All of us have to wear clothes at some point, so it's logical to start making changes where you already have an impact, and the clothing industry is one of those big environmental sinners that need to shape it up big time. Not only for the environment, but just as much for ethical and humanitarian reasons. Warning! If you keep reading, it might ruin the fun of shopping for you. At least until something is done, so we again can buy clothes with a clear conscience.
Luckily, we don't have to just sit there and wait for big brands and big leaders to get things done. There are so so many ways we as consumers do our part and fast track the change. Belive it or not, it is actually in the power of the consumer to decide what will be the new main stream, also when it comes to consumerism. Changing the way we live our lives and the choices we make, can be of great assistance to those who are trying to save the environment.
The fact that most companies are only concerned with the bottom line, is actually the exact thing that can work in our favour, but only if we start living a more conscious life and send them the right message about what we will and will not purchase. For example, if you only buy clothes that cost little from companies that produce large quantities all year around, you're telling these companies, "Hey, I like to buy a lot and I like it cheap, so continue selling more of the same things". As a result they will change nothing, and have to continue their practice of pressuring the prices down on production cost, to keep up with their low sales prices while still increasing their yearly income (Which is the basis of capitalism. To keep expanding and increase earning. Our society is based on capitalism, and so this is an inevitable cycle if nothing is done). This will again lead to the production of cheap material, outsourcing for cheap labor, and not having room in their budget to consider the environmental og humanitarian impact of their ways.
The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just 20 years ago. As new clothing comes into our lives, we also discard it at a shocking pace. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone. Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now abundantly available we are beginning to see the things we wear as disposable. The result is, massive productions and a lot of resources used, for things we use briefly and then stow away or throw away to buy new stuff as the trends change.
About 4.7 billion pounds of clothing are donated by Americans each year. Only 10% of the clothes we donate to charity are considered good enough to being resold in the retail store. The rest of that ends up in landfills, some of it is recycled into rags and insulation, and some of it ends up in the markets of Sub-Saharan Africa where it collapses their own clothing industry. In the last 10 years, local industries, such as garment-making and tailoring in these countries, have collapsed, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed. People will argue that the second-hand clothing industry in Africa is booming, but the global trade of second-hand clothing is a multi-billion dollar industry for developed countries. With our clothing waste being sent overseas by the tons, there’s little chance of African countries, as a whole, developing their own textile trade. Over one-third of Sub-Saharan Africans wear second-hand, and the reality is that for as long as the second-hand clothing industry thrives, African economy is unlikely to improve.
Another important thing to consider, is that most of the clothing being produced in fast fashion is not biodegradable, and end up at garbage dumps where it release toxic fumes into the air for about 200 years.
Clothing realising toxic fumes, is another great reason for buying organic cotton.
Leather production is also a big problem, and is increasingly linked to a variety of environmental and human health hazards. The amount of feed, land, water and fossil fuels used to raise livestock for leather production come at a huge cost to the health of our world. In addition to raising the livestock needed, the leather tanning process is among the most toxic in all of the fashion supply chain. Workers are exposed to harmful chemicals on the job, while the waste generated pollutes natural water sources leading to increased disease for surrounding areas. Studies have found that leather tannery workers are at a far greater risk of cancer, by between 20% – 50%. A good example of this is the Ganges, which is the holiest river for 800 million hindu people and considered to be the life line of northern India. At the moment this important river is being polluted and killed by leather factories in Kanpur, India. Increasing demand for cheap leather is one of the main problems, as Kanpur is the main export for cheap leather. The cost is, human health and the contamination of the only source of drinking water, as well as the environment connected to it. The groundwater is contaminated with large amounts of krom, so all the food grown is contaminated too. The people living in these areas affected get plentiful of health problems, such as skin disorders, stomach problems and even cancer. The krom in the water affects the liver and cause liver cancer, and so many people have to use all their savings trying to cure themselves and their families from these diseases.
If you include the fact that it takes around 1800 gallons/6813 liters of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of regular blue jeans, 400 gallons/1514 liters of water to grow the cotton required for one ordinary cotton shirt, and 1247 gallons/4720 liters to make a pair of sneakers (Numbers may vary a little from one source to another, but the reality is that the numbers are incredibly high allover), and then these clothes needs to be shipped to another country, and then shipped to different vendors again, you have to recognize that this is a very water and pollution heavy cycle. Considering there is a worldwide water crisis on the horizon, and political tensions over water already having created violence in regions where water is scarce, it is clear that this can't be the best way to doing things in the future (200 billion people are suffering from water shortage as we speak). If the problem keeps growing it can affect food production, and also, without water we cannot live.
All of the issues above are alle connected to the same thing, Fast Fashion, which is the name given to the fastest growing part of the fashion industry. There used to be four fashion seasons a year, and now there's 52 collections dropped instead (One collection a week). The Fast Fashion industry is able to maintain it's low prices and high production rates through outsourcing the production to third world countries, and pressuring the prices down by pinning the competition towards each other. Whoever offers the lowest price and can finish production the fastest, gets the job. The factories are so desperate for money that the fashion brands can pick and choose.
Outsourcing could be a good thing and benefit economic growth in third world countries, it could be a good job for the workers too, but the way it is at the moment, it's not. More than 40 million people work in the garment industry world wide. They are among the lowest paid workers in the world.
