America's junk epidemic
March 9, 2018 1:57 PM   Subscribe

The reason we can't have nice things in America in 2018 is that we don't want them. Think about the last pair of socks you purchased. Unless you spent upwards of $25 on them, they were probably made of Chinese acrylic. Getting them on your toes resembled an attempt to strangle a zebra with a sandwich bag. And afterward you couldn't shake the feeling that your feet were encased in a substance not unlike paint. They probably had a hole in them after a single wear. But, hey, who could pass up 12 pairs for $12 with Prime shipping?

What is the solution to the cheap stuff crisis? The first step is to hasten the end of an arrangement in which it's possible for our companies to rely upon cheap foreign labor. This wouldn't necessarily have to take the form of tariffs; it would be better, in fact, if it involved forcing American corporations that do business abroad to adhere to the same labor standards they would abide by if they were making things here. In practice, at least at first, the result would be the same, though: Companies would decide that having a union workforce in Indiana is not really such a bad arrangement after all.
posted by Toddles (172 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
Manufacturing will come back to the US when manufacturers don't have to hire humans to make things.
posted by jscalzi at 2:04 PM on March 9 [72 favorites]


So grumpybearbride is a sock designer. All of the socks her company sells are made overseas in Korea, China or Taiwan. They are made there because the price point that people are willing to pay can only be met using overseas labor. It is extremely hard to get socks made in the US at all, let alone at scale and and acceptable price point, because we have dismantled our manufacturing facilities. To their credit, her company does periodic inspections of the manufacturing facilities to ensure compliance with labor laws and has cut ties with multiple factories due to violations.

That said, our house is overflowing with said socks, and I have pairs that have lasted 5+ years. They don't feel like paint, they fit my feet fine, and they look great. You're going to pay $4-5 per pair, though.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:08 PM on March 9 [54 favorites]


The US is still one of the top manufacturing countries. What we don't have is high manufacturing employment, because of the steady automation. That's not going to come back.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:08 PM on March 9 [36 favorites]


Hm. Just bought wool socks for self and mr. kinnakeet that are guaranteed for life. They’re all we wear. Can’t imagine wearing anything else.

Damn, I hate buying stuff knowing I’ll bin it in short order, it just feels wrong.
posted by kinnakeet at 2:09 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


Nothing about the effect of stagnant wages or the boots theory? Dude's a writer, he's had to stretch a paycheck before - why has he decided to scold the consumer?
posted by Selena777 at 2:11 PM on March 9 [76 favorites]


I am unconvinced by the idea that good stuff can't be made overseas where labor is cheaper.
posted by snofoam at 2:12 PM on March 9 [42 favorites]


I'd probably be more swayed by this article if it didn't conclude with a raft of links to junk, clickbait journalism.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:14 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


Here's one report, and you can find a bunch more with some searches.

There's only one country that "beats" the US in manufacturing output, and thats China.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:15 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


Dude appears to be some sort of right-wing professional Catholic who probably wants to go back to the good old days when peasants didn't want too many pairs of socks because they knew their place, and that place didn't require clean socks. I'll pass. Also, if he cares so much about sock quality, I would be happy to give him some tips for learning to knit his own.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:15 PM on March 9 [33 favorites]


I'm a little hesitant to believe.
Increasing labor costs would in turn mean that prices would go up. People would have no choice but to buy fewer things. If you're only purchasing one tenth as many socks or buying a toaster that costs at least slightly more than an actual slice of toast at a fashionable D.C. brunch spot, you're going to insist on quality. Companies will have to deliver.
Maybe capitalism looks different in his world.

Look, I'm a privileged person and can buy made here fancy stuff, but that's not going to be widespread until the wealth of this country is better distributed. I bought these clementines rather than those because organic and not shipped halfway around the world but I paid twice as much. No one working at the Target store is going to make that choice easily until wages go up.
posted by advicepig at 2:15 PM on March 9 [47 favorites]


And those acrylic socks and fabrics are a leading cause of plastic microfiber pollution in the oceans. We where just talking about this in the home renovation thread, if everything is disposable, easily worn junk there no reason to think beyond the four or five uses it gets before it breaks and you get another one. It ties into the NRA who convince people they neeed new guns, more guns, different guns, as if a rifle made in 1912 won’t work anymore. It’s in DRM, it’s pointless changes in platforms and file formats, its the choice of five dozen different sugar filled cereals all made by the same parent company under diffferent sub-companies, it’s Vimes’ shoe theory of how cheap it is to be rich, it’s planned obselence, it’s cheating the workers and putting the misery overseas and out of sight, it’s letting ‘the market decide’ just what we’ll tolerate and then going lower, it’s getting us all used to cheap crap we can only just afford, it’s basing our entire way of life and socioeconomic system around endless growth, it’s makong the idea of ‘savings’ pointless for monst Americans.

It sucks and I hate it and I want the opposite of whatever all this is.

To quote the poet Edwina Monsoon : I DON’T WANT MORE CHOICE I JUST WANT NICER THINGS.
posted by The Whelk at 2:16 PM on March 9 [137 favorites]


Thorlos FTW.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:17 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


He's right in a way--if The Week had spent money on a real writer, they might have had an article that was more than a poorly researched rant with some coffee bragging.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:17 PM on March 9 [77 favorites]


Conservative writes classist and ableist consumer-shaming article - shocking. I could do a lot more with $23 than spend it on socks - that's 5 or 6 medication refills on Medicaid. And "order online" is a beautiful thing when a trip to the grocery store leaves you exhausted.
posted by camyram at 2:17 PM on March 9 [19 favorites]


"basing our entire way of life and socioeconomic system around endless growth"

I've seen exactly that turn more than one decent place to work into a broken Frankenstein of a company.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:19 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


he's scolding the consumer because he wants to feel superior to them

and no, 17 dollar psychedelic burgers are not going to go in kalamazoo and a lot of the guitar makers he thinks are totally handmade use computer equipment in the process and you can actually buy a pair of socks that will last for awhile in meijer's or target and you can also buy coffee machines that are simple and inexpensive and i bought my computer i'm typing this on in a recycling store and i'm just a cheap pleb who can't stand people like the author looking down at me like i'm some kind of cheesy freak who should be spit shining his rolex

i'm done
posted by pyramid termite at 2:19 PM on March 9 [29 favorites]


I've been trying to make my own stuff, and repair what I can (someday, when I have more time on my hands, I will learn how to use a sewing machine - I've heard it's a surprisingly empowering feeling to mend your own clothes). I'm trying to think about things as being not disposable, but things I commit to and invest in, so that they last.

But of course, doing that means subbing in my own labor for the labor that was cut in order to maximize profits. Even if I enjoy the work and find it satisfying, it's still work that I can do because I have the time and resources to do it. The compensation is continued use of the material good I'm mending, but it's work. We can hardly expect everyone, least of all people who are already overworked and overtired, to put in yet more physical and mental labor to extend the use-life of goods.

It seems like DIY, along with heavyweight denim and other stuff, is just luxury now. The problem isn't where things are manufactured, or that you can buy it online, it's that we keep redefining the bare minimum of acceptable quality of life and material goods, moving the bar ever lower in favor of higher corporate profit margins. That's not on the consumer.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:20 PM on March 9 [17 favorites]


Miejer's is magic
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:20 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I also totally agree that it's pretty racist and xenophobic to say that only domestic goods can be high quality goods. I have some amazingly well made things from China. The difference is that I was willing to pay for a nicer product.

Also, I've never found it difficult to buy US made socks at reasonable prices. The Hanes multipack at Target was made in the US. I mean sure, I buy wool Darn Tough socks made in the US with a lifetime guarantee, but terrible choice to lead with.
posted by advicepig at 2:21 PM on March 9 [15 favorites]


I don't really understand the conflation of quality material/design/manufacturing with "made in USA". I mean, both overseas manufacturing and cheaper materials are cost-saving measures, but I'd buy my same Darn Tough socks in a heartbeat if they were made overseas.

That said, though, I've been following a small manufacturer process with Keyboardio, who are doing their first run of high-quality, expensive keyboards made in China, and I wonder if there are cultural factors with cost-cutting (corner-cutting?) in manufacturing. They're definitely going for quality components, quality engineering, but getting it done overseas. They're very forthcoming about when their suppliers and manufacturers seem to fall short of expectations.
posted by supercres at 2:23 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


I have recently had to distance myself from one friend who is always getting excited about great deals and always upset by the products she actually receives and always broke from all the impulse purchases. I'm not even joking when I say it's starting to remind me of other friends who've had real drug problems, or at the very least it's not dissimilar from how cigarettes were when I was a teenager. I'm not a stickler about buying everything American-made or anything, but I do get really unnerved by looking at things like Amazon's daily deals page. If you're at all inclined towards having a tendency to hit 'buy' first and to think about the purchase later, it seems like there are a lot of corporations pushing to take advantage of that.

So yeah, I get that a lot of people are genuinely poor, but a lot of my genuinely poor friends are routinely getting into even worse positions because of this stuff, and I'd really like the corporations involved held accountable.
posted by Sequence at 2:26 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


I have two bluetooth speakers, both made in China. One is cheap, and you can tell. One is NOT CHEAP, and you can tell. I think it really does boil down to being willing to pay for quality.
posted by advicepig at 2:27 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I am unconvinced by the idea that good stuff can't be made overseas where labor is cheaper.

you can have very nice things made overseas, you can make garbage in the US. Most of it comes down to what you are willing to pay a contract manufacturer for.
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:27 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Looks like dude aspires to be the king of hot takes, only we've seen their like before; his rant against video games could have been written ten or twenty years ago, and apparently in his world the only video games are Mario Brothers and Grand Theft Auto.

advicepig, that's my brand of socks, and they feel fine. After some time some of them will develop holes in the heels, but that's been true of every brand of sock that I've worn since time immemorial. My pants also last for more than six months.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:27 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Miejer's is magic

Shittiest garlic anywhere, though. Almost always it’s the kind that looks like it has nice plump cloves, only to find those plump cloves are made from umpteen dozens of tiny, thin clovettes. Without fail. Drives me nuts trying to find a good bulb of garlic at Meijer.

Other than that, though...yeah.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:29 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


A lot of clothing labeled "Made in USA" is actually made in places like the Marianas, which are under U.S. jurisdiction but have labor conditions as bad as anything you'll find in Asia.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:32 PM on March 9 [29 favorites]


grumpybear69: "Miejer's is magic"

Buddy in grad school went to Meijer with me shortly after he arrived from NYC. I could practically see his mind blow. "Wait wait wait. I can go to ONE STORE... and buy booze, food, clothes, tires, and ... lumber?" Yes, yes you can. Welcome to Meijer.

(In MN now and Supertarget is OK but it ain't no Meijer)
posted by caution live frogs at 2:34 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


Yeah this is BS. People will buy nice things when they can pay for them.

> made in China, and I wonder if there are cultural factors with cost-cutting (corner-cutting?) in manufacturing.

Not really a wonder. Laws are much different. See kickstarter for a graveyard of those who didn't look before they leaped.
posted by anti social order at 2:34 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


It would be nice if some of these authors would at least do an hour of study on historical standard of living before spewing up the same tired old crap that mostly is putting middle and lower class people back to being peasants.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:35 PM on March 9 [14 favorites]


I've also noticed that a lot of the obsession with "Made in USA" seems to be more about jingoism than about actual manufacturing quality. It seems to be a major right-wing obsession. I stopped looking at stuff like /r/buyitforlife because of how much of it seemed to have a weirdly conservative bent. Or at the very least, it can come uncomfortably close to hardcore conservatism.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:36 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]


Obviously there's no reason that high quality goods can't be made anywhere, given enough investment in the equipment and the workforce (although some things need a LOT of workforce investment - if you want to make fine shoes similar to those produced in England in a country without a tradition of Western-style shoemaking, you will need to recruit and train skilled artisans and pay them accordingly.)

