the mechanism of production, or: why fast fashion sucks, structurally
I had a conversation with a couple of friends about clothing, and how it’s made, earlier this week, and it wandered into territory I thought y'all might find interesting. So here’s what I had to say, more or less.
Basically: there is a reason the clothes you buy at H&M are so shitty, and it’s not exactly that they’re doing it on purpose. Well, it sort of is. But mostly, it’s because they can’t not be shitty. It’s because the entire production chain, start to finish, has become structured in such a way that it is actually quite difficult to produce quality clothing.
When you buy a piece of clothing at a modern retail store, you are probably buying clothing made with dubiously ethical labor, of fabric sourced to cost as little as possible, made of pieces cut on machines designed to cut as many pieces of fabric as quickly, simply, and efficiently as possible. At every step in the chain, every step that can be cut has been cut. The process of clothing manufacturing is, at this point, breathtakingly streamlined, and it results for the most part in a very specific type of clothing.
If you have any familiarity with vintage clothing, you are probably aware that they are usually of significantly higher quality than most modern clothing. When I say “vintage” I mean, in particular, clothes made before about 1965– before the offshoring of our garment industry began. Most clothes worn in the United States before that time were made domestically, by union labor– that is, skilled workers being paid a living wage. This is relevant.
Also relevant is the fact that clothes used to cost more, as a proportion of a person’s income. The average woman in 1950 had one-quarter a modern woman’s wardrobe, and paid a higher percentage of her income for that wardrobe than a modern woman does. That vintage wardrobe, though smaller, was made to a higher standard– sturdier fabrics, better tailoring, sewn from more complex patterns, adorned with more details and better finishing. That wardrobe routinely featured things like deep-pocketed skirts, matching belts, bound buttonholes, pintucks, piping. These are not things we often see in modern fast fashion.
What happened? Well, it starts with labor. When we lost the domestic garment industry, we lost that pool of skilled labor, and switched to a lower-skilled, lower-paid labor pool. We switched to an emphasis on making as many simple garments as possible, as quickly as possible, rather than fewer, more complex pieces. We chose $5 t-shirts over $250 day dresses.
Which is not to imply that I’m judging people who wear fast fashion. It’s a completely rational economic decision to buy the clothes you can afford, and there are other factors at play here, too.
For instance, the price of fabric was once much lower, and home sewing a much more accessible hobby. Due in part to environmental factors and our changing climate, the price of cotton has risen in recent years– why do you think those whisper-thin cotton knits have been the prevailing trend? Why do you think everyone who can get away with it has switched to synthetics?
This is the point I’m trying to make: at every step in the production chain, from the manufacture of fabric to the design and assembly of the clothes themselves, someone has decided to do the least expensive thing.
Shift dresses require less complex cutting than structured ones– and what, coincidentally, has been the most common shape you see in stores? Miniskirts require less fabric than long skirts– and minis are, coincidentally, in vogue. Sheer fabrics require less raw material to manufacture; machine-assisted beading and studding takes less-skilled labor and less time than other forms of embellishment that call for skill and handwork. Garment workers being paid pennies a piece earn more when they don’t have to add pockets or extra finishing, or sew buttons on too securely.
The cutting machines that stamp out pieces to be assembled into clothing? They’re loaded with as thick a stack of fabric as possible, because the more fabric you cut at once, the more clothes you can make in a day. The thicker the fabric, the fewer pieces you can cut at once; the more pieces you cut, the greater the margin for error, so better make those pieces simple. Clothes that fit close to the body need to be cut and sewn more precisely, unless they’re made of stretchy fabric. Boy, leggings sure are popular these days.
We’re seeing the end result of a garment industry that has cut itself to the bone in pursuit of profit. The clothing currently in stores reflects an industry that has streamlined every process it’s capable of. This has actually influenced trends and driven fashion in a direction that calls for cheap-to-manufacture clothing. It’s a process that is fundamentally unsustainable, because there’s only so much you can cut before you’re left with rags. And it’s built on the backs of a labor pool that has begun to protest its treatment, to demand fair wages and attempt to unionize.
If that happens– and I sincerely hope it does– we may begin to see the price of clothing rise again. With it, if we’re lucky, we may see a rise in quality. When the people who make your clothing are paid a living wage, when they have the ability to develop their skills and be fairly compensated for them, there is a ripple effect through the whole production chain.
We might end up with smaller wardrobes. But perhaps the pieces in them will be worth owning.
