mostly neither of those things. Sweatshops absolutely exist, particularly in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, and it’s not uncommon for these to be contractors manufacturing clothing on behalf of fast fashion chains.

In particular, fast fashion behemoth Forever 21 has been the subject of several lawsuits related to conditions in Los Angeles factories that make their clothing (there’s even an Emmy-winning documentary, Made in LA, that looks at the struggles of the immigrant workers to gain basic rights). The New Yorker reports that in 2001, the company was sued on behalf of workers who worked well over full time while earning much less than minimum wage in grotesque conditions. How did the clothing chain respond? They said they couldn’t be held responsible for their contractors’ practices and filed defamation lawsuits against the groups that organized boycotts of the stores. (The dispute was eventually settled with the company agreeing to help activists but refusing to admit wrongdoing.)

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But then virtually the same allegations cropped up in 2012, this time brought about following a multi-year investigation by the Department of Labor into Los Angeles sewing factories. The federal court issued a subpoena, then sued, then ordered Forever 21 to hand over records documenting workers’ hours and compensation. The workers in these factories are often unskilled recent migrants, who may be undocumented and/or unable to speak English. Their precarious status is something that unscrupulous manufacturers can exploit — and that’s how you they can be paid even less per hour than the cost of your $5.80 miniskirt.

4. Fast fashion is environmentally disastrous.

“Buying clothing, and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable,” says Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. In her book, Cline documents the numerous tolls that textile manufacturing takes on the earth. Though in the U.S., textile manufacturing faces greater regulation to make it less destructive, again, most of the manufacturing takes place overseas where there is much less oversight. Cline cites the stat that fiber production now takes roughly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water.

But it’s not just the resource strain caused by manufacturing — it’s also the issues at the other end, of people constantly getting rid of their used (or even unused) clothing. The Huffington Post reports that the average American throws out 68 pounds of textiles per year — not donates or consigns, straight-up throws in the trash. In case the sheer wastefulness isn’t galling enough, bear in mind that because most garments (especially fast fashion ones) are made with inexpensive, petroleum-based fibers that don’t easily decompose (such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic), they’re going to be taking up landfill space for decades to come. As Cline points out, people generally recycle plastic bottles or avoid buying them in the first place, but people are pretty okay with buying lots of plastic clothing.

Even if you donate used clothes to charity, at this point nearly half of all charitable donations go directly to textile recyclers. On the one hand, yes, a large portion of this is reused in different ways (recycled fibers can be used in stuff like insulation). On the other hand, though, it’s unbelievably wasteful. There’s the use of water, coal, and so on in the manufacturing process. But then there’s also the “downstream” costs, including to the charities themselves, which are forced to spend a considerable amount of money sorting through clothing they can’t use (like ripped, torn, or soiled items) and disposing of it. Fast fashion has even made the textile recycling business more difficult — the lower quality of the clothing, Cline reports, means that recycled fiber is often sold below cost (and for the record, recycled fiber is sold for less than a nickel a pound).

H&M has been faced especially heavy criticism for its espousal of “disposable fashion,” and has done more than other stores to combat that image. They have released the “Conscious Collection,” billed as “sustainable style” and featuring items like a $7.95 tank top made with organic cotton. H&M also now boasts a selection of “premium quality products” (like $99 cashmere cardigans) which cost more and are ostensibly longer-lasting. They’ve also started putting recycling bins right in their stores, which will accept used clothing in any condition.

It’s a nice gesture, but at times the company’s attempts at proving its ethics are ludicrous. For example, H&M has a sponsored story titled “Fast fashion doesn’t automatically mean unsustainable” published in the UK’s Guardian (styled to look like legitimate site content, but paid for, branded, and no doubt heavily vetted by H&M). In the story, the author argues, “…everyone in the fashion industry knows that luxury brands and high street brands more than occasionally use the same suppliers. Factory workers are paid the same salary to produce luxury goods as so-called ‘fast fashion’, and under the same conditions.”

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To recap then, their argument is that factory workers will be exploited no matter what, so might as well go with the cheaper pair of leggings. You can tell yourself that well, you’ll give those leggings to charity, and then someone else will wear them, but given the lower quality and cheap brand, they’re more likely to wind up in a landfill than on somebody else’s legs.

5. Fast fashion can wind up costing you more than “real” clothes.

If you’re on a budget and looking for ways to save money on clothes, one way to evaluate the price of an item is to calculate the cost per wear for each item. You could complain that this is just a trick to make an expensive item seem reasonable, but it’s actually a way to force yourself to think about the effects of your purchase on your bottom line. You need to think about both how often you’ll wear the item, and how long it will likely last.

Say you’re looking for a pair of black heeled sandals. You can buy a pair from Charlotte Russe for about $30. If you wear them just to one party buy them for a special occasion and wear them just for that, that’s your cost per wear right there — $30. Wear them three times, it’s $10. If the cheap pleather cracks, if the heel breaks, if the plastic soles are too worn, that’s the end of the road for those heels. If you’re going to replace them with a new pair, that’s another $30. It would be easy to wind up spending $120 per year on four pairs of the same cheap black heels, with a cost per wear of roughly $10.

