Denim expert warns of the end of cheap fashion

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By WGSN Newsteam, 28 February 2011

Richard Atkins, a denim expert in Hong Kong and a former creative director of UK clothing brand All Saints, has warned that high street fashion retailers may have to slow their expansion and the days of “throwaway fashion” could be over.

Textile workers in Xintang, southern China, are no longer happy to work for low wages, meaning that the UK’s high street fashion chains could be forced to rethink their sales strategies.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Atkins said: “Companies should be very scared, as throwaway fashion is now dead. For years they wanted to get more and pay less. They have pillaged the system in China. But now they are going to suffer.”

Workers who were once happy to work for £30 a month reportedly want 10 to 15 times that sum. In addition, many are joining construction projects in inland China, where the cost of living is lower and they can be closer to their families. Factories have been forced to close and some factory owners have complained that new labour laws empower workers too much, and that the government offers the industry no help.

The price of cotton has reached levels not seen for three decades, making it far more expensive to produce denim. The floods over the past year in Pakistan and Australia, an export ban from India and the wave of rebellions across the Middle East have made the material unaffordable.

“Last July, cotton cost 70 cents a pound. Last week, it was three times that price,” said Atkins. “I tried to place an order with a denim mill for one million yards and they told me they could not accept it because the cotton is now worth more than the denim.”

Designers have begun adding polyester to their jeans to enable them to use less cotton and to lower costs.

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