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Want Cheap Clothes? The Cotton Industry's Not 100% Fit

Want Cheap Clothes? The Cotton Industry's Not 100% Fit

The global economy is about to hit your Saturday morning shopping spree. As we've seen food prices grow in response to higher crop prices, fashionistas should be ready to see their clothes prices follow suit, and it's a two-piece problem.

People watching their purse strings are causing garment makers to see a rapid decline in their own bottom line. Demand is down wildly. US cotton consumption alone is set to fall 6.5 percent from last year.

And you can partially blame the environment on the ever-spendier tee. More cotton farmers are swapping to more lucrative crops — soybeans, corn, and wheat — whose market prices are rising even faster. Why are these crops more enticing? The prices of these crops have been pushed higher by a mixture of subsidies and growing demand from biofuel producers.

It's not just shrinking cotton crops: energy, wages, the oil to transport goods, all make the shirt on your back cost more. Manufacturers, just like us, are hit by XXL oil prices, making their factories more expensive to operate which means pricier shipping to foreign markets. To see the human cost of the cotton trade, and how BBC sent six fashion-plates to work in an Indian garment factory,


On Indian cotton farms, farmers facing strangling bills and held at the mercy of the global market and crop hardiness, has led the country to see more than 20,000 suicides by debt-ridden farmers in the last ten years. The numbers are rising. Currently about six farm suicides are reported daily.

BBC has made the garment trade in to reality (television) with a mini-series called Blood, Sweat, and T-shirts. Here's how they describe the show which sounds fascinating:

Six young fashion addicts experience life as factory workers in India, making clothes for the British high street. In this four-part series, the six work in the mills of India’s cotton belt and stitch clothes in cramped back rooms, sleeping next to their sewing machine. See how it changes their attitudes to cut-price clothing.

I might move abroad just to catch this show.

Have your shopping habits changed? Is it an issue of cash or global consciousness? Do you pay attention to what a garment is made of before you buy? Does it surprise you that the focus on biofuels has had such an impact on the clothing market?

Join The Conversation
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
wouldn't it be interesting to see clothing cost a "true price"? i am most disappointed that H& M has moved into this country (canada) we don't need another crappy-quality cheaply priced sweat-shop made chain!
LiLRuck44 LiLRuck44 9 years
I make all my kids' clothes and much of my own. Fabric prices are definitely higher. I used to shop around and never pay full price, etc. but I've changed the way I think about it. Did anyone see the Story of Stuff? It's the same concept for clothing.
Kimpossible Kimpossible 9 years
wow very interesting. I'm not a big shopper to begin with I really just buy things when it's necessary (children outgrow clothes etc), and I do always donate still usable clothes to clothing drops (usually for shelters).
stephley stephley 9 years
It'll be interesting to see if any U.S. network brings the BBC show over or does a similar one of its own. I guess Sundance Channel might.
Meike Meike 9 years
This comes as no surprise to me.
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
You know this is really interesting. I find myself more and more looking at labels. Thats not to say I wont buy it if not made in America.. I mean I try my best to do so, but we all know how hard that is these days. It doesnt surprise me at all that the focus on biofuels has had such an impact on the clothing market ... biofuels make the world go round. Its truly amazing the amount of energy that is consumed by just about everything we do. No. This has not changed my shopping habits. I still shop till I drop but I have been donating more and more of my older clothing items because others are not so blessed as I have been. Nice post!
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