I was recently presented with an interesting concept – if a garment is well made then it's sustainable. This gave me some food for thought. When you look at cheap garments you may see the odd stitch going off a straight line because of the time given per stitching an item in fast fashion factories. The quality control may not be very good because, you know – fast fashion is about quantity rather than quality. But it does go beyond this.
Some fast fashion clothes are actually fairly well made and the fit is good too. This doesn’t mean they are quality sustain-ably made clothes. A lot of things go into making a garment and they all contribute to the quality of it. Here’s a little check list on what to look for when we look for a quality garment:
Seams. Most of the time seams in mass produced clothes are overlocked – which is the cheapest, quickest and the least stable way to finish seams on clothes. This means that the seams can be easily damaged, so even if on the surface it looks all good – the seam finish may tell another story. What to look for? French seams and flat felled seams are much stronger and bias bound seams are also fairly sturdy. And they all look better than a cheap overlocked seam.
Fabric. You may be in love with the pretty floral dress you bought last week but have you looked at the fabric it is made of? Most of the time cheap ‘trendy’ clothes can only be this cheap through cutting corners such as on labour and materials. You will be able to recognise cheap fabrics based on their thickness, feel, drape and weave. Good quality fabrics are generally sturdier, they feel great to touch, fall nicely and the weave is not at a weird angle.
Lining. Lining is a rarity on the high street. This is because it takes time to line a garment and of course – more material is used, which means higher costs. However, lining is just a wonderful thing. Clothes, which have lining sit better, they have more structure and generally have a more high-end feel. If your dress, trousers or top are lined – they are certainly better quality than their single-layer-only cousins!
Prints. Prints are always popular but have a look at your printed clothes – the seams in particular. Are the prints matched along the seams or are the garment pieces chaotically put together? The latter is most likely unless you bought your clothes from a high end designer brand or bought a vintage item. Matching seams requires great attention to detail. It also means that potentially more fabric is used – to get exact match, which is more expensive (okay, this may not be particularly sustainable but attention to detail is the focus here). If a brand matches its prints and displays such a great attention to detail – the rest of the garment is likely to be of a high quality.
Labels. I am referring to the care instructions and garment information rather than the brand name here. Does the label indicate where the garment was made, is it Fair trade or Organic? Does is give you a lot of information or is the information scarce? The more information a brand shares the more likely it is that it is transparent about their supply chain too.
Colours. Back in the day I used to indulge in the occasional ‘bargain’. This resulted in clothes being completely ruined after their first wash. Either the colours would run or they would fade. Good quality clothes don’t rely on cheap dyes, which would last for a couple of wears. Good quality clothes stay vibrant for years to come. You can’t of course know if this is the case with your favourite skirt- as time will tell. However if you bought it cheaply from a fast fashion retailer – you are likely to be disappointed in the long run.
It would be difficult for a brand to cover all of the above criteria for well made clothes and if it does – this will certainly reflect in the price tag. But does it mean that the garment is ethical? Well, from ecological point of view – even though this is a complex issue - the higher quality the garment is – the more likely you are to keep it. So, this will result in less clothes being sent to landfill. When a brand pays attention to its finish, textiles, the dyes they use, transparency and attention to detail – they are likely to have adopted an ethical model. There are - of course - no guarantees but the bottom line is this – if the price is too good to be true – your potential purchase is unlikely to be ethical – in one way or another. The key is to shop smart, think twice and look for the signs – quality over quantity!