Posted in Design and style

The cost of shopping: ugly ill-fitting clothes for us, poison for kids in China

If you pick up any of the financial papers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times this week, you will see articles such as “Late Spending Spree Helps Europe’s Retailers” and “Retail Rush Appears to Fall Short”. Shopping, especially during the holiday season, is the barometer for how well we are doing. If you’re not shopping, you aren’t doing your civic duty to prop up the economy.

But consider this. Don’t we all have too much stuff already? Aren’t our homes and offices bursting with unused gadgets, clothes, shoes, accessories, just stuff, lots of stuff, making us feel overwhelmed and stressed? The endless shopping lifestyle carries a true cost, one we don’t see in the West because it’s been conveniently exported to developing countries.

I came across this article in the Telegraph about a Chinese town where our unwanted stuff goes, where the children are being poisoned by noxious chemicals used to “recycle” our stuff. It highlights the cost of our shopping-driven lifestyle:

The Chinese town of Guiyu is the graveyard of Christmas past. It is where presents – game consoles, laptops, mobile phones – come to die. It is also where they are reborn. In this giant scrap-yard, so dangerously polluted that its children are being clinically poisoned, the electronic objects of desire, a million tons of them a year, are broken apart, melted down, and washed in acid to be recycled into a new flood of imports for Christmas future.

It’s strange how people feel they’re powerless to do anything. But they aren’t: just stop buying stuff you don’t need and focus on quality. Shopping has become a “fun” activity, the way going to a zoo or a museum exhibit used to be. Is it really fun?

Stores such as Zara and H&M which sell disposable, wear-once-throw-away clothes, promise the consumer that she will always be in style and that the designer clothes she sees on the bodies of celebrities can also be hers for a low price. But what do you get when you buy cheap? Cheap clothes that fall apart quickly and look dreadful after one or two wearings. It’s wasteful.

I had this experience when I bought a cute knit dress from Mango, another purveyor of fashionable, cheap, throwaway clothes. After wearing the dress twice, the knit started to pill (little round balls of fabric developed in different parts of the garment) and the garment began to twist out of shape. I wanted to wear the dress more often but it just started to look very bad. So, off to the trash bin it goes! These cheap, horrible clothes should carry a warning: your dress will self-destruct in five seconds!

Where do all the clothes that the stores don’t manage to sell, go? Where do our old clothes go? Our old electronics? All the useless bits we buy for ourselves and others? Read the Telegraph article and make a New Year’s Resolution to shop only for high quality items you really need.



Author of "The Secret of Angat", a novel set in the Philippines during World War II. Founder,; Founder ( - travel) and (beauty, style).

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