Quality over Quantity

When I was in sixth grade, I had a substitute teacher one day. She introduced herself and told us she was a retired teacher with expensive addiction, so she subbed when she could. The whole class looked at each other in panic, was the substitute a drug addict!? She then told us she was addicted to fabric. Lame, my twelve-year-old-self thought.

Now that I have inherited my mom’s fabric and sewing addiction, I understand why my substitute needed the extra work. Fabric is not cheap. But, neither is well-made, ethically-produced and durable ready-to-wear clothing. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the clothing in the market does not fit these three criteria. Companies compromise quality in all parts of the clothing supply chain for affordability. As a result, instead of buying a yard of organic soy knit, plus a pattern from a small company and thread for $30.00 to make myself a t-shirt, I can go to H&M and buy one for $5. And, as long as I am only spending $5, why not buy it in five colors?

Quantity Wins in the Short-Run

The average consumer buys high quantities of low quality, cheap clothing. This results in a lower perceived-value of clothing, and a higher rate of clothing waste. The fashion and apparel industries are leading contributors to climate change. They are also riddled with social injustice. One way to stop this industry standard is to increase the value of clothing and decrease the over-consumption of clothing. To tie back to my previous example, once the H&M t-shirt gets a hole, stains, or goes out of style, it will be easy for me to throw or give away. The t-shirt that I made, however, is important to me. I consciously picked out a sustainable fabric and put in hours of work to sew and fit it. I will be less inclined to throw or give it away and buy access t-shirts.

Yes, fabric and DIY garment-making are expensive. However, they result in a closet full of quality, well-made clothing that can be mended and re-fashioned if necessary. This is unique, not only because the clothing is individually made, but also because the clothing was not made using harmful industry standards.

Quality Wins in the Long-Run

I recently made two garments: True Bias’s lander pants and Merchant and Mills’ The All State Shirt as a jacket. For each of these garments, I found the ethical and sustainable ready-to-wear alternative and compared prices.

Mairin in her True Bias Lander Pants
Jesse Kamm Sailor Pants in Natural from jessekamm.world

My Lander Pants are made out of 100% cotton canvas from Robert Kaufman in Ivory. The production of this fabric is not particularly environmentally sustainable; however, it is a very sturdy fabric that will last a long time and will reduce the need for me to buy or make more pants. Since I sewed the pants, the potential for unethical labor practices is greatly reduced. The pattern, fabric, thread and buttons cost me $58.00. The ready-to-wear equivalent are Jesse Kamm’s sailor pants, which are 100% cotton canvas and made in LA. They cost $395.00.

Mairin in her Merchant and Mills All State Jacket
Ilana Kohn’s Mable Crop Jacket. Photo from Garmentory.com

For the All State Shirt, I lengthened the sleeves and used Robert Kaufman’s Linen/Rayon blend. Similar to the cotton, this fabric is not particularly sustainably made, but it is high-quality; and seeing that I sewed it, there are fewer potential labor issues. The supplies for the shirt cost me $57.85. The ready-to-wear equivalent is Ilana Kohn’s Mabel Crop Jacket, which is made in NYC in a cotton/ linen blend. It costs $297.

These comparisons show that I spent around $60 to make a $300- to $400-garment. More importantly, I consciously invested my time and work into a quality piece of clothing and divested from an industry that is socially and environmentally unsustainable. I urge you to consider more than just the monetary cost of an affordable ready-to-wear piece when debating whether to buy or make your next piece of clothing. What tips do you have to make a closet full of clothing you value?

For more information on the slow fashion movement I recommend reading

1.Fanzine: Loved Clothes Last by The Fashion Revolution.

2. Cradle to Cradle. William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

3 thoughts on “Quality over Quantity

  1. Nikki R. says:

    Good comparisons. While I agree with the concerns about labor practices and sustainability, I think it is most important to encourage all would be sewists to compare what they make to the appropriate level of ready-made garment. We must compare apples to apples, after all, and most sewists sell themselves far too short. Even minor alterations to the pattern elevate the garment one makes from anything available in local department stores. The finishes we apply to the seams and closures are much more secure, and will guarantee a much longer lasting garment. And in the final analysis, it is very gratifying to take a 10 year old favorite out of the closet and say “I remember when I made this.”

    The labor practices of the fashion industry are horrific, and anything we can do to limit or eliminate those practices is well worth doing. However most of us sew because we love fabric and we love making, so it is well for us to remind ourselves (and any kvetching family member or acquaintance) that what we create is on the level of the high end “ready to wear” that most of us only dream of owning.

  2. mairin says:

    That is a great point Nikki. We have been talking a lot about the frustrations of fitting into conventional sizes. Sewing allows makers to make clothing that actual fit their body, rather than fit our bodies to clothing. We are so lucky to be able to make our own clothing for numerous reasons. I am especially proud of my wardrobe because it is full of unique clothing that makes me fill confident and comfortable.

  3. Judy Elliot says:

    I just watched a video documentary…available on Utube but it was also at my local library called The True Cost…it is about the waste, poor working conditions and much more in the fashion industry. A very moving docu…I highly recommend it.

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