Before 2015, I didn’t think much about the way I shopped. I would see “Made in Bangladesh” or some other seemingly far-away land printed on my clothing without thinking twice about it. It appeared that all of America’s clothes and products were produced in other countries these days- there was no avoiding it. Or so it seemed.
Then I watched The True Cost documentary on Netflix. Something in me changed. Sure, I had heard of sweatshops before, but it was easy to create an alternate reality in my mind- where sweatshops were rare, conditions weren’t that bad, and the impact on the environment was minimal- when the actual reality of the fashion industry remained hidden from public view.
Before, when I walked into a store, with its beautiful products laid before me, images of human suffering and environmental degradation didn’t come to the forefront of my mind. Once I was faced with this imagery in The True Cost, however, those images were all I could think about every time I got dressed or looked at my closet. I always viewed shopping as a somewhat fun, albeit frivolous, endeavor – but I had been wrong. There’s much more to the fashion industry than glamorous pictures and lit up runways. Fast fashion is a serious obsession that’s destroying lives and our environment.
My mom-mom used to sew outfits for her children. She put her heart and soul into making clothes, so she made sure they would last a while. While growing up, if I ever had a tear in my shirt, was missing a button, or needed a zipper fixed, my mom would take me to my mom-mom’s house and she would repair my clothes so they were good as new. Treasuring clothes was more common back then. Things have changed.
We’re living in an age of “fast fashion”, when people are discarding clothes almost as fast as they’re buying them, and, according to various reviews, it’s become the second most polluting industry on earth. The cost of clothing is at an all-time low, making it easy for people to buy and discard clothes at an inappropriate rate. According to a report stated in Esquire.com, “the global apparel industry produced 150 billion garments in 2010, enough to provide 20 new articles of clothing for every person on the planet.” Imagine the amount of resources needed to produce that inconceivable amount of clothing, such as electricity, land, cotton, pesticides, water. Then imagine the amount of oil and packing supplies needed to continuously ship those garments to their final destination. Then imagine just how many of those clothes end up in landfills, as people move on from one season’s style to the next. In fact, “the average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year.” That’s just the average American. Compound this waste to the rest of the world’s and you’re starting to understand the catastrophe that is the fashion industry.
To make matters worse, if you buy leather, fur, or other garments made of dead animals, raising livestock to produce those products requires even more land, water, animal feed, and creates even more waste. According to The True Cost, the “leather tanning process is among the most toxic in all of the fashion supply chain.” Not only does raising livestock for leather require limited resources, the leather tanning process uses harsh chemicals that pollute local waterways. Leather tanneries are built in low-income areas, even though “studies have found that leather tannery workers are at a far greater risk of cancer, by between 20% – 50%.” Animal rights and human rights are more connected than you might think, especially in the fashion industry.
In fact, according to an article published by Fast Company, in the past few decades, over 800,000 apparel jobs moved from the United States to countries with low labor and environmental standards. The article states, “while apparel is the largest employer of women globally, less than 2% of these women are actually receiving a living wage.” As The True Cost documentary shows, many people, most of whom are women, are working their asses off, often in unsafe buildings, with harmful chemicals and/or equipment, to earn less than a living wage.
And all for what? So we can “look cute” in the newest crop top? Look handsome in the newest dress shirt? Clothes are no longer cute when you know about their dark history.
Yet do not feel hopeless- feel empowered. There are ways to shop in a sustainable manner. If you’re low on money, buy second-hand products and shop at thrift stores. If you’re looking for something new, check out my list of Eco-friendly & Cruelty-free Products from innovative companies that care about the planet and beings in them. Ditch leather, fur, and wool – who wants to wear another animal’s skin, anyway? It’s creepy.
From shoes and bags made from recycled materials, to clothes and home goods that are fair trade certified, many companies are waking up and trying to make the world a better place. Support them. Your dollar is your most powerful vote. Research different companies, production processes, and labor standards, and decide what you will support and what you will no longer tolerate.
Peace & Love.
Christian, Scott. “Fast Fashion Is Absolutely Destroying the Planet.” Esquire, Esquire, 14 Nov. 2016, http://www.esquire.com/style/news/a50655/fast-fashion-environment/.
Clendaniel, Morgan. “There Is A Major Climate Issue Hiding In Your Closet: Fast Fashion.”Fast Company, Fast Company, 11 Nov. 2016, http://www.fastcompany.com/3065532/there-is-a-major-climate-issue-hiding-in-your-closet-fast-fashion.
Morgan, Andrew, director. The True Cost. The True Cost, Untold Creative, 29 May 2015, truecostmovie.com/.