Rising cotton prices may mean the end of £4 t-shirts and £10 pairs of jeans – but would it really be so bad if we had to start spending more on our wardrobe collection?
Cheap fashion retailers benefited massively from the consumer spending boom that ended with the implosion of the banking system. But, arguably, they’ve benefited just as much from the fallout of the financial crisis, selling clothes at discount prices to people on tight budgets.
But the era of super-cheap threads might finally be about to end. Retailers are now warning that rising cotton prices and the impending VAT hike could affect the cost of our clothes. If the experts are right, tops, dresses and trousers costing as little as £5 a pop may become a rarity on Britain’s high streets.
Clothes haven’t always been cheap
People who rely on low-cost retailers for all their clothes are likely to feel the pinch if prices rise. But I think it’s worth remembering that, although we’ve grown used to the availability of very cheap clothing, it was not ever thus.
High street fashion actually seems to have been immune to inflation for most of my adult life. I can remember paying 35p for a can of Coke when I was younger – whereas the price of a t-shirt has barely increased since I was in my teens. In fact, it’s now possible to buy more stuff for less money than it was 10 years ago.
There’s also been much controversy over low-cost retailers’ production methods. The need to produce clothes as quickly and cheaply as possible, and in huge volumes, has a negative impact on the environment. And according to critics of fast, cheap fashion, it can also lead to the exploitation of overseas factory workers, according to critics of fast, cheap fashion.
The waste of bulk buying
In addition, cheap fashion arguably contributes to a ‘throwaway’ mentality. If an item only cost you a couple of quid, perhaps you won’t bother to repair it when it gets damaged. And in an age of austerity, can anyone justify this kind of waste?
What’s more, there’s often a strong temptation to bulk-buy clothes when they’re so cheap. When a jacket or skirt only costs a few pounds, there’s always the urge to chuck it in your shopping basket – even if you don’t need it and might never wear it.
Is this good for the planet? Obviously not. But it’s equally bad for your bank balance to spend what feels like small change on tat you have no use for.
Despite my taste for shopping and my love of bargain-hunting, I wouldn’t mourn the end of the cheap fashion era. I’d sooner buy fewer, better-quality items and look after them lovingly, than have a wardrobe bursting with cheap stuff.
And what about vintage shopping, clothes swapping or recycling old garments so they get a whole new lease of life? Not only can this kind of thrift provide hours of fun – it’s kinder to the environment, as well as the pound in your pocket.