Devolution of Quality
Devolution of Quality
  • Reporter Kim Yu-jin
  • 승인 2024.04.22 16:29
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▲Disposed clothing / Tim Mitchell
▲Disposed clothing / Tim Mitchell

  With vintage fashion and Y2K trends ongoing among generation MZ, we can easily spot clothes from the 1980s to 2000s on people who were not even born when the clothes were made. However, I find it hard to imagine the clothes I am wearing now on people 30, or 40 years later, since it would be a miracle if I keep these clothes wearable even for two or three years. It is truly an irony, when the clothes I bought last year look more worn out than the hand-me-downs from my mom. 

  The fashion is changing rapidly every year, day, and second. In a world where staying still means you can not survive, one would expect products to become better and more durable over time. However, it appears that products today are following the opposite trajectory, ending up in the trash rather than remaining in our homes.

  So, why is this decline in durability happening? The fundamental reason lies with us, the consumers, and how we choose to spend. From handmade products to mass-produced products and eventually the internet, the span of our choices has increased continuously. New products flood the market daily, despite nothing inherently wrong with the previous versions. Why do we constantly buy new products, even though we already own a perfectly fine one with the same function? This phenomenon can be explained by the term “consumer engineering,” coined by advertising executive Earnest Elmo Calkins.

  Consumer engineering involves artificially creating demand for products through advertising. As described in the book Consumer Engineering: A New Technique for Prosperity, goods are categorized into those we use and those we use up. Consumer engineering aims to ensure that items we currently “use” are transformed into items we “use up”. Every fashion trend or change prompts us to buy something new. Not because we need it, or because our initial products are no longer functional, but because they are deemed “out of style”. This leads to more production of fast fashion, and the cycle goes on.

  According to the United Nations (UN), clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, with the number of garments purchased per capita increasing by 60% while each item was kept for only half as long as clothes 15 years ago. We buy more often, and each time we expect to buy items for the same price we paid before. However, the production costs continue to rise leading manufacturers to compromise on the quality of materials to keep prices low enough for consumers to keep buying.

  Not only products but also technology is the target of this consumer engineering. The term “planned obsolescence” refers to the intentional designing of products to have limited durability or a purposefully frail design so that they become obsolete after a certain pre-determined period. Companies release new phones almost annually with minor, non-significant adjustments. They also make the repair of these products almost impossible, using the planned obsolescence method.

  We must not cave into these manipulations. Buy with consideration and learn to take care of what you already own. Advocate for the right to repair against big tech companies. It might seem small individually, but collectively, it can make the big difference needed for the change.