But the whole point of going to China or India etc is usually the hope that you can exploit your workforce more and pollute more; it's about forcing wages down and externaling more costs through violence and corruption, not about the quest to make nice things more cheaply. It's the extension of the process where companies moved their plants to the non-union southern US.

~~~

I feel like there is a cultural thing that he's getting at, though, not purely a material thing - the constant push to buy useless crap because it's shiny. If you're at all susceptible, try a wander through the dollar store and see how many shiny things you are tempted to buy - for me, you can show me colorful pencils, cute tins with cats on them, new kinds of plastic food containers, stickers, etc etc, and I want to buy. I was just having a conversation with someone who'd bought a bunch of new kids' clothes as a present for a relative, even though the relative already had tons of kids' clothes - the clothes are so cute! And they're so cheap! And when I saw what had been purchased, well, the clothes were awfully cute! I probably would have bought them too!

There is a difference between saying "I am buying this $8 child's jacket because my kid needs a jacket and I can't afford a more expensive one" and someone saying "I am buying this because it's cute and what child can't use a third or fourth jacket?" There are lots of people who say the former, and they're suffering from poverty and lack. But I know a number of people who say the latter, and we're suffering from the shinies.
posted by Frowner at 2:38 PM on March 9 [50 favorites]


Also, much like say, anti-literring campaigns, the conservative drive on this is to make everything a matter of personal responsibility “you shouldn’t litter” not “companies shouldn’t make things from indestructable packaging cause it’s cheaper and easier for them.” The burden is on industry and capital to change , not someone just trying to save a little money or buy a little bit novelty before they get completely washed away.
posted by The Whelk at 2:40 PM on March 9 [31 favorites]


While it is probably easier to make crap in China (just because of lower costs, it's not efficient to make really low quality stuff in the US... maybe), as others have said "made in China" does not mean low quality.

In electronics, for example, there are several companies designing and making good stuff in China --- I have a OnePlus phone and a Huawei watch that I bought because they were the best option (price was not a factor).
posted by thefoxgod at 2:41 PM on March 9


And yes, I buy cheap goods just because of sheer pig-ignorance and bullheadedness, and not because unfettered capitalism, trickle-down economics, union-busting, and corporate welfare have left most of us unable to afford anything else. I've really got wads of cash stuffed in the mattresses of all my guest bedrooms; I'm just not WILLING to part with it because then what would I do on Sunday nights when I usually roll around in a heap of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:42 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


Though to be fair- even if companies weren’t packaging things in indestructible shells- you still shouldn’t litter.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:42 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


But the FPP. Apple? Show me another cell phone manufacturer with the same long tail of support. Google, you get 2 years and you're obsolete, iPhones get updates for more like 5 years.

LCD on your coffee maker? Last one I had with an LCD was a $200 Capresso that I used for 10+ years. Only reason I replaced it is that the LCD was unreadable, and the company gave me a trade-in on it for a new equivalent model.

Socks? It's "Darn Tough" to find good socks, sure. Eye roll. Look somewhere other than Walmart, buddy.

The only point the guy has (if any) is that we aren't willing to pay too much for anything. And he's right. But this is due to a few factors - primarily that we don't have that much to spend, thanks to stagnant wages and the balooning costs of healthcare, and also because until you get into the 3rd or 4th tier bracket of goods in terms of quality, everything is shit. When there's basically no difference between the cheapest and the next best, no one buys the next best. The best is an extravagance, and may actually be better, but the lack of difference between the mid-level and the low end teaches us that paying more isn't generally worth it.

In cases where it IS worth it - we don't buy as often, because things that last longer don't need to be bought often, and also because lack of money (see above). But if everything was crafted to last, no one would need to buy things, and manufacturing jobs would dry up. Can't have it both ways.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:42 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


I want UBI so I can make my own damn socks.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:45 PM on March 9 [10 favorites]


My rule of thumb is to buy the cheapest, simplest thing that will get the job done given the amount of time and sweat equity I'm willing to invest. I'm not here to save the world. I just want some socks...
posted by jim in austin at 2:47 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I find this interesting: from Leader Bag Co., Why We Manufacture Overseas. Basically, they tried manufacturing in the US in two different places and they ended up switching to overseas manufacturing in order to achieve the needed balance of quality & scale.
posted by mosst at 2:47 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


So yeah, I get that a lot of people are genuinely poor, but a lot of my genuinely poor friends are routinely getting into even worse positions because of this stuff, and I'd really like the corporations involved held accountable.

Even worse, I've seen some of the worst of this in the genuinely poor who also had drug habits. Yet in other threads we're sucking advertisers dicks for being so "creative" at finding ways to convince people to buy shit they may absolutely not fucking need. It's not just individual businesses, either, it's the entire consumerism culture.

They absolutely need to be held accountable. It's sick that some of the smartest psychologists in the country have gone on to work for advertising companies to drive these same some of frantic addictions to consumerism. Your friend is addicted to the act of buying, not the product itself, as is shown by their disappointment with repeated purchases.

A lot of clothing labeled "Made in USA" is actually made in places like the Marianas, which are under U.S. jurisdiction but have labor conditions as bad as anything you'll find in Asia.

A lot of clothing "Made in the USA" is also made by prison labor, which is essentially sweatshop wages or worse.

I absolutely love these chucklefucks who back an entire industry aimed at psychologically manipulating people into buying shoddily made bullshit they don't fucking need turn around to blame the very fucking people they're exploiting for how bad shit has gotten.

It's a fucking travesty, man.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:47 PM on March 9 [23 favorites]


People will buy nice things when they can pay for them.

Estate sales held in huge mcmansions contradict this. Plenty of well-off people fill their houses with piles and piles of cheap junk.
posted by frobozz at 2:48 PM on March 9 [13 favorites]


I don't think we should aspire to have socks that last a really long time. They bear the whole weight of your body grinding and shearing the fabric against your shoe sole. Only way to make them durable is to make them thick and heavy, not great in warm climates.
posted by scose at 2:48 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]


Also forgot to mention, it's not exactly cheaper to try to buy material to make your own clothes. Especially shit like T-shirts. That's fucked up, it incentivizes buying badly made shit repeatedly (because they often make them difficult to fix, too), because you are wasting time and money trying to do it yourself.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:49 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Estate sales held in huge mcmansions contradict this. Plenty of well-off people fill their houses with piles and piles of cheap junk.

Because they want to appear more well-to-do than they are, which is part of this fucking rat-race of a consumerist culture again. The massive amount of advertising that goes into convincing people who have never had to care for a home that their fucking Bluth McMansion is a disaster that will fall apart and be irreparable in 15 years can't be ignored. They don't pump so much money into convincing people this stuff is worth it to them for nothing. As long as people are addicted to buying shit in general, this will happen. Most of those people were overspending and in debt to begin with, trying to achieve a lifestyle they couldn't really afford simply because they were dazzled by it.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:52 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Over-simplification of complicated subject - bound to irritate abt everyone.

I shop Goodwill, habitat ReStore, and Craigslist. Good quality, great prices, better for the environment. Doesn't create quality jobs - leaving that up to others.
posted by she's not there at 2:53 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


I've also noticed that a lot of the obsession with "Made in USA" seems to be more about jingoism than about actual manufacturing quality.

Paul Ryan’s own Harley-Davidson is the canonical example of that. Overpriced garbage bikes. Gibson guitars are another.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:53 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


Darn Tough Socks, otoh, are awesome. The only socks I don’t immediately blow the heel out of (looking at you SmartWool).
posted by leotrotsky at 2:54 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


it's not exactly cheaper to try to buy material to make your own clothes. Especially shit like T-shirts. That's fucked up

No, that's economies of scale. It will never ever ever be cheaper per unit to make one item by hand than to make 10,000 by machine.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:55 PM on March 9 [13 favorites]


I think one of the problems with this type of article and the ensuing discussion is a problem of register. There are so many issues bound up in the question of cheap junk that it's very easy, if you're talking about one of them, for it to appear that you're discounting the others.

Like, we all have a certain amount of personal ability/responsibility not to buy cheap crap we don't need, even though cheap crap we don't need can be very tempting. There has never been a time when I was too broke to spend foolishly, even if that foolishness was a quarter in a sticker machine - if you're drawn to shiny things it can be a huge problem just like if you struggle to control your eating, alcohol use or screen time.

But then there's also the psychological manipulation of advertising and the fact that advertising is naturalized! Advertising is powerful, the rhetoric of buying stuff is powerful...where does my individual "don't spend $5 on something stupid Frowner" responsibility connect to powerful social forces trying to make me spend the $5?

And then there's wages and labor and environmental issues and shipping which overdetermine the whole thing.

On the one hand, huge social forces overdetermine how much money I have to spend and what I want to spend it on, and those huge social forces are extremely culpable; on the other, I am sometimes troubled by my own tendency to overspend and/or buy things that I know aren't going to make me happy, and I feel like that's something beyond just "I am a pawn of industry"; it's to do with my personal history, values and experiences and can't be addressed purely on the regulatory level.
posted by Frowner at 2:58 PM on March 9 [30 favorites]


People will buy higher-quality stuff when they can afford it. Pay American workers better overall and they will have the money to spend on higher-quality Made in America stuff. It's a hilarious downward spiral we've been stuck in, where you pay your workers as little as possible, crush the unions, and automate everything, then wonder why no one can afford to buy your stuff.
posted by Slinga at 2:59 PM on March 9 [13 favorites]


The only decent point he has is requiring American companies to have similar labor protections for workers abroad if they want to sell products in America. I don't think wages necessarily have to be congruent, but workplace safety, 40-hour work weeks, and collective bargaining rights would go a tremendous distance toward global labor equity, which would both decrease the price differential between labor in most-developed and least-developed states, and increase the amount of money that most consumers (here and abroad) had to spend on goods.

Poor families deserve better than to be told it's their fault that cheap socks are all they can afford.
posted by klangklangston at 3:04 PM on March 9 [32 favorites]


OK, we kind of know that paying a bit more for good quality means ultimately paying less if stuff lasts longer. We also kind of know that it's somewhat worth it, for many people, to pay a little more to assure decent wages for workers, decent environmental practices, decent safety practices, etc.

However, when you're shopping, you can't see that information, you can't quantify it, you can't easily compare one brand of socks across all these attributes to others.

Oh, it seems impossible, it's so complicated!

What if we had a machine, or a network of machines, that could crunch all the numbers! What if you could even select which attributes were important to you, and how they should be compared and combined, and the machine could do the calculations for you!

What if there were ways to organize humans to put the values of those attributes into the machines - like if they had their own individual little machines that connected to the big machines' network!

What I'm saying is, there's a place for a more complicated but more useful product reviewing system.
posted by amtho at 3:05 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


I used to have a lot of cheap socks and underwear, because I didn't have laundry in my apartment, and doing laundry was a pain in the ass. And if you have a lot of socks and underwear, you can go a long time between laundry trips. And yeah, maybe they don't last as many wearings/ washings as more-expensive socks and undies would, but that's ok, because you don't wear or wash them as often. (Bras get hand-washed, and I have a few very expensive bras, because bra quality matters, in a way that sock-and-undie quality doesn't.) That's a rational trade-off, not peasants being lazy or not understanding the value of Fine Things or whatever we're on about today.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:10 PM on March 9 [19 favorites]


Anyone old enough to remember when Swiffer first came out? With the disposable floor sweeper things?

It was right after recycling became a widespread and normal thing. Before that it was all about "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle", with the emphasis on the first two and the third if the first two weren't possible. "Disposable" was a very dirty word.

Then basically everyone was recycling, it was really easy and doing it made you good people, so bring on the disposable, cheap, easy shit again please, I have some karma to spend because "I recycle". That whole reduce and re-use stuff was too hard anyway, and it was hard to buy with money.

I always thought that was such a weird, pivotal cultural turn. Fast fashion and making everything disposable just seemed like a natural continuation once we got over our temporary worry that perhaps we couldn't consume our way out of our over-consumption problem. Once it became a moral issue, sins can be absolved through performance of some rituals that showed you still care.

Mitchell and Webb get it.
posted by Infracanophile at 3:13 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


To be fair, pointing to Swiffer as though it was the changeover when there's never, ever been room for "reduce" in an economy based on endless growth where a company isn't posting higher and higher profits year-after-year something wrong is considered to be happening, seems to be missing the point.

