Reporting back after this first official month (and then some) of my “no buying new clothes” challenge. I have to say it is going pretty well! I am starting to get into the swing of things and have been carefully studying my closet and really figuring out some creative ways to re-style what I already have! What a concept right???
In the world of responsible fashion I have been learning so much! I’ve read books, subscribed to newsletters, blogs, joined organizations, listened to TED talks and countless you-tube videos, watched documentaries, researched on the internet and of course I am now following a slew of green fashion brands and influencers posting content every day (that is inspiring and sometimes still a bit heartbreaking). So next up…a little bit of what I have learned so far….get ready for it, it’s a long one!
First off: Sustainability: The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, supporting long-term ecological balance.
Fashion: Arguably the 2nd most polluting industry on earth.
Saaaay what?? How can these two words ever be next to each other and make sense? Can fashion ever be truly sustainable? Fashion is always evolving, always changing always new and using a lot of resources that are not renewable in order to produce it, so the simple answer is…NO.
I am not sure about you but I had no clue our environment took such a hit from the fashion industry. Even after working in the industry for over 11 years I never really stopped to think, where did my clothes come from? Once I did, the answers I found were truly alarming!
Fashion today is a $3 trillion dollar industry that employs over 60 million people worldwide. According to Rachel Arthur, we are making 100 billion items a year which is 60% more than we did in 2000. How did it get to be so much? Back in the day, especially in the US, fashion was special. People used to value clothes and would keep them longer. In the past, say 20 years this attitude towards fashion has drastically changed. The fast fashion world has taken over making it more acceptable to treat fashion as disposable. Now-a-days people are buying sooo much more and keeping it for way less time because 1) There is something new in stores (or online) every week 2) The clothes that are offered don’t last as long and 3) Clothing is now so cheap you can’t afford not to buy it! ha-at least that is what these fast fashion companies want you to think!
At first glance, more for less might sound awesome but taking into consideration what goes into making one garment, whether it is an ethical issue or an environmental one…you might re-think that more is better attitude.
Ethical, referring to the treatment of humans (and animals for that matter). What are working conditions like? Do factories use forced labor? Child labor? How many hours are they working and for what pay? Is it a living wage?
I didn’t realize the devastating conditions most garment workers are forced to work in for pennies an hour upwards of 16+ hours a day in countries like Bangladesh (the world’s 2nd largest textile producer) just to keep up with this crazy demand for cheap clothing…Read some real life stories HERE. Even though many developing countries depend on the garment industry as their primary source for jobs no one should be dying at the hands of cheap clothing! You agree?
SRS (Saftey and Rights Society) came out with a report saying 2017 was the deadliest year for garment workers in Bangladesh from over 400 ‘typical’ workplace incidents (not taking into consideration the two deadliest disasters mentioned below). If disasters like the Tazreen Factory Fires and the collapse of Rana Plaza back in 2012 and 2013 didn’t cause the industry to completely change-what will?
One of the biggest issues factories face is competition with each other. Big brand fashion companies all compete with each other to do the same for less $$; so naturally factories are pitted against each other until they are forced to take business for the sake of having business even though the final negotiated costs might be WAY below that needed for fair wages and safe working conditions. Factories with healthy work standards demanding higher costs are essentially denied business just because other factories who do not care about their workers will do it for less….yeah that’s fair. (I’ve always lived with the realization that life is not fair, but in this case-come on). We can do more! Starting with Transparency in the supply chain. We should all know who made our clothes and where they come from. Putting pressure on local governments and these big fashion companies is a start. Consumers have more power than they think…but who controls the consumers? Marketing companies paid by fast fashion companies? hmmmm…some food for thought.
California is taking a step with the Transparency in Supply Chains Act that went into effect in the State of California in 2012. “Under the law, large manufacturers and retailers are required to disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking within their supply chains”. Bringing awareness to what is happening out there and holding companies accountable is a strong step in the right direction- would you say? Why haven’t more states followed suit? hmmmmm…maybe I will write to my governor…
So if the ethical issues weren’t bad enough the ecological issues are equally as disturbing.
The amount of natural resources (that are not easily renewable) that go into making new clothes is astonishing. The journey from crop to tee shirt is a long one with polluters throughout the entire supply chain. Pesticides, toxic chemicals, dyes, a slew of natural resources not to mention packaging and hang tags (which are usually non biodegradable plastic) and shipping pollution all go into that final product. I also learned from 2016’s Ted Talk from Rachel Arthur that is takes over 5,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans and just one tee shirt. The fashion industry is just behind agriculture in the amount of water it consumes and accounts for 10% of all global carbon emissions. Yikes! EcoWatch tells me the most commonly used fiber; cotton consumes 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides yet it is only 2.4% of the world’s cropland. WOW-my skin is itching just thinking about all of those chemicals! Organic fabrics can be a good alternative but its important to note that just because it says “organic” it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been dyed with toxic chemicals and won’t be shipped around the world resulting in more pollution. Sound familiar? It is kinda like the “All Natural” label on foods that means absolutely nothing…but i’ll save that for a different post.
So where do you think all of that contaminated water ends up? Ding-ding-ding…you guessed it, if you said….back into Mother Nature. Uugh really! Much of the contamination ends up being dumped (un treated) back into rivers polluting fresh water sources and eventually makes it way back into the world’s oceans.…why you ask?…I assume because it is the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of the waste. Most developing countries (where most all clothing is made) do not have laws or regulations challenging this disposal method and never even set up a disposal system from the start. Some countries are getting better by passing laws and enforcing them but of course more still needs to be done to minimize this toxic waste!
Textile waste is of course another huge issue impacting our environment. Tons of clothing (almost ½ of which are perfectly reusable) get tossed out each year. According to The True Cost documentary about 11 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills every year by Americans alone. A million more tons are sent to the trash bin by other countries as well…it’s a big problem! Less than 1% of textiles today are able to be recycled textile-to-textile which means breaking down the existing fibers to make a completely new textile. Usually fabric blends can’t be separated and the recycling process causes such damage to the existing fibers it is very difficult to produce a strong reusable material. Anything not recycled or biodegradable like synthetic fibers (man made using chemicals) like polyester and nylon end up sitting in landfills for hundreds of years emitting harmful toxins. Isn’t it a shame? This happens to TONS and TONS of clothing…ouch!
Some people may say “I donate clothes, I don’t throw them away” but did you know less than 10% of donated clothing actually gets re-purchased for use? Most of it gets shipped to developing countries where locals who can’t afford brand new clothing have the opportunity to buy it but most of the time the quality is so poor and the amount of clothing waste is so big even these countries can’t reuse it at the same rate they ship it so it still ends up in landfills. (Click here to read an earlier post about what really happens to clothing donations).
wooo, I could keep going but I think I will stop there and insert some closing remarks.
Overall I realize the fashion industry will never be a completely sustainable one but one thing is for sure we cannot think of it as disposable. Buy less, re-wear more! There for sure are better ways to do bad things…if that makes sense…I am happy to learn there are some companies out there that are committed to change. However real change may only come when some of the most profitable fashion companies start producing fashionable, affordable, sustainable, ethical fashion. In the meantime we still have a voice! Consumers in masses have the power to demand change. You can start with being more conscious about where you shop and what you buy. Small changes for you can lead to big changes later on 🙂
Ok that is my sappy talk for the day. I hope you got something out of this novel I just wrote lol
Hopefully I can share my new found knowledge with others, who like me was so unaware and in turn spark interest and passion for change! It is a must, at least in the fashion industry!
Thanks for reading!