By Caitlin O’Brien
Within the past 10-20 years, we have begun to kill our people and planet with clothes.
The Fast Fashion industry is booming and with social media redefining trends daily, we buy more clothing than ever before. 400% more clothes are annually purchased than 20 years ago, and it’s thanks to these consumerist lives we lead that the term “Fast Fashion” came to popularity; it describes brands like H&M or Forever 21 that produce new styles weekly. Before the 60’s, many of America’s wardrobes consisted of clothing made in US, with approx 95% of their clothing made in the States. But by 2015, America was making 3% of their own clothing, sourcing 97% from third world countries. Since they aren’t buying from all-American brands, they can’t see their textile waste and pollution and refuse to change their hoarding ways.
Thus, it’s vital for the survival of our planet and people that we make the switch from Fast Fashion, to sustainable, ethical, fashion practices.
As we buy more and more clothing, we’re also forced to throw away more. Over 80 billion clothing items are consumed annually and it’s predicted that with the rising popularity in lifestyles such as Minimalism and cleaning shows such as Tidying Up with Marie Kondo or the disgusting reality that are shows about Hoarders, which all thrive on the excessive disposal of clothing, that our consuming nature will further develop. These programs are usually extremes, yet it’s surprising to hear that the average American throws away 80 lbs (~36kg) of textile waste annually.
You could consider donating clothing to thrift stores; however, only 10% of donated clothes are resold. The remaining 90% are sold to markets in third-world countries that sell bin bags full of donated clothing for next to nothing. These people don’t even need the clothes. All this waste is not helping anyone, especially the people who put their lives on the line making a material object that will only be thrown away after a party.
The people dedicating their lives to the creation of clothing are dying right before our eyes and we don’t seem to care. By this, I don’t mean designers or company management, but the garment manufacturers in countries like Bangladesh or Cambodia, whose economy is reliant on Fast Fashion. These people are paid as little as 3 USD a day, working in hazardous structures, under cruel business owners, to sustain themselves and their families.
It shouldn’t be a risk to go to work.
April 24th, 2013. Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapses to the ground, injuring around 2,500 and killing 1,134 workers. The day prior, workers reported large cracks in the building, but were instructed to come into work the following day, not knowing it may be their last.
In the 2015 documentary, The True Cost, a Bangladeshi woman that runs the workers union in her garment factory is interviewed. They constructed a list of demands requesting simple things; a pay raise, safer working conditions, longer breaks, and sent it to management. Management responded by locking all of the doors and, with the help of 30-40 staff members, began to physically attack the employees, “…they used chairs, sticks, scales, and things like scissors to beat us up. Mostly they kicked and punched us and banged our heads on the walls…”.
In no situation is that behaviour professional nor necessary.
Garment workers in Cambodia took to the streets in January 2014 and were met with a similar fate after they protested in favour of a higher minimum wage so they could support themselves. All they wanted was a livable minimum wage, yet the government responded with police opening fire on the crowd, killing three, injuring several more, and arresting two.
Change is necessary to help these people. Some attempt to defend the companies and tolerate their behaviour by saying how they’re “better than the other options the workers have”. This mindset is revolting as not only does it leave those guilty, uncharged for their crimes, but it encourages people to believe that some have it worse. As true as this may be, their lives are not worth any less because they make our clothes. They deserve respect.
As these horror stories come to the surface, people want to change. Brands like Everlane, Patagonia, and Reformation are providing a chance to shop sustainably. When buying from a brand it’s important to consider the alignment between their values and how they’re put into play versus your own values. Are they transparent with how their clothing is made? Are they sustainable and fair trade? It should be your goal as the consumer to support brands that minimize the environmental effects within the product’s life cycle and are improving their employees working conditions at each stage of the creation process.
So, is your 10RM shirt still worth the exploitation?
- “Cambodia Garment Workers Killed in Clashes with Police.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Jan. 2014, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25585054.Date Accessed: March 31, 2019
- Elie, Kathleen. “What It Means To Shop According To Your Values-And How To Do It.” The Good Trade, The Good Trade, 23 Aug. 2018, www.thegoodtrade.com/features/how-to-shop-according-to-your-values?rq=ethical+fashion. Date Accessed: March 12, 2019
- “Green Is The New Black: Stitching Together Sustainable Fashion Brands.” Green Is The New Black: Stitching Together Sustainable Fashion Brands, 2 Apr. 2019, fabrikbrands.com/sustainable-fashion-brands/. Date Accessed: April 5, 2019
- “The True Cost.” Netflix, 17 July 2015, http://www.netflix.com/title/80045667. Date Accessed: March 17, 2019
- “WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION?” Green Strategy Sustainable and Circular Fashion Consulting, http://www.greenstrategy.se/sustainable-fashion/what-is-sustainable-fashion/. Date Accessed: March 12, 2019
- “What Is Slow Fashion?” Good On You, 14 Dec. 2018, www.goodonyou.eco/what-is-slow-fashion/. Date Accessed: March 12, 2019