I thought the big change was when drinks stopped being sold in re-usable glass bottles that you could get a refund for delivering them to the bottle plant where they were washed, disinfected, and re-used.

Why? Because the companies might be "losing money" because of some bottles broken in transit, meaning they can create larger "economies of scale" and sell more soda by using difficult to recycle plastics (that use way more energy and resources), because it's really important we sell more soda guys! REALLY! /s

There has never, ever been an option to "reduce" in capitalism.
posted by deadaluspark at 3:20 PM on March 9 [29 favorites]


Anyone old enough to remember when Swiffer first came out? With the disposable floor sweeper things?

I don't use the disposable pads in my Swiffer; I use scraps of old clothes from the ragbag.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:21 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


Everyone lives in single person households these days. So everyone has their own stuff.

Therefore, the obvious solution is mass cult marriages. That way everyone shares everything: TVs, socks, toothbrushes. Problem solved.
posted by FJT at 3:23 PM on March 9 [15 favorites]


i kinda feel like the writer here has a point, but it's not like most people would be able to afford $170 on a one-button bunn to make coffee.

that's what, 17 hours of federal minimum wage work?
posted by anem0ne at 3:27 PM on March 9


like, i get there's the whole thing about buying quality over quantity and while you pay more you'll get more and it'll last longer, but i recall a whole slew of articles that pointed out that those facing poverty don't really get the option to go for quality? i think there were a couple fpps

oh fuck it, it's just a mediocre white dude expounding his opinion about how shitty foreign shit is.
posted by anem0ne at 3:29 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


The weirdest thing about this is that socks are SUPPOSED to wear out. Their basic purpose is to go in your work boots so the boots don't hurt your feet. Same thing with mops, cleaning cloths. Some last longer than others, some can be mended easier than others, but their truest purpose is to be used. Paper towels and swiffers are on the extreme end, I don't like them, but I wouldn't want to use the same mop head for 50 years either.

I was reading about knitting a while ago - before knitting machines, kids would be put to work knitting socks while they walked around, to sell, and they were considered slow if they took a whole day to finish a pair. That's a pretty high rate of sock manufacturing in areas without a huge population. They wouldn't have much of a market if socks didn't wear the fuck out.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:33 PM on March 9 [13 favorites]


also speaking of, I use my cheap walmart socks as Swiffer cloths when they start to wear out
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:34 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]


The idea that 'poor quality things come from china' and 'high quality things come from the USA' is ultra racist. There are different systems and factors at work. Advicepig is pretty close in their analysis.

I've worked pretty closely with a couple companies doing product development on a couple pieces of heavuy-use food manufacturing equipment, and some of that has been produced in China. In China, as well as many other manufacturing-heavy countries SE Asian countries, you get exactly what you pay for. If you cheap out, you get cheap shit...but man, if you spend the cash, you can get products that can rival some of the better items coming out of Germany.

I am also an avid fan of the Booker and Dax products that have come out, and they're really open on their podcast Cooking Issues about some of the process behind manufacturing, and they've outlined it as such; in the process of making a new widget, the US is amazing at producing engineering diagrams to one-off-prototypes and producing a billion units. Anything less than that, and we don't really have the structures in place to produce, hence it gets outsourced to lower labor producing factories. Once you can build a robot to do it, the process usually comes back to the states...but this requires an inordinate amount of volume to do.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:36 PM on March 9 [20 favorites]


It will never ever ever be cheaper per unit to make one item by hand than to make 10,000 by machine.

Making one item. Not buying the raw materials to make said item.

It is cheaper for me to buy a finished product than it is for me to buy the materials necessary for said product. (When I can buy them, which isn't that often.) That's the problem.

The idea that 'poor quality things come from china' and 'high quality things come from the USA' is ultra racist. There are different systems and factors at work.

True. But - given that we live in a world where there's no guarantee that a quality product won't be made more shoddy next week - any correlation is better than none.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:45 PM on March 9


"Wait wait wait. I can go to ONE STORE... and buy booze, food, clothes, tires, and ... lumber?" Yes, yes you can. Welcome to Meijer.

Sounds more like you were in a Menards. I’ve never seen a Meijer selling lumber.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:46 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


The socks are such a terrible example. Yes, they're supposed to wear out, and look, I bought a pair of Darn Tough socks myself--and I don't, as it turns out, like them. Wool is fussy and as far as I'm concerned uncomfortable and man their women's extra large is not very extra large. But that's not really the problem, you know? Solve socks for people. Give everybody good socks.

Amazon's Today's Deals, right now, wants to sell me a bunch of cheap stuff. A $100 (piano) keyboard. Bunch of cheap jewelry. An $11 top that looks very cute on the model. $11! And cute! What if I like cute, cheap things? Well, it's probably terrible, and the sizes are probably grossly off, but still, for $11, isn't it worth a try? It's worth a try until you do that ten times and you suddenly have spent over $100 on shirts that don't fit. I do this much less than my friend did, but I still have a scarf that showed up smaller and in a different color scheme than advertised. But I didn't ask for a refund because it was like $10. I wore it like twice. I can afford and usually do afford nicer scarves, but I have to be able to resist when you put a photo in front of me of a product that looks good to me and tell me it's $10 in order to get as far as buying the nicer scarf. Most of what my friend ever splurged on was not necessities. It was cute or nifty little treats, often phrased as "self-care", that showed up and were unfortunately crap.

It doesn't really matter where the stuff comes from; China's products aren't inherently bad, but the stuff that China as a whole is offloading onto Amazon is stuff that does nobody any actual good to purchase. And we can't afford to be spending as much money as Amazon is clearly making on all this "oh why not it's such a deal" crap that's just going to get thrown away, but Amazon is going to keep pushing it, after years of Walmart pushing it, after years of Kmart and the dollar stores. Except now you don't have to drive anywhere or even get out of bed...
posted by Sequence at 3:47 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


Trying to figure out how to make a pot of coffee after the LED screen went out on a friend's $40 Target machine recently reminded me how glad I am to own an old-fashioned one-button Bunn. Yes, it cost me $170. No, it does not double as an entertainment device, unless you get your jollies by listening to the sound of water percolating. But it will serve my family for longer than I have been alive.

This morning I made coffee with my Bodum French Press, which has neither an LED Screen, nor a "single button". It is cheaper than both the $170 Bunn and the $40 Target machine, uses no electricity, and has no electrics on it that can break; the only breakable elements are the glass flask (which I can replace) and the plunger (mine has a habit of unscrewing from the post, and I simply screw it back on when it does). Best of all, I can also use it to brew loose tea.

Cheap and good quality is an option.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:48 PM on March 9 [19 favorites]


This opinion piece has some surprisingly radical ideas, given that it's purportedly conservative.
...they are made... by people in Southeast Asia who are treated little better than slaves.

...forcing American corporations that do business abroad to adhere to the same labor standards they would abide by if they were making things here. In practice, at least at first, the result would be the same, though: Companies would decide that having a union workforce in Indiana is not really such a bad arrangement after all.

...prosecute out of existence corporations like Apple whose business models depend upon a strategy of planned obsolescence.
He's got rose-coloured glasses for the past - never had the chance to visit a five-and-dime, I guess? - but these thoughts would put him firmly in the left-wing NDP up here in Canada.
posted by clawsoon at 3:48 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Rainbo Vagrant: The weirdest thing about this is that socks are SUPPOSED to wear out. Their basic purpose is to go in your work boots so the boots don't hurt your feet.

Huh. I thought that the purpose of them - like underwear and sheets - was to protect things that are hard to wash with something that's easy to wash.
posted by clawsoon at 3:53 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]


Infracanophile: Anyone old enough to remember when Swiffer first came out? With the disposable floor sweeper things? It was right after recycling became a widespread and normal thing. Before that it was all about "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle", with the emphasis on the first two and the third if the first two weren't possible. "Disposable" was a very dirty word.

I remember my shock when I first saw wet wipes. "So wasteful!" thought my prairie-kid self.
posted by clawsoon at 3:55 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


(...and now I go through a big bag of wet wipes every week or two.)
posted by clawsoon at 3:57 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


deadaluspark: "there's never, ever been room for "reduce" in an economy based on endless growth"

Definitely, and like the re-usable bottle were the sign to you swiffers were just the thing I noticed that told me we'd gotten over our temporary moral judgement of disposable stuff.

Of course that objection was expressed by purchasing a bunch more stuff that was "well made" and "long lasting" to replace the disposable stuff we had. Reducing consumption was never going to happen, but plenty of people were happy to sell the idea of reducing and re-using so we could happily consume and tell ourselves we were now ready to start reducing tomorrow.
posted by Infracanophile at 4:05 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I am unconvinced by the idea that good stuff can't be made overseas where labor is cheaper.

I have a baritone sax made in Taiwan, simply because my research said that the company in question made good instruments AND it literally cost a third of comparable name brand semi-pro horns (which I wouldn't have been able to afford). It came in a very nice rolling case, it plays and sounds like a pro horn, and it's well and properly built to last. So...anecdata...
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:05 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Hum. I'm old enough to remember when Japan was supposedly the place for cheap inferior quality stuff. About 15 years later, Lee Iacocca was in front of Congress, begging for subsidies so American companies could compete.

I suppose next comes the cyberpunk stories about China buying the US...
posted by happyroach at 4:07 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


The weirdest thing about this is that socks are SUPPOSED to wear out. Their basic purpose is to go in your work boots so the boots don't hurt your feet.

Huh. I thought that the purpose of them - like underwear and sheets - was to protect things that are hard to wash with something that's easy to wash.

They've got TWO uses!
posted by deadaluspark at 4:10 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Another unspoken thing that Americans are encouraged to live as disposable and easily moved lives as possible, you’re supposed to drop your life at any notice to chase down a new job opportunity or maybe the hint of one, and if you’re not ready to do this then you’re lazy scum. Be travel ready as possible! Who needs emotional ties or communities or objects that woukd be difficult to move, just buy new things when you get there and then again six months later! You’re a hip digital nomad or a new kind of hip fun RV retiree, not a hobo!

YOU HAVE A MORAL DUTY TO MAKE YOURSELF AS EXPLOITABLE AS POSSIBLE! Become like robots until we finally have robots and then we can finally forget about you completely.
posted by The Whelk at 4:15 PM on March 9 [32 favorites]


MetaFilter: I usually roll around in a heap of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:19 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


but these thoughts would put him firmly in the left-wing NDP up here in Canada.

I can't speak for the NDP, but those ideas are not necessarily what I would call "left." Arguably, he is arguing for capitalism, tempered by nativism and an authoritarian government. It feels a bit more like paleoconservatism or even fascism to me. The appeal to unions sounds almost Volkisch.

A more fascist sounding summary of the article might go like this. People are fickle, weak, and capricious with their individual decisions. A society in which everyone can buy whatever they want degenerates into solipsism and decadence. This our formerly great society has fallen prey to its apparent abundance and moral weakness. As such, we buy inferior things from inferior places. What we need is clear direction. With commanding leadership, our factories shall turn out stronger socks, stronger iron—they shall forge stronger men with stronger souls for our stronger land! Those who will not heed this clarion call should be, uh, prosecuted out of existence. Arise, sheeple! Forward!

The far-left and far-right can sound oddly similar here.
posted by andrewpcone at 4:20 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


Americans buy huge storage spaces so that after they die, their stuff can raided by scavengers on a reality show. True nomads.

My rule of thumb is to buy the cheapest, simplest thing that will get the job done...
I'm not here to save the world. I just want some socks


Thank you for making some goddamn sense.
posted by tirutiru at 4:20 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


When the powerful take away every means of expression except consumerist consumption, we shouldn't be surprised when the powerless turn to consumerist consumption to express themselves.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:21 PM on March 9 [9 favorites]


I don't think I've ever spent more than 10 dollars on a pair of socks and I've never felt even remotely that way about any of them. Just my two cents.
posted by bracems at 4:21 PM on March 9


Followup, having actually read the article. I also own $50, presumably foreign made, pairs of jeans that have lasted me several years (frequent wear also-during college I basically switched back and forth between the same two pairs of jeans), and my coffeemaker costs way less than $170 and works fine. My theory is that this guy is some rich twat who has never actually bought anything cheap in his life then became horrified after somehow wandering into a Dollar General.
posted by bracems at 4:31 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


steady-state strawberry: It is cheaper for me to buy a finished product than it is for me to buy the materials necessary for said product. (When I can buy them, which isn't that often.)

One of my hard-fought realizations was that the majority of the cost of a product isn't the components that go into that product, it's managing the supply-chain and inventory and all of those other things that go into getting the product to you.

Stocking the replacement product that's also the product that's going to be sold new is way cheaper than trying to manage a gazillion components for that product that will only be used when one of the products sold new fails.

