The True Cost Of Your T-Shirt
The grab-and-go cheap T-Shirt has become so ubiquitous, you might not think twice about the process that went into making it. Yet at every step of the way, clothing manufacturing can have a massive impact on the environment, as well as the workers who made it. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the difference in production between an imported t-shirt and a premium made in USA option.
How Bad Is Fast Fashion?
Convenience Comes at a Cost
First, we need to define "Fast-Fashion". At the core, it's all about convenience and affordability. Brands like H&M, Zara, and most recently SHEIN, have created the "wear twice, throw away" clothing model contributing to 184,000,000,000 pounds (not a typo) of global textile waste per year. Perhaps more insidious than the fast fashion icons named above, are the hundreds of brands using clever marketing and false claims to sell low-quality imported goods at incredibly high mark ups.
So while not technically "fast fashion", these brands produce cheap goods under the guise of quality, only for them to fall apart quickly. You are likely already thinking of a brand that you used to love, whose quality has fallen in recent years. Why? Case in point below.
How Is A T-shirt Made?
Step 1: Sourcing the Materials
The first step in making any clothing is sourcing the materials. Premium textiles like cotton, linen, and hemp are expensive. All too often, brands choose cost over quality and opt for synthetic materials like polyester, which is cheaper and easier to produce. This flagship material of fast fashion is, put simply, plastic thread that sheds during wear, deteriorates in the wash, yet exists eternally in our environment. "Cutting" cotton yarn with polyester can reduce costs by as much as 75%. Polyester production for clothing has completely transformed the fashion landscape in the last twenty years, from the $300+ outdoor industry to the $3.99 t-shirt.
Cotton too, runs a gamut of quality and ethics. We may not think of it this way, but it's an agricultural product like corn or wheat. When sourcing from unregulated and questionable farms from around the entire globe, there's no telling the environmental havoc running off those fields into the local water, community, and emplyees of the farm. Your average clothing brands are fully removed from the cotton industry and buy yarn or finished fabric. The origins of the original textile are often unknown. (Goodwear is a US cotton licensee - we know each and every farm in the US where our cotton comes from).
Step 2: Cutting and Sewing
Once the materials are sourced, the next step is cutting and sewing. This is where the final t-shirt takes shape and is transformed into its basic form. In the US, our "cheap" clothing options generally come from countries in Southeast Asia and Central America. With limited oversight of working conditions, age, pay, and more, incredible exploitation takes place in the name of Western consumption of new clothing. There is no shortage of information available online outlining the egregious human rights violations that take place in Bangladesh - a fast fashion mega-producer with incredible abuse of child labor.
Step 3: Finishing Touches
After the t-shirt is cut and sewn, the final step is adding finishing touches and rounding out the product. This could include adding a label, hemming the sleeves, or adding any other details. Fast fashion t-shirts are often made quickly, which means that there may not be a lot of attention to detail - poor quality seams that won't last more than a couple rounds in the wash. Or cheap rib for the collar that stretches out and gets scratchy.
Made in USA Quality
All of this is not to say no other country can produce high quality clothing. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Peru, India - all of these places have storied histories with different textiles and unique styles. But when it comes to mass production of fast fashion, that simply cannot happen in the United States because of the cost of labor, material, and overhead. And like it or not, federal and local regulations prevent against chemical misuse, hazardous working conditions, and labor exploitation.
When a product, be it a t-shirt or chainsaw, has the "Made in USA" stamp, you can be sure at some point, someone made the decision to keep production stateside, and commit to a quality, small batch, product. That is exactly what we have done over the decades. Despite numerous opportunities and monetary incentives, Goodwear has been 100% made in the USA since 1983. Even the labels. We think it's worth it.
Be careful. I’ve been using a great pair of well-known-name-brand US-made snow boots for several years. I recently ordered a pair of rain boots from the same manufacturer, but when they arrived I noticed a small tag that read, “This product is made in China.” I sealed up the box and returned them. Let’s support our own economy, and let (supposedly) US manufacturers know we don’t want them shipping their jobs overseas. Buy Goodwear and you won’t have to worry about getting cheaply made foreign clothing.
I bought some of Goodwear classic white crew neck tees over five years ago at a Goodwill not knowing anything about the brand other than seeing the “made in USA” tag and the heavy duty material. Five years later and these white t-shirts still look new, are structurally solid, and clean up super easily in the wash. Unbelievable quality. I’m glad I found out about Goodwear and can’t wait to purchase more products in the future.
Thank you. I have been trying to buy American for many years and have researched before I buy, heavily, for the last 3 years.
We’ll said. Amen! Thanks for your commitment and integrity. God bless America!
I “found” Goodwear on the internet about a year ago and have made several purchases since then. I love everything I purchased. I was wondering if you make your clothing in your own facility?
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