The most important part of making cheap clothes and fast fashion a viable possibility, is a thing called a Sweatshop. The definition of a Sweatshop is a textile factory in which employees work for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions. Sweatshops deliver clothes to the largest clothing companies in the world. The fact that most of the average western persons clothing comes from a sweatshop, is a problem. The workers in a sweatshop get yelled at, work unbelievable long hours (12 hour days, and only 8 hours on sundays), many faint or die at work do to the poor working conditions, and if they come forward or voice their opinion about this injustice they get fired. They're also denied contracts, as a contract would give them job security, but instead they're fired before they've worked there long enough to have any rights (about 3 months). This is a way of controlling the workers (often illegally) and making sure they don't put up a fight. The short time contracts and corporate greed is the root of the problem, as the workers can be fired on minimal basis. The boss not liking you can be reason enough to be dismissed, and they need a long term contract to join a union.
People who join worker unions to try and improve their working conditions get fired, and are unable to get a new job if they are "outed". When buyers come to inspect the factories, the workers are prepped and told what to say, ordered to clean up and say that everything is great, so that the factory will appear good. It's a fasade, and when the buyers leave, they are treated as they're worth nothing again.
Then there is home production, which is the definition of all the unregulated textile production. These workers are the lowest on the ladder, and have no rights and the lowest pay.
The ride to work for many of these workers is a dangerous affair on an open back truck, where they're standing like cattle in the back. Every year a 100 textile workers dies in accidents on these trucks. Several hundreds are injured.
85% of textile workers are women, and pregnant women are being discriminated by 2 out of 5 factories, by for example getting fired, not being allowed time off to go to their medical checkups, and have to take leave without pay. On top of that, the workers can't afford to bring their children with them and have to leave them in the village where they're from, as they don't have anyone to care for them in the city where they have to live and work. Most of them only see their children once or twice a year, so that they can work, earn money and give their children a better life
The true cost of Fast Fashion, is that people are dying from the horrible standards of their work environment.
Two of the worst disasters in the history of fashion occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh when 931 people died from the factory collapsing on top of them. The workers had tried to voice their concern about cracks in the building, but it wasn't taken seriously. A few months later, a factory fire killed a 100 more. These people earned about 2$ a day.
If that wasn't enough, the workers are payed a minimum wage of only about 140$ a month. A living wage (an amount of money you are paid for a job that is large enough to provide you with the basic things, such as food and shelter needed to live an acceptable life), is considered to be 180$ a month. These people work harder than most, but are yet denied a dignified life, basic human rights, and a just pay for their hard work. They get no overtime and have no right to take vacations or breaks. The workers themselves are dispirited about these conditions, and all they want are viable working conditions.
We are profiting from their desperate need to work, and using them as modern day slaves.
There is just so much wrong with this level disregard for a life. The truth is, these people's lives are just as valuable as any one else's. Is it ok that some people have to starve, so that others can be rich? That some people have to suffer to make the clothes we buy cheap? In the words of the Norwegian poet, Arnulf Øverland in his poem, "Dare not sleep"( from 1937), "You must not tolerate so well the injustice that doesn't affect you yourself!"
Capitalism and consumptionism is the reason the fashion industry looks the way it does today.
Consumptionism, is when people treat the things you use (cars, homes, electronics, clothes), as the things you can use up (food, candles, beauty products, pencils), and the main thing in capitalism is to create profit, and more profit than your competitors. Between our ever growing consumerism and corporate greed, our current ways has proven to have a global impact and taken it's tole on the planet as a whole.
Major steps needs to be taken towards a more sustainable future for all, and the current system should be replaced by better methods as fast as humanly possible.
If you're still following, I know... everything seems wrong at this point. To make it worse. Here's another "fun fact". If we completely stop buying clothes from these big brands, then the under paid workers will become unemployed workers. Everyone needs a job. We all just need to pull together, in order to fix the broken system.
The good news is that people get more and more conscious about what they buy and as global warming has been more and more evident, big brands such as HM and many more have started to do the transition over to a more sustainable fashion industry. It's still a long way from where we need to be, and green fashion seem to be step 1 (A lot, due to pressure from the public). Fixing the issue of having new items in their shops every week, under paid workers, worker rights, child labor, extreme waste of water and pollution from factories, has to be the next goals on our "To do" list. The recourses and technology to improve all these issues are already there. It's only a matter of actually prioritizing ethical and eco-friendly production, and be willing to pay for the cost of that transition.
It's already possible to grow fabrics from bacteria, 3D printing can create the most incredible designs as well as being a great way of recycling used materials, and we have the option of organic cotton and recycled fabric.
Buying second hand or having swap parties are some other great ways of being able to get your hands on ethical and green fashion, and a really good way of lowering your carbon footprint..
For a real change to happen in the fashion industry the sales numbers need to be there, as "big business" is motivated by the bottom line and customer demand. So, if we fine-tune the message we the consumers are sending the fashion industry and buy fair trade and eco-products, then the demand will be for fair-trade and eco products. If you cant beat them, join them, and make the planet eco-friendly by living a more conscious life. Do what you can with the options you got.
I know it might be hard to find the styles you like in the (very limited at the moment) green/fair-trade "section". But, you can start small by for example switching to organic cotton basics, fair-trade jeans, and ecological beauty products. In short, if you get as much as you can from those sources, it will make a difference.
To help the rookies making the transition over to ethical eco-town, I'm starting a new series in the Eco-style genre, focusing on several ways to live a more eco-friendly fashion existence. In this series I will try to bring attention to all the great options that are already there, and prove that it's easier than you would think.
Click the button below, to get your Carbon Footprint calculated. Or go to carbonfootprint.com