It's part of why the absurdly subsidized shipping from China for small objects is so fascinating: retail stores in every town no longer have to carry one of everything just in case someone needs it, we have one company making the product in small batches and spewing it out to a world-wide market, so we can get that niche electronics part for close to nothing.

But any time someone talks about declining quality, I point 'em back to Akerlof in 1970.
posted by straw at 4:33 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


My take is that most/many Americans purchase most things by the "whatever is least expensive is best" dictum. Then will endlessly debate that their item is "just as good" as more expensive items and that they were smart to have "saved money" (hence, they "live better" too).

I have a few higher dollar items that are "designed in USA, made in China" and they are indeed worth every dollar for the quality and wear.
posted by CrowGoat at 4:41 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-unwrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still-unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.

On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed rubes of toothpaste, blown-out lightbulbs, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers, encyclopedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia's opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia's true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday's existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody wants to have to think about them further.

Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall farther back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia's talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.

This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form: yesterday's sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.

Leonia's rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond the final crest of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves. Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia's boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both support each other, overlap, mingle.

The greater its height grows, the more the danger of a landslide looms: a tin can, an old tire, an unraveled wine flask, if it rolls toward Leonia, is enough to bring with it an avalanche of unmated shoes, calendars of bygone years, withered flowers, submerging the city in its own past, which it had tried in vain to reject, mingling with the past of the neighboring cities, finally clean. A cataclysm will flatten the sordid mountain range, canceling every trace of the metropolis always dressed in new clothes. In the nearby cities they are all ready, waiting with bulldozers to flatten the terrain, to push into the new territory, expand, and drive the new street cleaners still farther out.
--Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
posted by Rhaomi at 4:42 PM on March 9 [30 favorites]


Most Americans would rather have junk, though.

1. No they wouldn't; if they actually had more money, they would buy nicer things.

What is the solution to the cheap stuff crisis?

2. Pay them more. See (1).

Prices would go up. People would have no choice but to buy fewer things.

3. And many people would never be able to afford them. Living paycheck to paycheck, with low cash on hand, can lead to an unending stream of forced-by-necessity uneconomic decisions. See 1, 2.

The end of cheap stuff would simply be a return to the way that people lived and consumed things in the United States within living memory.

To the way rich people lived and consumed things ... see 1, 2, 3.

It all seems a bit like another case of blaming the poor for being poor.
posted by carter at 4:54 PM on March 9 [23 favorites]


This opinion piece has some surprisingly radical ideas, given that it's purportedly conservative.

Indeed. In fact, I think he's almost a good fit for the MetaFilter crowd. If he were a little more eloquent and avoided the douche-y examples, I think there'd be a lot of nodding heads here. "The end of cheap stuff would simply be a return to the way that people lived and consumed things in the United States within living memory. It would be more ethical, more environmentally sound, and less ugly" could be written by any number of us regulars.

Though I still think it's pretty much bullshit.

It always kind of pisses me off when people like to make the claim about America making good products, and China making crappy products, because America. First of all, because it's easily demonstratively untrue. But it's also usually claimed with at least a hint that them Chinese make crappy products because they're just incapable as a country, culture, race...

USA once made fantastically shitty products. When Americans were in need of cheap crap, it was American made, mostly because there was little choice. Those manufacturers were the most vulnerable to increasing global trade, and deservedly lost. Crappy products tend to be made where costs are lowest. But no worry, I can think of several US manufacturers that still make shitty products. In fact, I think one reason they make shitty products is because they sell more an Made-in-America identity than a product, along with things like tradition and patriotism. They can't afford to innovate, because it would put their existing customer base in jeopardy. Though it's usually a poor long term strategy.

And it's not even true that cheap things are actually crappy as a rule. I'm old enough to realize that we're living in an age where cheap goods are remarkably good. And often remarkably cheap, factoring inflation. Like bracems, I don't think I've ever spent more than $10 on a pair of socks. Even from Walmart, they simply don't wear out very fast. At all. You can even find a pair of jeans in a wide variety of sizes and colors for about $10. $10! And they're actually not bad, really. They seem to last me a couple years barring unforeseen trauma (I'm looking at you, little bastard dog of mine). How much more can you possibly want for 10 fucking dollars?

So, if this guy doesn't like the socks I buy, he can feel free to buy me a pair that suits his indignation. Until then, he can shut the fuck up.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:03 PM on March 9 [12 favorites]


Damn, I hate buying stuff knowing I’ll bin it in short order, it just feels wrong.

Everything you buy is future trash.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:03 PM on March 9


It is cheaper for me to buy a finished product than it is for me to buy the materials necessary for said product. (When I can buy them, which isn't that often.) That's the problem.

I've sort of tried to work out the economics of making my own things. I would love to make my own clothes (if for no other reason than because I love making things). I've gone so far as to look up the costs of fabric from various sources. If I set certain criteria, the fabric alone can end up being more expensive than the cost of a premade item, but there's other considerations: knowing that it wasn't made by sweatshop labor, generally getting higher quality material (is it 100% cotton or wool? Is the weight of the fabric better, and will it last longer, meaning I need to buy/make fewer of this thing?). Those need to be factored in as important cost factors, or just as luxury costs, depending on how necessary you think they are.

How do I consider my own time? Do I factor that into the overall cost, knowing I could be doing something else? Or because I seek out this particular task as a hobby, do I think of it as a wash, and assume I could be spending a similar amount of money on some other pastime?

I don't make my own clothes, but I do make almost all my own baked goods, and I think I'm saving some money on that. The costs of flour, butter, milk, eggs. Maybe I'm spending about $1 on a loaf of bread, depending on how complicated it is? It's not free, but it's not super expensive. But of course, I mostly do it because I like doing it.

Anyway, I suck at math, so I have no idea what makes more sense economically. Probably buying premade stuff, but then again, how much of a difference is there in cost, and is it worth it to be able to control for factors I can't necessarily control if I buy corporate? Am I just romanticizing past production chains, and doesn't that mean swallowing some part of capitalism? Eventually, I just give in and admit that I want to do because I want it to be the best choice, even if there are really no economic or moral justifications.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:09 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


When the powerful take away every means of expression except consumerist consumption, we shouldn't be surprised when the powerless turn to consumerist consumption to express themselves.

Said a guy to thousands of other MeFites around the world, on a site indexed and searchable by billions of people, with zero intervention from "the powerful."

When, exactly, have people had *more* means of expression than now? The "powerful"—ie the rich—have certainly accrued the bulk of increased wealth for decades. But the idea that means of expression have been "taken away"—and not vastly increased for just about everyone—is ludicrous.

Unfortunately those venues of expression still don't pay the rent.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:23 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


Everything you buy is future trash.

Ooh, it's one of my favorite topics! Use-life (or chaines operatoires, if you're being fancy) is a big part of archaeology. Basically, a given object is constructed, used, and disposed of through a series of social interactions and transactions. How that happens is in many ways culturally dependent.

It's debatable whether everything becomes trash, and even if it does, there's big differences in when and how something becomes trash. Does it become trash the moment it breaks, or is it repurposed for other use? Are there social, cultural, or economic factors that influence whether or not something will be reused? Is it an heirloom item? Are there social, cultural, economic, or other factors that influence whether or not it will be seen or treated like an heirloom (think, for example, of a low-cost Disney figurine that might be tacky to one person, but make someone else think of a departed loved one)?

Manufacture is just as interesting. All the various supply chains, the labor relationships, the distribution networks. How many people have directly interacted with a given object (touched it, packaged it, etc), and how many people have indirectly interacted with it (invented it, designed it, signed off on a loading order, driven the truck that brought it to the store, or placed it on the shelf, and so on) before it reaches you? What did the manufacter expect the consumer to do with that object?

You could look at this article (and I agree that his examples do seem a little prickish) as a study in the expected lives of consumer goods. Are people going to use a given thing in ways not anticipated, or use it past the point of its expected obsolescence? Are people forced into buying things that will wear out and become unusable earlier than they'd like because it was determined that lower-cost materials would bring higher profits? Is there a class component to whether your socks will last forever, or whether they'll be thrown out or repurposed as cleaning rags? Don't even get me started on thrift stores.

I mean, I'm an undergrad, so I'm not trying to be Mr. Archaeology Expert here. I just really love thinking about all the hands that something passes through before it gets to you, and all the hands it passes through once it leaves your possession, even if it is nominally trash (like, is someone going to get a useful part from their car once yours goes to the junkyard?). Even archaeology repurposes other people's garbage into tools for understanding aspects of society that are missing from the written historical record. It's amazing! In the right context, any given object might never actually stop being useful, even if there are periods where it is not being utilized for any specific purpose (because it's in the ground, or it's in a shelf in a museum collection somewhere).
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:24 PM on March 9 [22 favorites]


The only articles of clothing I've ever spent more than $20 for were dancing shoes and two bridesmaid dresses. I wear a lot of secondhand, do my own alterations and some of my own sewing, and make over old stuff. I appreciate that that's not something everybody has the resources to do.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:35 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm tired of this kind of article which blames consumers entirely for the state of affairs. The other day in a facebook group this dairy farmer made a video complaining about discounted milk and how it was driving dairy farmers out of business. The entire thing was just a ten minute shaming of consumers for buying cheap milk, but she said not one word about how wages have stagnated over the last 30 years. When roughly half the population is now living paycheck to paycheck, surprise, they can't buy a lot of things, and what they do buy has to be cheap. It's not consumers who have created this problem.
posted by katyggls at 5:38 PM on March 9 [19 favorites]


People don't get how desperately Americans need the price of manufactured and farmed goods to keep declining. It is the only thing that it barely enabling us to keep our heads above water given what seems like the continual acceleration in costs of all other notable sectors of goods: education, healthcare, housing and public safety/national defense, to say the least of the vast legacy costs that are coming due on the government side in the form of horrifically underfunded state and local pensions and on the federal level social security and medicare costs.
posted by MattD at 5:47 PM on March 9 [20 favorites]


Well, or wages could increase to account for inflation and rising costs of living everywhere. I mean, besides executive-class wages.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:51 PM on March 9 [15 favorites]


The way I see it as probably an average consumer, a big part of the problem is that companies have been quietly changing the materials they use in their products and putting them out as if they're the same thing, but they're just a crappier version of what they used to be. So customer expectations keep getting lower and lower, and we're not willing to pay as much, as more of what we find in stores and on Amazon really is disposable crap.

How many times in the last few years have you attempted to replace something you bought maybe 10-15 years ago and were disappointed by the available options now? Athletic sneakers, small kitchen appliances, jeans... etc... it's hard to find nice things to buy even when you want to spend a little more money.

I don't blame the fact that products are made in China, but I do blame manufacturers for cutting corners on quality for higher profits, particularly when those profits aren't turning into higher wages for most of their employees.

The socks are a bad example though. It's still pretty easy to buy comfortable socks made out of mostly cotton that are decent quality and cost way less than $25 a pair, although Amazon is definitely flooded with awful options in pretty much every product category.
posted by wondermouse at 5:58 PM on March 9 [10 favorites]


As for the waste all this stuff creates, the circular ecomny concept is gaining traction.
posted by The Whelk at 5:59 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


On the disposability of swiffer pads: knitters to the rescue! There are three pages of knitting patterns on Ravelry that you can use to DIY your own swiffer pad, which you wash and re-use.

....I still just use the old-school kinda mop because knitting a swiffer pad just feels weird. But this makes me want to say that if you're looking for some kind of item that can concievably be fashioned out of yarn, the knitting community has probably come up with a pattern for it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:05 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


"When, exactly, have people had *more* means of expression than now?"

Yeah, political efficacy is nearly non-existent, nobody even knows what workplace democracy means anymore, but I can still post comments on a blog and share Minions memes on Facebook, so things are great.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:08 PM on March 9 [15 favorites]