Imagine: You’re hopelessly in love with your boyfriend, Jughead Jones. When the subject of physical intimacy comes up one day with your best friends, you find yourself afraid and in doubt.
Saturdays were one of your favorite days of the week.
Veronica would pull up in her luxury car and take you and Betty to the Galleria outside of town. You both would follow her around as she surveyed the newest imports and replenished her gorgeous wardrobe, talking and laughing the whole time. The wares of the Galleria were far above anything you could ever afford with your minimum-wage income, but you adored the two girls you would spend the day with.
Veronica always had the best gossip. Mostly passed along from Kevin, who refused to join (”I will not play into that gay stereotype!”), Veronica always had stories ranging from the scary to the scandalous to the just plain hilarious.
“And the cross-country team caught her getting it up the ass on a stump in the woods!” Veronica said, laughing over her kale smoothie.
“Ronnie!” Betty scolded, face red. You could tell she was suppressing laughter as well, sipping on her strawberry smoothie.
“Anyway,” Veronica said, slapping her hands on the patio table in finality. “What about you, (Y/N)?” She grinned devilishly.
So with the the beginning of October past us; another adventure in my D&D Campaign: Calm before the storm, has come to a close. Usually by this time I would post a quick, unfurnished map and call it a day, but I wanted to do something that would perhaps help other would be GMs to design interesting story ideas, encounters and dungeons. Hopefully in doing so showing how to put it all together into something cohesive and fun for their players.
I’ll try to do my best to put this into a structured fashion over a few posts, but I’m sure I’ll ramble on once or twice. So sit by the fire, grab that warm mug of mead, and listen to an old GM’s wisdom and musings.
I Present To You
The Forgotten Temple of Tel Dramil Ceilvala
Primarily, this was an adventure centered around one of the players in my group: an Elven Witch. With that in mind I set out to come up with a basic idea for the adventure that would center on her accomplishing a task for her patron and deepening her covenant with them, as well as revealing to them at the end just who their patron was (Something I had basically held back on revealing since the start of the campaign a year and a half ago).
So first off, let’s talk about story. The most important part of any adventure, as well as the bedrock for all the other aspects of an adventure.
The Initial Spark: As with most adventures, the idea first comes from an initial spark. That inspiration can come from a lot of places: books, movies, random thoughts while on a walk. One thing I find useful recommend, is keeping a small notebook on hand. I tend to write down plot ideas or story beats that I think are interesting. Even if I don’t use them, it helps to practice creating ideas on the fly.
In the case of this adventure: Patron wants to protect a place -> An ancient Elven Temple -> Being used by human cultists -> Drawing on powers for their dark purposes -> because the temple guards a crossing to the shadowfell.
Once I have that initial plan down, I’ll mull over it in my free time during the week, mostly to see if I find any glaring plot holes or a change that would work better with the plot. In the case of this adventure.
Overall Story: Now, to make sure most of the other elements of the adventure stay internally consistent, I like to write out a ½ page of names and locations I’ll need to have ready (nothing worse than forgetting a name), and a summery of the events leading up to the Adventure (What the bad guys are doing what the adventure hook is, etc. All of this helps to establish the adventure and keep all the additional adventure preparation internally consistent with the story.
I try to avoid any details at this point that don’t deal with the backstory, or with a clear effect should the party choose not to engage in the adventure, or fail. Writing something like “When the cultists see them enter, they’ll begin to summon undead, sending them into the rooms of the temple” because 1) That’s starting to decide what the players are going to do or how they’ll approach the adventure before they’ve even sat down at the table and 2) If I realize later that the enemies I’ve prepared can’t even cast animate dead, then I’ve written myself into a corner that might wreck the immersion of the players or feel like the world isn’t playing by the same rules they are (Two things I try to avoid as much as possible as part of my preference as a simulationist DM) .
Once I’ve finished compiling all the quick references, notes, and summaries onto a page, the first part of my job is done.
Here’s a simulacrum of what such a note sheet looks like and what personally works well for me.
For more narrative adventures, or social adventures, this could be enough to run a session off of easily (though a little more polish and time never hurt, writing out bios, or complex webs of relations). For a location adventure though, now comes the equally important part of creating the dungeon itself, and filling it with all manner of discoveries both beneficent and fatal.
Join me next time, when we’ll be diving into the meat of this particular adventure’s development time: Needlessly fretting about the building standards of Fendris-Kai Sormrill (Wood elves) circa 900 years ago during The age of Banners.