Are you still buying cheap clothing?


When I was 21, a new top from Sportsgirl cost around $60. Pants or a skirt would set you back 80 bucks. That was okay, I earned $20 an hour working in a bar. If I really wanted a new outfit, I did an extra shift or two. Around that time, I took off backpacking and discovered, among many other things, cheap clothing. In Thailand, China and even the UK, you could buy five outfits for what I used to spend on one at home. This was GREAT!

By the time I came home, four years later, Australia had cottoned on to  cheap clothing (pun intended) and ten years later, despite all other trends heading the other way, clothing prices continue to go down. Isn’t that fantastic?

Ummm. No. No, it’s really not. Not if you’re a textile worker in today’s Cheapest Developing Country That Will Make Our Crap For Peanuts. Not if you’re a planet choked with disposable clothing that wears out in five minutes and gets tossed into landfill.

The Cheapest Developing Country at the moment is Bangladesh. As we were enjoying the prospect of a day off for ANZAC day, thousands of textile workers were being buried alive in the factory where they made cheap clothing for labels like Mango and Beneton. If you didn’t see the story on Four Corners about the appalling conditions that lead to more than 1000 deaths, then you need to watch it right now. And take heed of the warning, the images are disturbing.

Although none of Australia’s cheap clothing labels happened to have orders with the specific factory that collapsed, all our big-name cheap clothing retailers are implicated in this disaster. Because it’s likely that their clothes are made in similar conditions, it’s just that the cracks haven’t yet begun to show.

In the aftermath of the factory collapse, brands like Target, Kmart and Forever New have signed an accord to say they will check the building safety of their sweatshops from now on. Which is great. But why did it take more than 1000 deaths, hundreds of amputees and, most crucially, media exposure to make this happen?

When margins are tiny, there is no budget for a clothing company to send someone out to check every single factory in which their product is produced. I understand that.

What the retailers say, and what I am forced to agree is this: it comes back to us, the consumers. If we demand ever cheaper prices, then we are the ones exploiting workers in developing countries.

I know it hurts, because I love a bargain as much as anyone. But I have broken my cheap-clothing habit, and after watching that Four Corners report, I am never buying cheap clothing again. I hope you’ll think about it too.

Here are some ideas to help you break up with $4 t-shirts:

  • Buy second-hand. Op shops are choked with disposable clothing, buy it from there instead.
  • Find higher-end second-hand clothing on eBay or The Gumtree.
  • Give up on fashion and focus on style instead.
  • If you have a favourite brand or store, find out where their clothes are made. If you can’t find out, don’t buy it.
  • Shop at markets or young designer shows where you can talk to the designer directly.
  • Think about the true value of the item of clothing – materials, labour, transport, marketing, merchandising etc. Does it still seem like you’re paying a fair price?
  • Search for Fair Trade clothing or look for the brands accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia certification.

One last thought for you: An Oxfam study found that 70 percent of Aussies would pay more for clothing if they knew it was made under fair conditions. Would you?

To find out more about sweatshops, click here.

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc


  1. Deb @ Home life simplified says

    Great post – my husband and I have discussed this recently. He asked me about the shops I buy the kids clothes at after the factory collapse. I admitted I often grab bargains for them at Cotton On Kids, Target and Kmart and have no idea about their factories.

    I do buy a lot of second hand clothes for them and myself and for hubby and myself we tend to buy better. I am definitely looking more and more at markets, local designers and second hand.

    thanks xx
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    • (dt)em says

      Deb, thanks for your comment – I find it a bit of a challenge to find good quality kids clothes in charity shops, especially for little boys (probably because they are so tough on clothes). Markets is a great option, I also need to be brave and ask for hand-me-downs. xx

  2. Mrs BC says

    Great ideas to help you give up the cheap clothing habit! Unfortunately it’s not just brand that provide cheap clothing that we need to be aware of. Nike, for example, has been answering allegations of using sweat shop factories in third world countries for at least 40 years, and as far as I know have not changed their manufacturing policy too much. I wouldn’t call Nike products cheap :)
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    • (dt)em says

      Such a good point – and Beneton was also one of the companies allegedly using the factory that collapsed, I don’t think they’re all that cheap either…

  3. Erica says

    Thank you for addressing this topic, I really wish more people would consider buying second hand over new, its really not that hard to do, we have a lot of choices. Fashion doesn’t have to cost the earth, environmentally or financially.
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  4. narelle says

    Purchase new clothing…… not for at least a year. We live in Toowoomba and have the best op shops and garage sales anywhere : ) My wardrobe is full of designer clothing in really good condition, I have been the bet dressed in my life and am spending one tenth of what I used to : )
    As part of our simple living our family has made a conscious decision not to “consume” so we frequent op shops and have noticed that as a society we consume so much – most of the things we purchase are new or barely used, yet someone has purchased them, or not wanted them for whatever reason, and we benefit and don’t add to society’s “consuming”. Our children return a box of toys and pick up a new box of treasures, which we clean and fix before they are loved once again and then given back so other kids can find their treasures. It is amazing how quickly and easily understood this concept is for our kids – and a life long value in a society which seems to be consuming endlessley : (
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  5. Mandy says

    Sadly it is the same with food. If we want cheap organic food, then everyone needs to buy it. Supply and demand and our voice will be heard by manufactures (food and clothes) at the checkout.


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