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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Why shopping isn’t superficial

    Allison Dumkacolumnist
    Allison Dumka

    Students at the UA demonstrate the extremes of the fashion spectrum: brandless basics and Louis Vuitton bags, clean-cut J.Crew looks and unkempt hipster aesthetics, athletic uniforms and stiletto heels. One universal truth applies to all of us, however: our moms don’t dress us anymore.

    We pick our own clothing and decide where to buy it. This process is far more involved than brand labels, designer knockoffs, unflattering cuts and associations with subcultures. Nothing we wear can be classified as simply superficial.

    Because we buy our own clothes, garments are a direct message: Clothes convey our choices as consumers. With the exception of gifts and super-sales, students represent their values and lifestyles through their clothes. For example, kids who shop at the Gap represent their mall-bourgeois status. People who shop at Ed Hardy are able to pay 90 bucks for a T-shirt and probably don’t know who Sailor Jerry is. Students shopping at thrift stores want a bargain on something unique and recycled, and they’re probably hipsters (or Greeks buying date dash clothes.)

    Today, most garment manufacturing is outsourced to Mexico or Indonesia, where labor laws are not enforced to protect the health and rights of workers. Many multinational corporations build factories in countries without strongly enforced labor laws and environmental regulations. This practice of outsourcing exploits vulnerable populations, often polluting the air and water of the surrounding area, as well as disregarding the health and dignity of their workers.

    Known to Americans as sweatshop labor, this industry processes materials into clothing, which is then shipped to the United States and sold in retail stores. When your shirt label reads, “”Made in Thailand,”” you may not think about the repercussions of incredibly cheap clothing and its origin. It’s just not as fun to go shopping recreationally when you think about sweatshops. And if you love to shop, any time, anywhere, you probably aren’t really concerned about them anyway. This is all part of how you represent yourself as a consumer.

    What are the options, then, if you’re a poor student and care about exported garment labor?

    American Apparel

    It’s not just as fun to go shopping recreationally when you think about sweatshops.

    produces colorful basics and pays garment workers $14-18 per hour, a living wage. Unfortunately, their basics cost significantly more than basics sold at popular student shopping sites, like Target and the mall, due to their decent treatment of workers. There’s the rub; retail clothing companies that treat their employees fairly and with dignity must, at some point, pass that expense on to consumers, and consumers love to buy cheap stuff.

    Thrift stores offer vintage and retro secondhand options at incredibly low prices. Furthermore, donated clothing stores have no production costs and often design and execute social programs with the money you spend. Shopping at thrift stores also recycles garments that would have ended up in the trash. It’s just not as glamorous as buying something new. And why care about your consumerism when you can buy glamour?

    I am not arguing that people who shop at Target or Wal-Mart or the mall are of a lower moral fiber. But if you have any kind of clothing budget, it’s downright myopic to claim there’s nothing wrong with cheap clothes. Feeling proud of an awesome deal is common. Feeling proud about your awareness as a consumer is something much more rare. How many people brag that their outfit was made under ethical working conditions?

    The slam poet Jared Paul has said, “”Question your goods, who makes them, and how they are distributed. We have a relationship with all of these things. If someone, or some earth is being fucked over in the process by which our goods get to us, then we are ultimately responsible for any harm done.””

    Maybe you don’t believe that, but that tag in your shirt still says where it came from, whether you read it or not. There’s nothing superficial about fashion if you care about how you consume.

    Allison Dumka is a senior majoring in political science and women’s studies. She can be reached at

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