Now here’s a different scenario. We’re still looking for black heeled sandals, but say you get them from Cri de Coeur. Founded by two Parsons grads, their vegan, sustainably-produced, and totally stylish shoes retail for around $150 for a pair of heeled sandals. If you wear them the same amount as the cheap heels, they’re only costing you a little bit more per wear — $12.50. But since these are considerably higher quality and will hold up much better, you’re probably going to wear them more. Even if you only wore them 16 times in one year, your cost per wear would drop below the $10 mark. You also don’t need to make those three additional trips to the mall to replace your busted-up heels. Which scenario seems more sensible?

6. Fast fashion’s low quality changes how you think about clothes.

Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, argues that when we buy “cheap chic” clothes at places like Target or Mango, even though there’s not planned obsolescence — the clothing isn’t designed to fall apart (though some have alleged that it is) — we don’t expect it to last. We don’t invest much in it monetarily or emotionally, it’s just to fill the gap (something to wear to that party Friday night) and then its job is done. Part of why Americans toss so much clothing is because we no longer bother to repair a lost button, or resole a worn-out shoe. If clothing feels cheap, fast, and disposable, that’s how we treat it.

In an article on the website College Fashion, after explaining “how Forever 21 works” (i.e., mentioning that unethical labor practices help keep prices low), the author goes on to give tips for shopping at the retail chain. For example, look at the seams: “If the two sides of the seam appear to come apart relatively easily, the thread starts to come undone, or you feel that with a little bit more energy you could rip the item in half, it’s not made well and won’t hold up for long.” Why would you shop in a store where the item literally falling apart in your hands is a likely scenario?

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Cline, author of Overdressed, also notes this phenomenon. She writes that “low prices and fast trends have made clothing throwaway items, allowing us to set aside such serious questions as How long will this last? or even Will I like it when I get home?” For many people, even bothering to return an item that looks less good outside the store is too much of a hassle. But cheap isn’t free. If you’re going to toss your clothes after one wear, you’re throwing money away, too.

7. Fast fashion collaborations trick you into paying for the name.

What used to be mega-events — round-the-block lines for Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, Missoni for Target crashing the big box retailer’s website — are now regular occurrences. Mass market retailers (notably Target and H&M, but also Mango, Topshop, and Zara) regularly trot out collaborations with high fashion designers, giving consumers a taste of what H&M has dubbed “massclusivity,” according to Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. These limited-time capsule collections are designed to do pretty much one thing — send shoppers into a buying frenzy where they don’t even care what they get, they just know they’re getting something with the designer’s name on it.

Sure, that’s not how these brands would describe it. Thomas quotes Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld as saying that fashion isn’t a matter of price, “It’s all about taste.” But how tasteful is waiting in line outside a mall store or constantly hitting refresh on your web browser just to grab something, anything that has a designer’s name on it? Considering that many fashionistas claim that it’s not about the label, it’s about the style, it’s more than a little surprising that these collaborations consistently create such buzz (Joseph Altuzarra coming to Target this fall is all over every fashion mag’s September issue).

Once the thrill of the initial scrum is over though, shoppers are left with items that say Missoni, or 3.1 Philip Lim, or Rodarte, or whichever designer they are. But are they really? Cline notes that actual Missoni dresses, for example, are made in Milan using natural fibers like virgin wool, viscose, and alpaca. Missoni for Target? That would be acrylic made in China. You could argue you’re paying for the design, but realistically, anyone who recognizes the designer is probably also going to recognize that you’re wearing the H&M version, not the real deal. Sure, it’s a lot less than a “real” item from one of these designers would cost… but chances are, it’s also something you wouldn’t even have considered buying if it didn’t have the designer’s name attached.

8. Fast fashion distorts your sense of value.

Though Americans like saving a buck — honestly, who doesn’t? — with the rise of fast fashion, we expect our clothing to cost virtually nothing. The strange thing is that even though we appreciate lower prices on all goods, we’re pretty willing to pay more for certain types of products. Some of the most desirable products — like Apple computers — are literally unavailable at a discounted price, and people still line up every time there’s a new iPhone. A computer or a smartphone is an investment and lasts a while, but think about other things in your life you’re willing to pay a bit more for. A grande latte at Starbucks costs around $4, and you drink it in a matter of minutes (or if you sip, we’ll call it an hour). If you’ll spend $4 on a bit of caffeination, is it really that important that a t-shirt cost only $3? The money you’re saving on that shirt has real consequences — it’s worth the time to reflect on what it truly costs.

Featured photo credit: Mike Mozart via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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How It Leads to Financial Improvement

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

Types of Personal Finance Software

When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

When to Use Personal Finance Software

So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

1. You Have Multiple Accounts

There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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How to Get Started

From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

Final Thoughts

Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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