I've heard it's a surprisingly empowering feeling to mend your own clothes

It does sort of feel like you're holding back entropy itself, or like Superman flying around the planet fast enough to turn back time.

The Wikipedia article "footwraps" claims that the militaries of many Eastern European nations only started issuing socks to their troops in the last few decades, with the Russian version appearing to give 2010s as the date range for the Russian Armed Forces.
posted by XMLicious at 6:31 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


True. But - given that we live in a world where there's no guarantee that a quality product won't be made more shoddy next week - any correlation is better than none.

Yeah, if you're not paying your manufacturing facility to do QC, that happen, but it doesn't just happen because a factory is from a certain part of the world. Language barriers exacerbate this, but there are people who's entire job is to coordinate. This is where brand loyalty and actually buying quality can matter. Quality can come from China. Quality can come from the US. Garbage can also come from both.

You can't just plop down a well made-to-perfect prototype down in any factory and say "replicate this."The factory needs to know what parts they need to replicate, and of what quality. From the experience that I've had (which, I admit, is relatively limited) you have to carefully explain exactly what counts as a defect, and the characteristics you want them to pull for quality. If you only give a shit about X and Y, Z will be variable-to-fucked, because you didn't tell the factory that it was important. Once you iron all that out, you get your product, but for every QC point you have, it gets more expensive, because they'll have manufacturing flaws just like everywhere else.

If a producer wants quality from a Chinese manufacturer, it's relatively easy to pay for that to remain static; if it doesn't, it's usually the fault of the company that originates the contract. It's not just something that happens, and it certainly doesn't happen because of cultural differences. It's just a function of making physical things on scale. The idea that Chinese manufacturers are only capable of creating poor or variable-quality goods is racist, and false.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:09 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]


And there are plenty of Chinese brands now that are building international reputations, because they do care about things like quality.

Which is not new --- look at South Korea or Taiwan, which had the same quality reputation before they built their own high profile brands (like Samsung and HTC).
posted by thefoxgod at 7:17 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


Everything you buy is future trash.

if you buy an aluminum can and recycle it it just becomes another aluminum can, infinitely.

also it's time consuming and most places don't have systems in place for it, but basically anything you buy that used to be alive is potential future dirt. (not just food, clothes and packaging too-cotton, wool, cardboard, leather, rubber eventually).
posted by bracems at 7:17 PM on March 9


Huh. I thought that the purpose of [socks] - like underwear and sheets - was to protect things that are hard to wash with something that's easy to wash.

well yeah, and they also serve the purpose of keeping your feet warm. c.f. the Romans and their socks with sandals. But if you imagine less sophisticated shoe-making, without rubber soles, where work boots may have had wooden soles, you can imagine needing to protect your feet as much as the shoe.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 7:19 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Let's talk about socks. I'm very happy with Gold Toe Ultratec Crew Socks-- comfortable, durable, reasonably priced. This being said, I bought some other very cheap Gold Toe socks with enticing neon toes, and they were scratchy and miserable.

I'm another Darn Tough fan. Has anyone tried Bombas socks? They're very virtuous and rather expensive.

Possibly of interest: Bake the Bread, Buy the Butter
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:37 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I RTFA'ed. 1st thought - Blah, blah, ranty rant that isn't well thought out. Then, I thought of the Parable of the Boots*. And then I thought I am really tired of people thinking that economics is simple. Poor people buy cheap socks. See the Boot parable. Also, poor people shop at WalMart, and a lot of stuff at WalmMart is the lowest price because it is the worst quality. When my kid was an adolescent, I bought cheap socks by the dozen because he had an amazing ability to lose them. If you get to be Middle Class, it starts to diverge. Some buy decent socks, make them last. Some buy cute socks or cheap socks that are crap because they have learned to be Consumers. I'm not hard on socks, so I can buy okay quality and as long as they feel okay, fine. Cheap acrylic is unpleasant.

What people buy, where it's made, why they choose it, etc., is way more complex than The reason we can't have nice things in America in 2018 is that we don't want them. I want to buy adequately made clothing that won't be absurdly out of fashion in 5 years. I don't care very much, but in the work world, people pay attention to your clothes. I buy almost all my clothing at thrift stores, and would be pretty happy with my wardrobe if I could stabilize my weight. I buy pretty good shoes, but it's basically impossible for women to buy shoes that will last and be repairable. My boots have lasted 10 years and I love them, but they will spring a seam the sole will crack, and it's hard to find good women's boots when you have arthritis and need a non-standard size.

So many good comments above, Dumb article, interesting thread.

*Terry Pratchett “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

posted by theora55 at 8:19 PM on March 9 [14 favorites]


My magic superpower is that I stay the same size and am super gentle on clothes were I still have and regularly wear a shirt I got in high school, at Target or some place, to my professional-dress job, and it's fine. I have Old Navy shirts older than my kids and they are fine. Most of my Lee jeans are older than my marriage and they are still fine.

Socks? Once every few years I'll buy a new pack.

People don't get how desperately Americans need the price of manufactured and farmed goods to keep declining

The price of farmed goods aren't declining. They are generally stable to having increased in price compared to inflation in the past 20-30 years. Compare to soda, which is much cheaper now than 30 years ago.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:13 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


After some time some of them will develop holes in the heels

You could be like my frugal uncle who wears two pairs of socks at a time and twists them around (tube socks!) so that the holes on the inner sock are covered by the holes on the outer sock. But then he's 58 and his older sister still gifts him with underwear because he's that frugal.

Anyone old enough to remember when Swiffer first came out?

The Swiffer is my absolute goto product when I talk rant about how advertising's goal is to introduce you to a need that you didn't even know you had. How many Swiffer products are there? When did a dust cloth or a simple sponge mop or Cuban mop become insufficient or too hard to use?
posted by bendy at 9:56 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I've been watching in despair over the last few years as some mid-market women's clothing stores go to ever cheaper and shoddier materials or workmanship. E.g., you used to be able to buy tolerable-quality wool suits, suitable for professional contexts, from Ann Taylor. Now their suits that are still 95-100% wool aren't lined and their "tropical wool" suits, which are, are only like 20% wool, the rest polyester. And most of their non-cotton tops are now polyester, which, comparative even to rayon, is ugly, drapes badly, and doesn't last. This is a problem at Banana Republic, too. Why am I, a middle-class woman, now being returned to the hideous fabrics of my relatively impoverished youth? After a K-Mart childhood, I didn't quite make a "As God is my witness, I'll never wear polyester again!" oath, but I came close. But either (a) the stores feel they can now get away with cheaper materials to increase margins or (b) the stores feel they can raise their prices only so much, and the cost of the old inputs has risen more than that. It's all very dissatisfying, because I certainly can't afford to jump to the next level of women's professional clothing.
posted by praemunire at 12:43 AM on March 10 [31 favorites]


shapes that haunt the dusk:
I've sort of tried to work out the economics of making my own things. I would love to make my own clothes (if for no other reason than because I love making things). I've gone so far as to look up the costs of fabric from various sources. If I set certain criteria, the fabric alone can end up being more expensive than the cost of a premade item, but there's other considerations: knowing that it wasn't made by sweatshop labor, generally getting higher quality material (is it 100% cotton or wool? Is the weight of the fabric better, and will it last longer, meaning I need to buy/make fewer of this thing?). Those need to be factored in as important cost factors, or just as luxury costs, depending on how necessary you think they are.
Yeah, I started sewing a lot of my own clothes in the last year, and knitting my socks. It's definitely not cheaper, but it is higher-quality than what the same money would buy, and it's adjusted to suit me. I realised early on that it's easy to make clothes as good as you can buy, but that's because I've bought €20-30 t-shirts where the armpit seam didn't quite catch in the overlocker and springs a huge hole on the first wash. The real value is in this being my hobby, and that it makes me extremely happy and calm and fulfilled.

The things that worry me about sewing are, like you say, the provenance and quality of fabric. I'd love to know which fabric is produced by fair labour conditions and to be able to support that. For quality, it's definitely something you can learn via trial and error, learning to test fabric and also learning what wears and washes well. I must admit that one of my most-worn and versatile makes so far is in 100% polyester crêpe, as much as I also love wool and linen.

(Yarn is at least potentially simpler, since you can get readily traceable supply chains with small producers because the process is so much less complex and some of them own or live in communities with the source sheep. Simpler, at least, until you want to add nylon or whatever to make socks last.)

But the original article and the burden the consumer are like the biggest endorsement ever for there being no ethical consumption under capitalism.
posted by carbide at 12:57 AM on March 10 [7 favorites]


The way I saw them making coffee in Costa Rica, not sure if this is regional or that is just where I happened to see it:

You pour boiling water into a large flask, pour the coffee grounds into a sock-like thing, basically a big reusable tea bag, and you steep that in the water.

You could make nice coffee, pretty much forever, with a pair of cheap socks. I think I win this thread?
posted by Meatbomb at 1:29 AM on March 10 [9 favorites]


How many times in the last few years have you attempted to replace something you bought maybe 10-15 years ago and were disappointed by the available options now? Athletic sneakers, small kitchen appliances, jeans... etc... it's hard to find nice things to buy even when you want to spend a little more money.

Try finding a pair of nail clippers that are as good as the ones that cost 99 cents 30 years ago.
posted by Beholder at 3:39 AM on March 10 [7 favorites]


He's got rose-coloured glasses for the past - never had the chance to visit a five-and-dime, I guess? - but these thoughts would put him firmly in the left-wing NDP up here in Canada.

Not sure what you are getting at. I visited many a five and dime, and plenty of their merchandise would be considered great quality today, nail clippers, scissors, stapler, pipes, real chocolate, hand mirror, etc.

A few other things that stink today compared to my childhood, hand tools, toaster, utensils, pots, pans, furniture. Example, made in Texas TVs called Curtis Mathis. If they broke under warranty, they'd replace. All you had to do is swap it out at the showroom. My Grandmother kept one for forty years. It worked perfectly fine until the day we gave it away.
posted by Beholder at 3:49 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


If a producer wants quality from a Chinese manufacturer, it's relatively easy to pay for that to remain static; if it doesn't, it's usually the fault of the company that originates the contract

This has not been my experience. Manufacturing in China requires a serious commitment in resources to prevent double dealing, fraud, and corruption. You have to have your own procurement and quality teams and really be on top of things. All it takes is one person being happy to take your money and cheap out on paint, and the structural economic forces make cheaping out very tempting. We actually recently found out that one of our suppliers, a well-known company you’ve almost certainly heard of, was completely falsifying test data. I no longer allow my parents to being toys home to my kids when they visit Asia.

As for socks, they’re supposed to be disposable. Paying $25 for them is vanity. The Juicero, in addition to being a daft concept, was insanely over-engineered; once I saw the tear down, I understood immediately why it cost so much. You can complain about cheap clothes, but the truth is that the worst offenders are selling trendy stuff that its buyers won’t want to wear next season. It’s cheap because it doesn’t have much value.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:15 AM on March 10 [7 favorites]


Another case in point:

Some years ago, at either an L.L.Bean store or Cabela's, I bought a pair of Teva Mush flip flops. I LOVED them and wore the hell out of them for many years. Recently, I decided that it was time to get new ones because my old ones were looking pretty gross.

I was happy to find them available online because I no longer live near an L.L.Bean store or a Cabela's, and I don't know what stores sell them anymore anyway. But of course they are available online. I bought a new pair of Teva Mush flip flops directly from the Teva store and was dismayed to find that they are nothing like the way they were before. The sole is made out of a different material that offers no substantial support, and the straps are weirdly placed, making them awkward to walk in. I kind of hate them.

Where were my wonderful old ones made? China. Where were my uncomfortable new ones made? Vietnam. I don't think the problem is that they went from being made in China to being made in Vietnam.
posted by wondermouse at 6:24 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Think about the last pair of socks you purchased.

The last pair(s) I purchased really were a 6-for-$6 deal on Amazon with free Prime shipping! They're fine, comfy enough, and I'm guessing they'll last for 2-3 years like all my other $1 socks and, more to the point, like the expensive socks I've been gifted over the years. (I hear tell of expensive socks lasting for much longer than that, but I've never personally experienced it.)

The reason I buy the cheap ones, though, is because I can't afford the more expensive ones, which I would otherwise like to buy because of the greater variety in designs. It's not just that "we" don't want nice things, it's that we can't afford them. And it's not even purely a Sam Vimes situation - various more-expensive versions I've bought of given items have worn out as quickly as (and occasionally quicker than) cheaper ones. Even if I'm in a position to save up and buy the expensive version, it's still a bad risk unless I have reason to trust that it really will pay off in the long run, and I just can't afford the gamble.

