Have you ever wondered how your clothes are made?
It’s not a question you would normally ask yourself is it? Well, it wasn’t a question I had even considered until I came across a documentary film called True Cost. If you want to watch the movie, and I definitely recommend that you do, you can rent it on iTunes.
It’s a movie about the environmental impact fast cheap fashion has on our planet. It tells the story about people we all forget about. The factory workers, who live below the poverty line to sew clothes for large Western clothing brands. These people live in impoverished third world counties that are basically slaves to the fashion industry.
The movie also highlights the environmental impact the textile industry has on our planet.
As a person who prides herself in being environmentally conscious, this horrified me. I take shorter showers to save water, compost, recycle, sold my car to ride my bike and catch public transport and I stopped buying things I didn’t need. But I still wore “bargain buys” on my back, cheap $10-20 dresses, tops and shoes.
In the past, I bought these clothing items in excess to keep with trend and to also save money. I realise now what I was doing was fuelling the destruction of our planet through textiles. I was contributing to the slavery of thousands of women (and some times children) in third world places like;
Factory workers in sweat shops are subject to extremely poor working conditions. They work long hours and get paid very poorly. And due to earning such a low income, they go home to even worse living conditions.
This is all so we Westerner’s from affluent countries like Australia, America and parts of Europe, can feel rich by filling wardrobes full of clothing we don’t even wear, or even in sadder cases don’t even care about.
“There are more than 4,800 factories and 3.5 million people employed in the Bangladeshi garment industry, producing cheap clothes under appalling working conditions for major UK and international brands.”
How much do textile factory workers get paid?
Let’s just say, it’s a lot less than you would pay your child pocket money. In China, people are reportedly being paid less than $2 a day and endure hot working conditions, chemicals from dyes with no safety equipment and the occasional beating.
“In December 2010 a new national minimum wage came into force, the first wage increase for 4 years. Previously, the lowest paid garment workers earn a meagre £15 a month (1,662 taka) but they will now be able to earn £25 a month (3,000 taka), an increase of 80%. However this is still short of a living wage, calculated to be £45 a month (5,000 taka)”
Just so you know £45 a month (5,000 taka)= $87 Australian dollars ($4.35 a day). This problem is well known to large brands and they choose not to do anything about it.
On the 24th of April 2013 a sweatshop in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka collapsed on workers, who were forced to work over time. The Rana Plaza factory operated without complying with safety regulations. Workers had previously complained about crackers in the wall and management continued to force workers to work.
Later that day, the factory collapsed on them, killing 1,100 employees. A lot of people who were injured or died were women who sewed your clothes. This factory was one of the largest clothing providers for Walmart, a mega clothing store in America.
Want to know more? ABC did an investigation on this in 2013, watch it here.
The textiles industry is our problem
Don’t think this problem is removed from Australia either. This media release by Australia’s Workers Transport Union says it all;
“TWU MEDIA RELEASE, 24 April 2014
In the wake of the tragedy, the Bangladesh Government is urging western firms like Coles to sign a Fire and Safety Accord, setting legally enforceable minimum working standards for garment workers.
Transport Workers’ Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon said other Australian retailers such as Woolworths, K-Mart and Target had signed the Fire and Safety Accord. But Coles refuses to sign.
“At Coles’ AGM last year, they said they had stopped buying clothes from Bangladesh, but as recently as January, Coles was still selling Bangladesh clothing, likely sourced from sweatshops and firetraps like Rana Plaza,” Mr Sheldon said
“We’ve made this notification to the Human Rights Commission because basic labour rights are protected in the Bangladesh constitution and it is unconscionable that Coles believes they are above the law – it has to stop.” Source.
Did you read that? Woolworths, Coles, Kmart and Target, all Aussie brands we regularly shop at. This isn’t an overseas problem this is our problem too. Makes you wonder, whose blood are you wearing on your shirt?
The textiles industry is also one of the largest contributors to child labor. The National Human rights commission found sweat shops in Mexico housed 1.5million children and teenagers between 5 and 17years old, who did not receive pay. Source.
To me this is disgraceful, and to think we all contribute to the lack of human rights of these workers by buying the stuff they produce. Ignorance is no excuse, morally it’s wrong on so many levels.
The environmental impact of the textiles industry
Whenever something is created, plastic cups, wooden chairs or cotton underwear it has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the planet, our natural resources.
Every single little plastic useless trinket you by from the Typo store (Typo is owned by CottonOn) comes from extruded oil from the ground. Oil is mined from the earth destroying natural forest habitats of animals that once lived there. Most mines, after all the land is depleted, become areas of land waste. It doesn’t go back to what it was before.
This is all so you can have a plastic cactus sit on your desk, while you sip your latte with the air conditioning running. Can you tell me how this is fair?
The textile industry is just as bad. Cotton is one of the most widely used natural resources when it comes to clothing. Cotton has to be farmed and grown, then woven and dyed to create fabrics. If the cotton is not organic cotton then pesticides are sprayed and leaked into water supplies and the soil, where their long-term effects have not yet been established.
Further to this fast fashion rarely uses natural cotton to make clothing. A lot of clothing is made with synthetic fibres. These fibres are thought to have devastating impacts on the health of garment factory workers and the environment.
Textile dyes and river polluting
Approximately 72 toxic chemicals reach the water supply from textile dyeing. All of which cannot be removed. Remember those favourite pair of blue jeans you love wearing? Natural cotton is white, it doesn’t come in blue. Dyes made from chemicals make it blue. The problem lies in your wardrobe.
You can imagine the impact that these chemicals have on the marine life of the rivers and lakes that get polluted. In addition, they play havoc with the human health of the locals from the area.
All of this is happening overseas in countries were people are too poor to access health care. They aren’t valued enough to be listened to. It’s their homes we’re polluting because of our desire to want more.
