We’ve all experienced the irritation of a much-loved dress or top shrinking in the wash, coming apart at the seams or fraying at the hem.
Have you noticed that garments don’t seem to last for more than a few wears these days, no matter how carefully we look after them? Yet in our throwaway society, we often accept this lack of longevity as one of those things. After all, we can just go to K Mart, Big W or Target – or an overseas online site – and buy a new item for not much more than the cost of a cinema ticket.
Yet when you splash hundreds on a coat or suit and it meets the same fate, it makes you wonder what’s going on. The soaring popularity of vintage clothing proves that many garments from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties have lasted decades. So what’s changed? One obvious explanation is ‘planned obsolescence’ – a sneaky trick to design garments to wear out, lose shape or fall to pieces easily to force consumers to keep buying replacements.
‘Our grandmothers would buy a coat expecting it to last at least four winters, but because clothing is so much cheaper today, our expectations are lower,’ says brand consultant Tony Glenville, who is also a creative director at the London College of Fashion. ‘That means manufacturers can get away with producing clothing that isn’t well-constructed or finished, meaning its lifespan is often just one season – and frustratingly, sometimes just a single wash.’
Consumers are also to blame. Since the late Nineties, chain stores have been competing to turn around a far greater number of collections at a much higher speed. Perhaps feeding our appetite for so-called ‘fast fashion’. Stores have new stock arriving every week and items go out of fashion in the blink of an eye. It’s little wonder women now have four times as many clothes in their wardrobes than in 1980. A recent survey found most fashion purchases are now worn just seven times, with 33% of women considering clothes ‘old’ after a couple of wears. All this has come at a cost. ‘We’re so used to buying new clothes that we often don’t check the quality – we don’t look at seams or the fabric it’s made from,’ says Tony. This statement, however, is not one that we condone nor do we think our customers do. I think as we age we tend to look for quality rather than price, yes?
The fabrics we wear today are far less hard-wearing than in the past. Until synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon became popular, virtually all clothes were made of natural materials: wool, cotton, silk and linen. These are more durable than synthetic and blended fabrics – which is why so many ‘vintage’ pieces have survived. And it isn’t just the fabric – it’s also the construction. Clothes 50 years ago were simply better made.
Cardigans using Lambs wool and Merino
Much of the problem stems from the conditions in which modern clothing is made. Most of our purchases are made abroad in factories where workers are paid very little, driven by the pressure to meet demand, they churn out items, which is reflected in the quality of the construction. This is exacerbated by the fact that in many factories workers toil for 13 or 14 hours a day. No wonder seams are often not finished properly.
When we research brands to stock in our online boutique, we make sure that the quality of the fabric is premium and not a man made fibre, that the cuts are tailored to last and to fit the plus size market, and of course that the garments are manufactured ethically. We think we have achieved this, I have many Kita Ku items in my personal wardrobe that have been there for quite a number of years and have been worn and laundered multiple times – they are still in excellent condition, the company has been in the business of producing quality plus size fashion since 1996, in their 20th year they are still growing, in today’s disposable society that is an incredible achievement, well we think so and judging by our sales of this premium brand so do a lot of you!
Kita Ku from previous seasons