The author talks about how the clothing we wear is produced under slave conditions, and it's true. It was true a hundred years ago too (Merriam Webster traces the word sweatshop to 1884) and the people who mended and patched and remade at home, because even high-quality goods suffer wear and tear, did so on their own dime and time. "Rags and tags" is a synonym for poverty because even the cheapest clothing in the past was too expensive for many, and the fact that pretty or stylish clothing (personal taste may vary) is available today to a much larger percentage of the population has some value in itself.

I'd like to be able to buy more expensive items, both for selfish reasons (increased options, nicer looks, potentially better quality) and because I want everyone involved in doing the actual work of production, transportation, and commerce to be paid enough to be comfortable. But I literally can't afford it, and it's usually not clear that the more expensive options go hand-in-hand with higher quality and better working conditions and compensation rather than purely increased profits for the people at the top. Planned obsolescence is terrible, and the environmental costs of synthetic materials are unsustainable. And at the same time "we don't want nice things" is simplistic as hell, and "a return to the way that people lived and consumed things in the United States within living memory" is only a solution if living memory leaves out the ugly parts. Simplistic thinking about a complex world might get you published, but it also helps contribute to simplistic voting and simplistic leadership, and it's hard to have patience for given the bounty those two have given us.
posted by trig at 6:27 AM on March 10 [15 favorites]


As for socks, they’re supposed to be disposable.

They're really not. Even if you wear a hole in them you can use a lightbulb, a needle, and some thread, and you can repair a hole in an evening while watching TV.
posted by Talez at 6:40 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


The "buy American" stuff is just jingoistic; there is a reason I own a vehicle designed and made in Japan, not the US. Some of the quality control scandals from China in particular are concerning (like adulterants in food) but those scandals have existed here, too, and we know how to prevent them if we care to. As with labor standards, I wish we could impose more safety standards on imported items, but that is unlikely with the current bozos in charge.

I'm relatively privileged and do most of my clothes shopping online or from specialty retailers like REI that have mostly kept up their quality. Every so often I have shopping that needs to be done in the big chain retailers like Walmart, and it is always eye-opening how low the general quality is. I have always figured that this is price-driven -- as wealth gets more and more concentrated at the top and wages have stagnated, most people just don't have the budget to buy anything else.

Part of why I hate that stupid "boots" parable is that prices and even brands are not clear indicators of quality. You can buy boots for $50 or for triple that, and unless you shop with great care there is a good chance that the more expensive ones won't last any longer or be any more repairable. And past experience doesn't necessarily help, either; that great pair of boots you bought a couple of years ago are probably still on the shelves at the same price, but now have been value-engineered with worse materials and construction.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:03 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]


You can buy boots for $50 or for triple that, and unless you shop with great care there is a good chance that the more expensive ones won't last any longer or be any more repairable.

If your boots have welting (which is more expensive to construct) or full leather upper instead of a leather/fabric upper (which is again, more expensive to construct) your boots are both going to be easier to repair (since you can replace soles when they wear our) and will last longer (because of the thicker, more hardy leather).

The key is to buy boots that aren't garbage. But in general, you won't find not-garbage boots in lower price range. Once the souls are gone on a cheap boot, the boot is worthless. I have a pair of Red Wings that cost $350 but those boots will last me basically the rest of my life with twice a decade visits to a cobbler to replace the soles.
posted by Talez at 7:39 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Like I have an office chair from Ikea. The famous MARKUS chair. It's $200 compared to an $89 special from Office Depot. This chair has lasted me almost 7 years so far. There has been no cracking, no flaking, and I abuse the shit out of this chair. I do no maintenance on it. The difference between this chair and the cheap Office Depot piece of shit? My chair has top leather on the seat and on the arms compared to PU vinyl on the piece of shit. It makes a difference to get good quality leather.
posted by Talez at 7:41 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Some of the quality control scandals from China in particular are concerning (like adulterants in food) but those scandals have existed here, too, and we know how to prevent them if we care to.

We know how to prevent them in our own country, thanks to long and painful experience -- even now we're not perfect, but we have the framework. But for us to prevent them in another country is impossible. That country must impose its own health and safety laws and enforce them, and other countries have to rely upon that enforcement. We can impose requirements on imports, of course, and we do, but food safety inspection after-the-fact is much harder when it comes to adulterants, since adulterants are chosen to avoid detection and we often only know what to test *for* after we've had problems with a specific class of adulterant. Even then, given the sheer amount of... all things... that we import, I'm not sure we've really yet figured out how to prevent these issues; we can only test a small fraction of what we import.
posted by halation at 8:01 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


I’m not enjoying this background raditiation idea that it’s somehow up to the buyer to do reams of research and be an expert on leather and materials just to not get ripped off constantly and buy stuff that breaks all the time.
posted by The Whelk at 8:19 AM on March 10 [34 favorites]


Some of this is just imaginary or counterfactual. I've been rotating the same three pairs of jeans for about 2 years now, and they show no signs of falling apart. But the author assures us that they don't last 6 months.
posted by thelonius at 8:43 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


I’m not enjoying this background raditiation idea that it’s somehow up to the buyer to do reams of research and be an expert on leather and materials just to not get ripped off constantly and buy stuff that breaks all the time.

Right, especially when you'll have previously trusted brands that start using substandard materials and workmanship while still charging the same price and pretending it's the same product.

Maybe the manufacturer's argument would be that the materials themselves have gotten more expensive so this is how they save money for the customer, but I would rather have the option of paying more for the same quality stuff I'm used to than paying the exact same amount for stuff that is garbage and doesn't meet my needs. In so many cases, the option to pay more for the same quality we're used to just isn't there anymore.

But I'm not talking about paying $400 for a pair of artisanal handmade jeans either. The sensible, moderately-priced decent quality options are just not there anymore in a lot of cases.
posted by wondermouse at 8:44 AM on March 10 [7 favorites]


Or maybe, just maybe the CEOs of these companies could shave off a couple million off thier salaries and bonuses to reinvest into the company- difficult I know but we all make sacrifices.
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 AM on March 10 [12 favorites]


Maybe the manufacturer's argument would be that the materials themselves have gotten more expensive so this is how they save money for the customer, but I would rather have the option of paying more for the same quality stuff I'm used to than paying the exact same amount for stuff that is garbage and doesn't meet my needs. In so many cases, the option to pay more for the same quality we're used to just isn't there anymore.

Yeah. Anyone who wears women's clothes knows that the quality of most clothes has plummeted, to the point where it's almost impossible to find things that are as sturdy as those that were ubiquitous even a decade or two ago.

Fifteen years ago, before the start of the skinny jeans fad, I bought two pairs of jeans at Target, and I wore them pretty much constantly for about six years before I gained weight. I've bought pairs of pants at name-brand stores recently, and I've worn through the crotch in maybe six months.

I constantly envy men's shoe choices. I'd gladly buy three pairs of leather-soled loafers, but I can't find them in my size, and (just on sheer principle) I object to being forced to buy men's styles of shoes just because people can't make decent shoes for me.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:56 AM on March 10 [9 favorites]


They're really not. Even if you wear a hole in them you can use a lightbulb, a needle, and some thread, and you can repair a hole in an evening while watching TV.

I’ll repair a hole in a seam, but it’s not worth fixing a threadbare heel. Plus they just go missing, the colors fade, the kids outgrow them, etc. And quite frankly, by the time I’m home from work and the kids are in bed, there is no evening left.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:03 AM on March 10 [6 favorites]


I'd gladly buy three pairs of leather-soled loafers, but I can't find them in my size, and (just on sheer principle) I object to being forced to buy men's styles of shoes just because people can't make decent shoes for me.

I've complained to at least one boot company about this, because they make nearly all of their men's boots with Goodyear welt construction -- it's one of their major selling points, it's touted all over their website and promo materials -- but offer only glued/cemented soles for their women's boots, despite charging comparable prices for both women's and men's boots. They claimed women didn't like the slightly-thicker, slightly-heavier soles and wouldn't buy them... but also, they really didn't make it clear in the product descriptions that the women's boots had inferior construction and would be impossible to repair despite all their 'boots for a lifetime!' pitches elsewhere on the site. It's totally unfair.
posted by halation at 9:23 AM on March 10 [12 favorites]


I'd gladly buy three pairs of leather-soled loafers, but I can't find them in my size, and (just on sheer principle) I object to being forced to buy men's styles of shoes just because people can't make decent shoes for me.

You would gladly buy those shoes but in the same sentence you object to buying them on principle?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:00 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Late to the thread, but one thing that bothers me about this article is the idea that the evaluation of "quality" in consumer goods is important and virtuous.

For some things, sure. But I think one downside of the wirecutter, and consumer reports, and a thousand other articles about the 11 best toasters, or hairbrushes, or nail clippers, is the whole idea that you should spend money and cognitive load on selecting these. (And worse, that it's a reflection of your own discernment/taste/etc.)

There are plenty of things that you interact with where the cheap, imperfect one is fine. Not everything, and not always, but often. It's a different type of consumerism to buy nice, expensive things and take care of them, than to buy lots of cheap disposable ones. But it's still consumerism.

(I'm not great about this, but non-attachment is hard.)
posted by mercredi at 10:07 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


You would gladly buy those shoes but in the same sentence you object to buying them on principle?

Given that clothing is increasingly associated with the expression of gender identity, I’m not happy about being forced into male-coded shoes when they ought to be marketed towards both genders, no.

But I would still buy them, because I would rather not have to replace shoddy shoes after a few months.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:14 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


I urge any woman who's hesitant to buy men's shoes to bite the bullet and give it a try. The comfort and quality are so worth it.

I know it's probably easier for a tall woman like me (US shoe size 11, EUR 42) to find men's shoes then it would be for an average-sized lady, but the trade-off is that the less-popular sizes are more likely to go unsold and make it to the clearance sales.

As far as boots, the best I ever had were Army surplus. I could walk through anything in those beauties.

...and (just on sheer principle) I object to being forced to buy men's styles of shoes just because people can't make decent shoes for me.


I completely understand that principle, but the manufacturers aren't going to grasp it as long as we keep buying their frankly insulting product. The shoddy women's boots aren't made "for me" any more than the men's boots are, and once they're out of the box and on my feet I'm the only one who knows. And hopefully, if the shoddy "women's" boots keep failing to sell, somebody at the company may start wondering why.

P.S. I realize my opinion may be affected by the size of my feet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:24 AM on March 10


I mean, I just bought a pair of $150 Docs new specifically because I wanted shoes to last, and the fact that they were constructed exactly the same in women's and men's lines of similar styles and everyone got the damn Goodyear Welt was a massive selling point for me. They're sitting on the kitchen table now waiting for the waterproofing to dry, because that was a pretty expensive set of shoes for me and I'm going to take care of them. I know a number of people for whom buying men's shoes doesn't work because their feet are too narrow, so I appreciated the commitment to the same shit but in sizes that will fit more women.

At the same time, I buy Old Navy jeans because they're what I can afford, especially as my weight has tended to oscillate unpredictably (meds, stress levels, etc) and I don't always have the option of wearing out my jeans. (I do keep them, in case I need that size again.) I generally wear them until they start blowing out in the crotch, usually daily, and I'm confused by the assertion that the damn things don't last six months. They do! They're terrible cheap quality, I'd buy better if a) I could afford it and b) I could reliably make sure it fucking fit, but they totally last at least a couple of years before the fabric rubs too thin to be easily darned and repaired.

Some of us wear clothing until it gets holes that aren't easily repaired. Like. What the hell do you do when it's a t-shirt and patching isn't acceptable and it's got holes through the belly where the fabric has worn through? Rag bins are about the only place I can think of to send a shirt like that. At the same time, I want to spend my money wisely, so I love sites that will test out how whatever thing is engineered so I can decide if I want to buy the expensive thing or the cheap one. At least then if I decide I want to pay for quality, I can breathe easier assuming I'm not just getting ripped off.
posted by sciatrix at 10:33 AM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Fucking jeans and t-shirts, man, the staples of my wardrobe--versions for men just straight up do not fit on my body unless I invest in additional money to have them tailored and fitted by a professional, or else invest some serious effort into learning how to do it myself. I can't even get a fucking lab coat that fits me from the university supply store or any of the companies that supply and launder lab coats on their own.

Buying men's shit as a woman isn't always an option for all women, and it sort of drives me nuts when it's presented as a one size fits all option--not saying you're doing that, The Underpants Monster, but I wanted to point it out explicitly anyway. Like. Companies are just not producing quality goods for women in many cases at the prices they do for men, and sucking it up and buying men's versions doesn't work if you have narrower feet or particularly curved hips or a big chest. And it's endlessly fucking frustrating to me.
