Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Beneath the Seams: Counting the True Cost of Clothing

Over the past few years, I've become more and more disillusioned with the modern clothing industry. "Fast fashion" has made clothing cheap and virtually disposable to the consumer -- a fact that is exploited by swiftly changing trends that keep consumers coming back for more...and more...and more. Quality has plummeted along with cost, and sources suggest that for every five garments produced, the equivalent of three end up in a landfill. According to the EPA, 1.3 million tons of clothing and footwear were discarded by Americans in 1960. By 2018, that number had climbed to over 9 million tons, even though the population hadn't even doubled since 1960! As someone who values the resources God has given us, it saddens me to see so much waste. Cheap clothing may be easy on the wallet, but its ecological cost is high. 

But far worse are the inhumane manufacturing processes used to keep those prices tantalizingly low. Many factories (even some in the US) pay workers shockingly low wages, sometimes pennies per garment. And even in third-world countries where American dollars stretch further, that's far from a living wage. Working conditions are unsafe, benefits limited or nonexistent, and any worker who dares to complain can be easily replaced (because sadly, these jobs are better than many other options in third-world countries!). So much suffering, just to ensure that consumers can stuff their walk-in closets with garments they may never even wear before discarding them. 

I've learned to realize that if a garment on the rack seems cheap, someone is still paying the price -- it's just not me. 

And quite honestly, it's not just "budget" retailers that exploit garment workers. We've probably all heard of the infamous sweatshop, but may not realize that so many upscale brands rely on them (even if indirectly, by not making adequate efforts to ensure that their entire production chain is ethical). Mid-level brands like Gap and Anthropologie -- and even many luxury brands -- are guilty of this. So higher prices don't automatically guarantee workers were paid a fair wage.


One of my dearest memories from our time in Virginia was a women's Bible study that I attended. It was there that I met my friend, Peyton Roberts, who (besides being a delight!) encouraged me and helped me grow in my walk with the Lord. She invested so much into each of the women in that group. We had some fun connections, too -- we are both military spouses, both seamstresses, and the church I attended as a teen was across the street from her grandfather's house.

A happy reunion in March 2020!

So imagine my delight when I found out that Peyton was publishing a social impact novel about the fashion industry! I was blessed to read an advanced copy of Beneath the Seams -- which is being released today! 

The story is so powerful, and I was amazed by how seamlessly (no pun intended...) Peyton wove the dark truths about fast fashion into her writing. Even though I had done some research, I was horrified to find out just how dangerous and inhumane sweatshops can be. Shelby, the protagonist, was someone I could relate to in many ways, from her love of sewing to her struggles with secondary infertility and miscarriage. And I had a sewing business myself once upon a time! As the final few chapters unfolded, I couldn't stop reading; I was so invested in the characters that I had to find out how their stories resolved. I'm eagerly awaiting the copy I pre-ordered, which will soon have a home on my bookshelf. 

I'd highly recommend Beneath the Seams if you'd like to explore the consequences of fast fashion while reading a great story!

Peyton's Instagram and Linktree have some helpful resources, as well as more background for the novel and its author. And you can read the first few chapters over at Scrivenings Press.

In my next post, I'll share my own (imperfect) journey toward more ethical fashion.


  1. I have enjoyed reading your blog for years, having myself much in common with you on an older generation basis. I am also a former military wife, homeschool mom and now grandmom, a seamstress who also had a business in same, a devoted Christian and admirer of C.S. Lewis. However I would like to suggest that some of your statements regarding the clothing industry and the end-results of same may be based on faulty resources. I have followed the chain of links from your article/blog through to their own resources and do not give credence to their claims that 3/5 of garments end up in land-fills, incinerators etc. within a year... They seem to end in something called the "McKinsey Sustainability" where an unresourced blanket statement is made about the 3/5 number. I believe that the credentials of this resource are only that their business is WOKE enough to want to tell industry around our world how they can be re-designed (by themselves, of course) to be more WOKE. Their purpose seems (to me) to be only to enlarge themselves. Some, perhaps many, of the accusations against the clothing industry may be true. We do, after all, live in a world of sinful men (as in mankind) but I just do not buy into the greenhouse/climate arguments that abound in our "New Age." I write this only with the greatest respect for yourself, and hope you will not be offended.

    1. Erica,

      I really appreciate your comment, and am not in the least offended! I certainly welcome respectful discussion/disagreement.

      Following the link chain back, the original article that mentioned the statistic actually challenges the misconception that textile manufacturing is the second most polluting industry. Its source for the 3/5 statistic is the McKinsey firm you mentioned, which it misquotes -- the McKinsey article states that "for every 5 garments produced, the equivalent of 3 end up in a landfill or incinerated each year." Not quite the same as 60% of garments ending up in the landfill within a year! However, McKinsey does not state a source in its article and does have a financial interest in getting hired. The statistic may be correct, but I do see your point with regard to that article. I've sent them an inquiry regarding their sources, and if I don't hear back I will remove the statistic from my post (and in the meantime I'll amend it to their original statement). However, as I did a little digging, I discovered EPA statistics for many types of waste. In 1960, Americans put about 1 million tons of clothing and footwear in the landfill. In 2018, it was over nine million tons! But the population has not even doubled since 1960. I hate to use the EPA as a source, but they do track these things and are hopefully reliable in this instance. While I stand firmly against the political agendas of the "climate change" nonsense (I think we're frankly a bit arrogant to think we can control the climate! It's been changing on its own -- well, really by God's design -- for thousands of years), I do believe in good stewardship. Wasting the resources God has given us in the name of fast fashion just does not sit well with me.

      But ultimately, my biggest concern with the fashion industry is the human cost (this is why I only touched lightly on the ecological impact). So many people are not only paid and treated poorly, but have even lost their lives. In 2013, over one thousand garment workers died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh. Brands produced in that factory included Gucci, Versace, The Children's Place, and Walmart. Consumers are not directly responsible for these horrors -- it is ultimately the clothing factories and the brands that hired them that are at fault. But I don't want to give my money to companies that operate like that, if I can help it! Why should someone on the other side of the world suffer, perhaps even die, so that my child can wear a cheap tee shirt?

      I really do appreciate your being willing to bring this up, and hopefully I'll get a response from the McKinsey firm!



I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for stopping by!