Consumption: A Thought

I was over on RetroChick the other day, and she had an interesting point about fashion – and fast fashion.

I realize some of you may not have read her post on Fashion Economics, so I’ll give you a little excerpt, and you should read the whole post over HERE on RetroChick:

Unless they start encouraging shoppers to maintain their wardrobes the cycle of over consumption is essentially unbreakable.

Low cost retailers have sprung up across the nation to feed an insatiable appetite for fashion, but the industry that deals with repairing or making your own hasn’t met this challenge with it’s own prices. It’s impossible for me to make a dress from scratch for less than I could buy it, so why learn?

This was an incredibly insightful point:  Repair industries for EVERYTHING have not kept up with the prices for the goods they repair.  We’ve become a disposable nation.

Consider a conversation I had with my Dad recently.  Papa Bird was talking about being a TV repair man in college as a side job.  TV, back then, was this giant, heavy monster with tubes in the back that worked together to produce picture.  When your TV died suddenly, it meant something needed to be replaced, so you’d call the TV repairman, or walk down to your TV repair place and buy new tubes.  TVs cost so much more then, and the tubes were relatively disposable parts – fixing your TV cost MUCH less than buying new.

Now, TVs are so cheap, and the technology is such that if it’s broken, it’s going to cost 3 times as much to have it fixed, as it would cost to just buy a new one.  This is considering the original amount you spent on the TV is a sunk cost, because it’s no longer a relevant cost to the repair of the TV – it wouldn’t change your course of action going forward, however much you would lament the foregone cost of your now worthless TV.  It’s not like you can fix a lot of these hi-definition screens yourself, and it’s equally as hard for a TV repair place to fix them.  The time, effort and materials are so much more than buying new.

Everything is subject to this idea, too.  At some point, the cost to repair your car will exceed what the car is worth in trade-in value.  The cost to re-cobble shoes is so much higher than the value of the shoes, or the value of new shoes.  Cost-per-use is important to determining the value of a coat, for example  - how long you’ll be able to wear an item based on how much it cost to buy – but as soon as you get that item home, take the tags off, and wear it out, those are dollars that you will – most likely – never see again.  They’re sunk.  And paying money to have the lining repaired is always going to be subject to the idea of throwing good money after a sunk cost.

The sad part of this is that we have become a consumable world, because the repair industries haven’t truly kept up with the prices of the items themselves. So the consumer does end up paying much more to have something repaired.  It doesn’t behoove the retailer to sell items that don’t need to be fixed, does it?  They make much less money if you go out and get something fixed as opposed to buying new.

As wasteful as this all seems, it’s because the demand for repairable items has gone down.  We want things at such a low cost because the purchasing power of our dollar is not what it was yesterday.  To counteract this, we would HAVE to collectively suck it up to increase the demand for the service - buy better quality items, and repair things, even if the cost to repair is more than the cost  to buy new.  Think how many landfills wouldn’t be covered in old, used clothing, old monitors, and dead LCD TVs.

Just a thought.