posted by sciatrix at 10:38 AM on March 10 [11 favorites]


I think one downside of the wirecutter, and consumer reports, and a thousand other articles about the 11 best toasters, or hairbrushes, or nail clippers, is the whole idea that you should spend money and cognitive load on selecting these.

Yes, how dare people care about how their tools and clothes and furniture are made. All of these difficult choices have been made for us by the benevolent Wal-marts of the world which care so deeply about our well-being
posted by oulipian at 10:53 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]


I've actually seen some articles that suggest intentionally getting the cheap t-shirts, especially if you use them as layering pieces, precisely because they are layering pieces and you are going to be mostly just wearing this as a Thing Under Another Thing so it really doesn't matter what it looks like, really, because the only thing other people are going to see is a few inches of fabric peeking out at the neckline. This could also be why many people go for cheap socks (I personally land on the cheap side for socks for precisely this reason; I have some dress socks, but more cheap tube socks). Except when it comes to hiking socks - that's a situation where my feet are going to be seeing heavy use and I want to make sure they are going to be clothed well.

There's also something to be said for doing a little more to repair clothes, or get that done for you if you can't. I have darned some of my dress socks in the past, and there are a couple shirts that got rips or holes that I brought to a tailor because I especially liked the shirt and wanted to keep wearing it. I had a roommate who used to pay me to sew lost buttons back onto his shirts, at a rate of about $5 for each request (he set the rate, and when I said I'd do it for free he refused and gave me the money anyway because he felt so embarrassed to have to even ask me). I've ironed some patches over holes in the elbows of cardigans, and recently raided my yarn stash to darn some holes in the elbows of some favorite sweaters.

And once I saw someone had put a gorgeous pair of leather boots out on the curb to throw out, simply because one had a broken zipper. They were my size, they had exactly the right heel I needed (none), and I liked the color, so I took them, brought them to a cobbler, had him fix the zipper and give them both a bit of a polish, and presto, I had a pair of boots for only about $20 bucks. But I marvel sometimes that someone was willing to just toss a perfectly good pair of boots simply for a broken zipper.

By the same token, though, there is always the point at which you can't keep repairing shirts or socks and it's time to give up. And I find that usually I hit that point sooner with the cheap stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Buying men's shit as a woman isn't always an option for all women, and it sort of drives me nuts when it's presented as a one size fits all option--not saying you're doing that, The Underpants Monster, but I wanted to point it out explicitly anyway.

No worries! Since I was only talking about shoes, I didn't figure you meant me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:45 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


But I marvel sometimes that someone was willing to just toss a perfectly good pair of boots simply for a broken zipper.

I got a brand-new $50 lamp (price tag still attached) at a charity shop for $3 because the plug was cut off. Do you know how simple it is to rewire a lamp? Or to wire a plug? It even had the harp and finial...the last lamp I bought at Wal-mart didn't even include a harp or finial. I took it home and wired in a new three-way socket so now my new $3 lamp goes up to 150 watts and it looks damn good doing it.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:59 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Do you know how simple it is to rewire a lamp? Or to wire a plug?

I don't, and for me it wouldn't be simple, but I know that there are professionals who do know and going to them is probably cheaper than a new lamp. Not to jump on you - but there are those who feel like "repairing" always means that you are the one doing the repairing, and that's not the case. (I'm shit at zippers, and at any other sewing except for the simple darning and button-sewing I did. But that's why there are tailors.)

Just wanted to reiterate that on behalf of the person upthread who was saying that once they got done with the day, that they were too tired to darn socks; that is definitely a thing. And I wouldn't bring my socks to a tailor. But having someone else do repairs of things for you if you can't do it yourself for whatever reason is definitely an option.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:06 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Of course, you could take it to a handyman and they'd probably charge you less half the cost of the lamp to rewire it and you'd still come out ahead.

But it's so super easy to rewire a lamp, I promise. Google it and try it sometime. I was super intimidated the first time but then I did it and I felt like the smartest electrician on the planet.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:10 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


I actually have a suggestion about women's shoes: stalk the clearance and holiday sales on Yoox. Yoox sells almost entirely Italian-made fashion stuff, ranging from the extremely-expensive-everyone-has-heard-of-it to the Italy-only and obscure. Quality ranges from very high to merely better than you usually find at comparable prices in the US. Fit tends to be true to European sizes, ie slightly off the US ones (so for instance, I wear a men's 41 nearly all the time in European shoes, but my US shoe size varies from 8 to 9 depending on brand.) And most Italian women's shoes are constructed similarly to men's, so they are often blake-stitched or welted.

The key thing to do is find brands you like and then watch like a hawk for clearance and end-of-season. For instance, Moma, which is very nice, typically goes for ~$200 to ~$300, but they currently have a selection of close-outs in limited sizes for $75 - $100.

Obviously, $70 to $100 isn't pennies, but it's the cheapest I've ever seen decent new Italian shoes of this type. Doucal's and L'Autre Chose are other brands I've seen in the flesh - Doucal's sometimes has welted shoes. Yoox sometims has TUK or Dr. Martens, too.

Almost all my shoes are used or close-outs from eBay, but I have occasionally gotten shoes from Yoox (and returned them if they didn't work out with no trouble).

There are a LOT of Italian shoe factories. They are not all super fancy. Shoes from a lower-grade Italian factory can often be a pretty good deal in terms of price to quality.

This doesn't solve everyone's shoe problems, but it might help if you have a moderate amount to spend and don't mind the internet.
posted by Frowner at 12:18 PM on March 10 [10 favorites]


They're really not. Even if you wear a hole in them you can use a lightbulb, a needle, and some thread, and you can repair a hole in an evening while watching TV.

Mend clothing? On your own, like some rustic peasant in a cot out in the moors? Is your lady's maid idle? Is your manservent snoozing in his garret? Set them to the task and bother me no more with this mundane tasks. Good day, I say good DAY to you sir!
posted by happyroach at 12:59 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


I think one downside of the wirecutter, and consumer reports...

Yes, how dare people care about how their tools and clothes and furniture are made


I get frustrated with the Wirecutter and stuff like that because it’s like it was written by people who do not have the same concept of money as me. Their “cheap coffee maker” pick is $80. Like, I don’t need to have a timer and a touchscreen as a bare minimum. They make so many expensive assumptions about what I’ll need.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:35 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Handknit socks I will darn, but the thought of properly darning a machine-knit cotton sock makes me want to stab myself in the eye with size 0000 stainless steel knitting needles.
posted by stowaway at 2:05 PM on March 10 [10 favorites]


Frowner, you are single-handedly responsible for my deep appreciation of Fiorentini+Baker boots, which are frequently available on eBay for like a quarter of retail. The things are indestructible and timeless. My latest love: a pair of second hand Ella boots which retail for $450 and were a total steal at $95. I have to stop buying boots now because these will never need replacing. Ever.
posted by mneekadon at 3:06 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


I usually buy the $30 jeans from Kohl's or Macy's (I mean, they're usually on sale for that price?) and they last me about 2 years, not 6 months... and I have um, plentiful thigh rub. (And yeah, while we're on the subject, those fantasy American-made jeans he describes for "androgynous French models" don't fit anyone plus size, even if you had $400.)
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:18 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


My feet are 8W. So far as I can tell, Yoox doesn't fit my feet or my budget.

I've been getting shoes from Auditions, which I praise for carrying more sizes than most places. Any other suggestions?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:59 PM on March 10


I can totally see the distinction between the poles of buying junk because the act of buying something shiny scratches some kind of mental itch, and buying a cheap jacket because you can't afford a nice one. But I guess what I have trouble with is that I also feel like there's this middle ground that can basically support endless tail-chasing scrutiny.

Take clothing. At what point is it morally impermissible for me to buy something from, say, H&M? Do my existing clothes have to be literally falling apart? How can you tell if you really, if you tried much harder and made more sacrifices in other areas of your life, could scrape enough together to afford clothing that is (probably, but not 100% guaranteed to be) higher quality and ethically-made? If you want to buy second-hand but don't want to look dowdy, you need to spend much more time and effort picking through and altering thrift finds. On the one hand, it seems grotesque to value aesthetics and convenience at all given that people are literally being enslaved. On the other hand, I really did start feeling much less depressed about my body when I bought clothes that flattered it better, not just in the brief moment when I acquired them but long-term, and I don't have the bandwidth to take on a bunch more unpaid labor. Being aggressively anti-appearance can be very socially limiting, and having a very small wardrobe is inconvenient: you have no buffer if something gets stained or destroyed and you have to launder your clothes much more often. But how much of these reasons comes down to rationalization, how much is advertising-driven social standard creep, and how much of that is actually legitimate concerns? (In the presence of tremendous global inequality, do people from developed countries actually have any "legitimate" needs in the first place, beyond those strictly necessary for survival?)

Or take cleaning products. Is it impermissible for me to use disposable products sometimes when there are non-disposable alternatives? What if I am really busy? What if I am really busy and also work at a nonprofit or in education? What if I have trouble with executive function?

Once we've established that there's no moral consumption in capitalism and that we're all complicit to varying degrees, what does this mean in concrete terms for a specific person, with specific responsibilities and financial budgets and demands on their time and attention, is considering whether or not to buy another t-shirt or another pair of shoes?
posted by en forme de poire at 4:10 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]


Also it turns out there's a reason even the successful Project Runway contestants get sent into a brown study when they are asked to design and construct menswear. Clearly the solution is that as a society we go back to only wearing robes ever.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:39 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


I don't, and for me it wouldn't be simple, but I know that there are professionals who do know and going to them is probably cheaper than a new lamp.

I will happily do small electrical tasks for you for free if you will drive a couple bags of clothes to the thrift store for me or make me one good dinner (especially if we can eat together).

In other words, we all have different things we have the time and inclination to do. The economy today is designed to be a "throw away" economy with products only have one use and a short life span. Solutions like loquacious' in the thread about retiring at 32 are fantastic and absolutely the opposite of what the retailers who sell low-quality products want.

If we were able to move more toward a barter community we could all spend less money and time on things and our communities themselves would be stronger. Which reminds me I have a bunch of stuff to offer up on Rooster.
posted by bendy at 5:04 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


If you want to buy second-hand but don't want to look dowdy, you need to spend much more time and effort picking through and altering thrift finds.

Truth. You gots to have resources: it can be money, it can be time, it can be skills, it can be a great hand-me-down network, etc.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:54 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


I get frustrated with the Wirecutter and stuff like that because it’s like it was written by people who do not have the same concept of money as me. Their “cheap coffee maker” pick is $80. Like, I don’t need to have a timer and a touchscreen as a bare minimum. They make so many expensive assumptions about what I’ll need.

My theory is that sites that run on Amazon affiliate links are biased towards higher prices, or whatever high margin stuff is paying the best return. In the Wirecutter's case, I believe this is being done at the product selection level, because I've seen them provide very flimsy reasoning when deciding not to include some cheaper products for testing, whereas once a product is tested they seem to be happy to announce that the cheapest product was in fact the best. I also wish they would include more discontinued/previous generation products in their testing, but that's also part of their affiliate bias.

IMO, any site that recommends a product with an affiliate link should be thought of as written by Amazon's marketing department.
posted by ilikemefi at 10:05 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Count me in for the annoyance with the Wirecutter, btw. I think the problem is that their demo is predominantly six-figure tech bros who are not rich enough that they can literally just buy the top of every line, but who also want to assuage their cutting-edge tech FOMO and also don't want to get ripped off because that would expose them as a different type of more conspicuous consumption-y, less tech savvy rich person.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:09 AM on March 11


I'm lucky enough to live in a big metro area with a bunch of thrift stores and wealthy people, which enables a compulsive, probably obnoxious anti-consumerist lifestyle. I hate buying new things, mostly because of quality issues but also on some level because I grew up dirt poor, with grandparents who themselves grew up during the Depression.

This thread reminded me of a weird feeling I got going to a thrift store in a different town (Laurel, MD for the curious). I've gotten used to the kind of pickings you get in the wealthy DC suburbs, where many people have more money than space. We're talking warehouse-size department-store style thrift shops that are organized into sections, have high turnover and aggressive pricing, and get a constant influx of things that are actually of good quality but someone just didn't have room for.

So the striking thing about this store was that everything was junk before it ever even got there. Every single thing in the store was a cheap piece of crap that would have been difficult to get any further use out of, if it was ever useful in the first place. It was really unsettling. I have both the time and inclination to repair/polish/restore/salvage/repurpose things, but I would have gladly seen just about everything in the place go to a landfill.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:37 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]


