Seams bad: Have the quality of our clothes become worse?

In my college days, I learned to utilise changing rooms effectively in order to get the most out of my limited funds and ensure that my future purchases fit me perfectly. One weekend, I splurged £25 on a vibrant jumper from H&M, which was quite costly for me as a sixteen-year-old. However, this jumper has been a staple in my wardrobe for ten years, owing to the high-quality cotton fabric and the unblemished acrylic design in the centre, which has sustained its form even after multiple washes.

In comparison, I recently bought a black and beige North Face jacket for £100, but the zip broke in a day and the material was too light to protect me from British weather. I also couldn’t return the jacket due to slight stains on the hood. I plan on getting my tailor fix the zip, but it’s absurd how fast the jacket fell apart after buying it.

North Face was established in 1966 with the aim of offering fitting attire for hikers, however, the brand has since undergone a transformation. North Face has earned credibility among the Gen Z demographic, largely thanks to rappers such as Drake and AJ Tracey displaying their apparel in music videos. The high street is adorned with teenagers wearing North Face apparel such as puffer jackets and bucket hats. At the Soho-based vintage store, Dunno Curated, I stumbled upon a bright red North Face jacket from the 90s and the material was heavier, which made me wonder whether the quality of our clothes has declined over the years. Many of us continue to buy from popular brands, whether it is thrifted or bought new. I am not here to disregard buying clothes, but to make better and longer term decisions with each piece we welcome into our wardrobe.

An argument can be made that the decreased quality is a result of our rapid and social media-focused culture, in which designers and retailers feel compelled to produce clothes swiftly to satisfy the impatience of consumers, keep up with constantly shifting styles, and contend with fast fashion companies like BoohooMAN. As a young man, I am the audience of this brand offering stylish attire at an affordable price through their online platform. Nonetheless, their quick production often renders their clothes of subpar quality, compelling one to discard them after only a few uses.

Extensive production of clothes that serve no long term purpose has resulted in heaps of them being discarded, which adversely affects the environment, particularly in Ghana. As a Ghanaian, it is a tradition in the family to send our used clothing to our homeland for our family and friends to resell. Nonetheless, the proliferation of fast fashion has rendered these clothes obsolete. The beaches of Ghana have become a dumping ground for waste disposal, with local residents making light of the situation by referring to the heaps as “obroni wawu,” a phrase in the Twi language that translates to “dead white man’s clothes.”

As per a report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Ghana received more than 65 million tons of previously worn clothes in 2019. Approximately 40% of this amount was not sold and instead thrown away. Fortuitously, the advancement of slow fashion has effectively prevented this situation from worsening.

Slow fashion encompasses an awareness and approach to fashion that considers the processes and resources required to make clothes. It also advocates for buying better-quality clothes that will last longer, and values fair treatment of people, animals, and most importantly, the planet. I assumed purchasing the North Face jacket aligned with slow fashion, however expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. The media makes us believe designer clothes enhance self-esteem and status, yet faulty stitching may render these clothes unwearable after spending a fortune.

There are worthwhile high-end brands out there. For example, Levi’s combines luxury with sustainability as their eco-friendly denim ensures jeans that are useful and stylish regardless of age. Stella McCartney, the creator of high-end fashion that is favoured by celebrities, adopts organic cotton-based production methods to promote environmental prosperity. Furthermore, the fashion brand’s operational history since inception is devoid of using any leather, feather, or fur.

After the North Face incident, I shop for clothing strategically by disregarding brand and price. I take my time in the changing room, channeling my teenage mindset to gauge the fit and feel of clothes. I pay attention to the stitching as smaller stitches are more durable than longer ones – ironically the latter is quicker to produce. Afterwards, I check care labels to preserve my clothes’ lifespan.

The decline of clothing caused by fast fashion should prompt us to alter our shopping and style choices.

Kwaku Aboagye

Kwaku Aboagye

Kwaku is a writer and content creator for Colèchi.

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