What you can do is boycott fast fashion
There’s lots of things you can do as a consumer. The power is in your wallet. International fashion labels are businesses. Businesses need profit to survive, to gain business they listen and respond to consumer demand. If you talk with your wallet and spend your money in eco friendly fashion retailers, business will listen and respond.
H&M is one particular label that is listening. H&M is a very popular mega clothing brand in Europe and America. They have jumped on board with the slow fashion movement and have started to urge consumers to recycle and reuse their clothing.
As part of this initiative H&M urged consumers to hand in unwanted textiles from any brand to their store for recycling. From this initiative they produced the first recycled denim collection. The range consisted of recycled cotton from discarded clothing.
“Creating a closed loop for textiles, in which unwanted clothes can be recycled into new ones, will not only minimize textile waste, but also significantly reduce the need for virgin resources as well as other impacts fashion has on our planet,” commented H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson.”
If we refuse to buy fast fashion, as a society we have the power to change the entire textile industry for the better. Instead of fast fashion, lets jump on board with slow fashion. Find out who made your clothes.
What is slow fashion?
Slow fashion is a movement that has roots in sustainability and decreasing consumption. This means reducing how much you buy and also caring for your clothes, so you don’t have to continue to replace them.
This might involve patching holes in socks, cleaning off stains or sewing buttons back on a shirt, instead of throwing it away. I am actually amazing how lazy people are. People throw away entire items of clothing because they can’t be bothered sewing a button. When did we become so precious?
If we buy less, it will reduce the pressure on the fashion industry to continue to mass-produce poor quality items that break or get worn out easily.
Now I know what you’re thinking; it’s not trendy to wear the same things all the time. Well, I would argue that trend is actually created by multinational corporations and fashion houses to make you buy more. You can be stylish and still not have an over-flowing wardrobe. You just have to be smarter about what you buy.
Vintage or recycled clothing is another element of slow fashion that I believe should be embraced by everyone. Purchasing used clothing at op shops and the local flea market for slow fashion is one of the most enjoyable ways to shop. You never know what you’re going to find.
Tips on how to embrace slow fashion
Make well thought-out decisions about what you buy. For example;
- Where did the item come from?
- How much does it cost?
- What you are going to wear it with and where are you going to wear it?
If you don’t like wearing second hand clothing, that’s ok. Consider building a capsule wardrobe of fewer more thought out purchases (more on that later).
Stop buying cheap clothing! Buy quality clothing that will last you season after season. Cheap clothing also means factory workers are also paid cheaply for their labour. Were possible look for companies that engage in fair trade agreements with their suppliers.
Purchase locally, not only to support the economy, but also reduce the eco footprint of the garment. Textiles that have to travel across the globe to get to us waste more resources, such as petrol, in transportation.
You don’t have to wash your clothes each time you wear them. Textiles made from wool, for example can self-clean if you leave them hanging up in the bathroom. You can also wash items by hand instead of sending them to the dry cleaner, where polluting cleaning chemicals are used.
Washing your clothes less will decrease the amount of water wasted in your household. It will also decrease the amount laundry detergents that end up in our oceans and prevent your clothes from wearing out sooner.
Care for clothing
Learn how to sew, stitch up holes, replace buttons and lift hems. Hang dry your clothes instead of using a clothes drier. Save on electricity and avoid throwing out good clothing.
Visit vintage shops, swap clothing with your friends or attend swap meets. Avoid shopping at large fashion malls where possible.
If you have fallen out of love with an item of clothing, donate it. Put it back on the market for someone else to love and reuse.
Fashion and style is more to do with the way you express yourself. Unfollow all those people you are trying to be like and find your own style. How can you express yourself if you’re just wearing the same clothing items that everyone else is?
Build a slow fashion capsule wardrobe
I love clothing and I love looking good. I need clothing for a variety of occasions. In the past, in my mind this meant I needed a lot of clothing, but I was wrong.
What I needed to do was think ahead of time, before I bought things. I needed to consider the elements of slow fashion; how my entire wardrobe could be mixed and matched with different items, so that I didn’t need so many things. After reading up on how to be a minimalist and live slower, I came across the idea of a capsule wardrobe.
A capsule wardrobe is simply a well thought out wardrobe. It contains a set number of clothing items, shoes and accessories that can easily be mixed and matched together.
Some bloggers recommend that you only have 37 items in total. For example only 9 pairs of shoes; three pairs of flats, three pairs of heels, and three pairs of boots. Along with three sweaters, three t-shirts, three button-up shirts, three tank tops, and three vests. With the remaining items made up of dresses or jackets depending on the season. It sounds like a lot, but I bet you haven’t counted how many items you have?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to colour arrange your clothing to create a capsule wardrobe, its just not my area of expertise, but if you need help with how to pair colours in your wardrobe, the blog Into Mind is awesome.
For me a capsule wardrobe wasn’t about following any rules or achieving a certain number of clothing items. Initially, it was just about downsizing my collection of clothing into a slow fashion useable wardrobe. Secondly, it was about choosing what colour scheme I generally wanted and then getting key items to piece outfits together.
For me this meant getting 3 pairs of boots for winter;
- Knee high black boots
- Black ankle boots
- Caramel ankle boots
I also carefully chose 3 jackets;
- Black work blazer
- White coat
- Caramel coat
These items I know I will use for years because they go with everything and are versatile both for casual and work outfits. I also typically hold on to clothing for years on end. Sometimes I like to wear the same thing days on end, because I love it so much. Knee length denim overalls, I’m looking at you!
If you want a how to guide on how to build a capsule wardrobe, visit this blog. If you want to know more about what I’m doing to save the planet through my fashion choices visit this page; My fashion pledge; think, stop, commit.