So the striking thing about this store was that everything was junk before it ever even got there

That has been the transition undergone by my nearby thrift stores. When I moved here in the late nineties, I bought every damn thing at the thrift store. It was easy to find good-quality recent-ish clothes (plus good quality older clothes). I had a sixties Coach leather bag. I had silk shirts and work clothes from Dana Buchman. Not only were the shelves full of cute vintage oddments, you could also easily find good quality contemporary plates and glasses, nice lamps, etc. Furniture was hit and miss, but as long as you could look at a few stores over a few weeks, you could find perfectly good stuff - I still have a really nice, locally made sofa, some miscellaneous dining room chairs and a few other little things.

Between about 2004 2008 it changed totally - prices went up and everything nice was gone. From paying $4.99 for a silk shirt in 2000, I went to being charged 7.99 for last year's Target cast-offs in 2008. Even the housewares got incredibly crappy - $6 or $7 for a single used plate or glass from Target. Seriously, nothing was good - it was all "let me charge you $12 for this vinyl purse that came from KMart in about 1998, it's 'vintage'!!!" Mere price rises would have been annoying, but there was nothing that wasn't garbage.

Like, if I want to buy cheap cotton-modal see-through shirts from Target, I'll just buy them from Target, not pay 2/3 of the price of new for an old, pilled-up used one.

I've not been to the thrift store at all in at least two years, and I haven't been regularly in about a decade.

And yet this is an affluent city where people give away plenty of stuff. I can only assume that the thrift store people have cut deals with pickers who take away all the good stuff before it even gets to the floor, which seems not in the spirit of the enterprise.
posted by Frowner at 12:01 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


No one, including TFA, has yet mentioned the phrase "barrier to entry."

As discussed a little upthread, a huge part of the quality/cost problem is that a lot of cheaper things either wear out faster, or are harder/less convenient to repair/maintain. Cheap socks wear out faster, so you go through them more often, so they may actually end up costing more money in the long term (I've yet to wear through a pair of Peoplesocks, and I'm going on four years with one 5 pack). But if you need socks today and don't have $25/pair to throw at them, you buy cheap socks instead because you need socks. The cost difference between a properly fitted pair of easily resoled Allen Edmonds with a Goodyear Welt and a pair of shitty disposable Aldo Oxfords is literally about $250. A refillable Zippo costs almost ten times the cost of a disposable lighter.

Buying better made goods might actually save you money in the long run, but a lot of people simply can't afford the initial outlay. It's just another way that having a little money insulates you against being nickel-and-dimed to death.

As an aside, while purchasing power has changed significantly in some ways in the last century, globalization hasn't actually made things like clothes much--if at all--cheaper in terms of actual purchasing power. In 1933 men's socks cost $0.10 in Ohio, adjusted for inflation that's less than $1.50. According to that same link a 2 piece men's suit was around $20 in NYC in 1935; that's under $300 in today's dollars.

Their “cheap coffee maker” pick is $80.
JFC really? A Mr. Coffee is like $20 if you insist on drip. A French Press might be $30 and a mocha pot is around the same. I'm a total coffee snob and I really can't see spending $80, let alone $170, on a coffee pot. If I had the kind of money and space to just go ahead and spend five grand on a frickin Marzocco, maybe I'd do that.

an actual slice of toast at a fashionable D.C. brunch spot
That sentence alone makes this guy a dogwhistling prick (also there is no such thing as a fashionable DC brunch spot, this entire phrase is meaningless).

Given a choice between purchasing a handful of moderately expensive items and buying replaceable crap whenever they want . . . people will choose the latter unless they are very rich.
That does seem an awful lot like a sweeping unsubstantiated generalization, hmmm? I guess bot takes are exactly what we should expect from a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.

This neckbeard seems to be half right some of the time, but the other half . . .
posted by aspersioncast at 12:28 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the poor tax'll get you every time. It's like rent-to-own furniture.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:35 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


The Wirecutter has inexpensive coffee makers: last time I checked, one of their French press choices was $6 at Walmart, and they have a separate "inexpensive coffee maker" category, in which the top choice is like $45. The $80 budget pick is for a coffee grinder. And my understanding is that most coffee people agree that there's no such thing as a decent, inexpensive coffee grinder. I think it's ridiculous to call an $80 coffee grinder "budget," but they might say that they don't want to endorse something that is low-quality.

I find the Wirecutter to be useful for combatting decision fatigue, but yeah, sometimes their choices are baffling and their priorities/ budget really different from mine. And sometimes it gets a little ridiculous: do we really need 40 hours of testing to choose chip clips?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:54 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Barrier to entry (“Vimes’ boots”) has actually been discussed a lot.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 1:17 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Ack you're totally right I just scanned for that specific phrase.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:32 PM on March 11


I can only assume that the thrift store people have cut deals with pickers who take away all the good stuff before it even gets to the floor, which seems not in the spirit of the enterprise.

This is a great point and it made me super annoyed, though not surprised, to learn that this was such a big thing. It explains a lot, like how like there's a seemingly totally separate market nowadays for "thrift" (Goodwill, Sally Ann, previously-owned cotton/modal t-shirts from Target) vs. "vintage" ("curated" consignment stores, Etsy shops, other secondhand that ends up being WAY more expensive than just going to fucking Uniqlo with the added frustration of not being able to find your size in anything).

I suspect that a part of what happened is that there used to be more of a stigma to buying secondhand clothing, and that stigma steadily lessened from the 90s until now, for a variety of reasons: maybe reactions against the materialist excess of the 80s, DIY culture leaking into the mainstream, or later, the recession and increased downward mobility for millennials. It was partly replaced with this idea that regardless of your income, anyone with "good taste" (i.e. a certain kind of social capital) could go into a Goodwill and come out looking fabulous. I think that then enough people realized they could start doing arbitrage and sell their "good taste" plus their gleaning labor to rich people for way more money. I don't know what percentage of thrift stores are actually in on it in the sense of getting a cut, as opposed to picking just becoming a popular side-hustle; certainly some are, though, and that's shitty because it means essentially nothing nice ever gets to people who don't have other options.

I even live in an urban area with a lot of rich people, and I've found very little in the way of good thrift. The good stuff is expensive and the cheap stuff is either junk or, at best, needs so much work that it becomes "expensive" in one way or another.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:16 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


And also discussed is how the Vimes boot parable is breaking down due to consolidation and globalization, you can spend quite a lot on boots that are still garbage. The low end brands are made along side the high end brands with slightly better stitching or maybe some hand finishing but nothing near like an actual durable or luxury good, and then sold at outrageous markup. The goodwill and reputation some brands built for decades are meaningless when it’s just sticking a different sticker on the same crap cause the name got bought and sold seven times over. The book DELUXE goes in deep on it.

It’s why second hand stores are so useless now, as Frowner says,

Like once again, it feels like we got socialism for the rich and all competition and risk for the poor. Very few people can “vote with thier wallet” (again, putting the burden on the person with the least power) and monopolies and mergers and vertical intergration means no one really competes or has incentive to on anything lon a mass scale. You can have a handful of boutique industries catering to a shrinking American upper middle class, but for the vast majority it’s garbage or nothing. The global luxury good market was basically being supported by China for the last ten years and that’s been cooling off at a rapid rate.
posted by The Whelk at 2:28 PM on March 11 [7 favorites]


I’ve known more than one person who made a living buying up cheap, cool clothing from thrift stores and selling it online at a “vintage” premium. It’s frustrating.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:36 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


So what is to be done? Letting the market “figure it out” is obviously not going to work, we tried that and it ended up here. There could be more swapping and repairing (NYC does a home goods and applicable swap days, but it’s not publizied well and it doesn’t deal with all this STUFF out there, more garbage then we could ever use in a lifetime.) or breaking things back up into smaller, competing companies with stronger ties to local markets and local production .... but it all feels,like band aids. (Unless you work really hard they all re-consolidate)

I don’t know spalling here, I always talk about nationalizing Amazon and Walmart but maybe to the end if creating a worker owned quasi-auatomous national corporation devoted to the design, creation and sale of durable, repairable, green goods sold at minor markup without the need to constantly expand - like a Mondragon or John Lewis with more teeth and purview. Management to lowest paid employee 20 to 1 ratio, regional and local autonomy , the building of a floor that no one could slip underr indistinguishable from “average” retail. Something like that.

I’m just blueskyung here, but if “work for a National home goods and clothing corporation designing abstract watercolor for unique NYC packaging styles “ I’d say yes before you finished.
posted by The Whelk at 4:19 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


What, like a WPA for quality consumable goods? Like, a not for profit that makes goods in a (possibly temporarily) subsidized way that trains workers or employs the underemployed at a good living wage, while it sells good, reusable products designed to last?

Um, fuck yeah. I would totally buy from a place like that. I would work there too, if I had skills for it. Especially something run like a not for profit, where any profits have to be skimmed off and invested in the workers.
posted by sciatrix at 4:54 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


I get frustrated with the Wirecutter and stuff like that because it’s like it was written by people who do not have the same concept of money as me. Their “cheap coffee maker” pick is $80. Like, I don’t need to have a timer and a touchscreen as a bare minimum. They make so many expensive assumptions about what I’ll need.

i love this comment.

why?

well, the "reasonable" coffeemaker in the fpp article talks about a $150 bunn coffeemaker with no timer and touchscreen.

it kinda underscores the utter bullshit the examples in the fpp were.

sure, yes, it's important to buy quality when you can, but if you can't fucking afford quality, then you buy what you can and hope to god it lasts as long as you need it to. it's why not everyone buys a subaru, and why so many buy that cheap crappy chevy instead. it's why not everyone can buy that macbook pro and why so many end up with a dell. it's why not everyone buys the $150 bunn coffeemaker.
posted by anem0ne at 9:47 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


in short, fuck the opinions of mediocre dudes who think they've got the answer when the answer essentially is "you're doing things wrong because i have money and you don't."
posted by anem0ne at 9:48 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


I wonder if part of the reason for why cheap goods have become so ubiquitous is because they are meant for a global market and not only for the US. Like the cheap socks that the writer complains about in Walmart were made that way because they were meant to be low cost socks affordable in all parts of the world, not just the US. So if every American stopped buying cheap socks, there would still be a reason for cheap socks to exist because other parts of the world can't go sockless.
posted by FJT at 8:20 AM on March 12


But at the same time this doesn't mean that other parts of the world should have socks that fall apart either.
posted by FJT at 8:22 AM on March 12


I can only assume that the thrift store people have cut deals with pickers who take away all the good stuff before it even gets to the floor, which seems not in the spirit of the enterprise.

Well, yeah: The clothing that gets dumped into the Goodwill box (or wherever) gets sent to clothing processors who sort by value, everything from resellable at vintage stores to shipped to sub-Saharan Africa to chopped up for industrial rags. Planet Money did a great episode on this back in 2013.

So, yes, this is exactly what happens: There are people at various steps in the process looking for value, and finding it.
posted by straw at 9:07 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I’ve known more than one person who made a living buying up cheap, cool clothing from thrift stores and selling it online at a “vintage” premium. It’s frustrating.

A number of Bay Area vintage stores used to invite high-dollar pickers and Hollywood buyers in for closed-door sales; I assume that's still a thing. It would be harder to do at a thrift store, but I'm sure there are some who do that. Someone's scraping up anything that's easy to turn over online.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:24 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


It’s not thrift store, it’s “vintage”, it’s not used it’s secondhand : vintage stores became gentrified and are a sign of a gentrifying neighborhood Covers a lot of the points we’ve been hitting, quality stuff is taken out of the “used” market and sold at discounted but not near goodwill prices.

It’s interesting cause it’s another example of something formerly done by the poor as a survival method being repackaged and rebranded as something smart and fun for the downwardly mobile middle class who temporarily have a decent income,
posted by The Whelk at 11:33 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]


And what this illustrates is that only justice is just - the idea that you can somehow bootstrap a capitalist solution to systemic poverty by buying used things doesn't work, because it will always end up being arbitraged. Only actually making people more economically equal is going to fix these larger problems with access to goods.

The whole thing of capitalism is spotting new things to enclose, and there is no strategy that can resist this. If you're getting a really good deal on something because you have either specialized knowledge or specialized requirements, you can count on that deal being arbitraged away over time.

It's probably better to try to give away your stuff for free to a shelter or charity that directly provides goods (or to a person) than to plug it into this particular cycle, if your goal is for someone who actually needs it to get it.
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]


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