Altruism, Environment, Fashion

What is the cost of what you’re wearing?

The fashion industry seems like one of the most sophisticated industries in the world but honestly it belongs in the gutter. You’re probably thinking how can I say this with the clothes that are piling up in the corner of my bedroom but I never claimed I wasn’t a hypocrite!

Anyway that’s besides the point of me writing this.

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of these “drip” pages (personally I think they’re ruining twitter) and also there’s this podcast I like called reasons to be cheerful where there was an episode on fast fashion that actually got me thinking about fashion outside of a creative context. I did some reading around it and a part of me wishes I didn’t but I think it’s worth sharing despite the fact that (spoiler alert) everything is hopeless and it seems like the world is going to hell.

Basically there’s two ways to look at the impacts: the social and the environmental. I think that the two do overlap in some ways but I won’t get into that.

The social side is essentially that fashion is great because it allows us to shape our identities, how we dress can serve as an indicator of who we are and is often a defining part of almost all cultures. Our styles evolve with our age and in a lot of ways its a vehicle for us to improve our self-esteem. But on the other hand it’s extremely exploitative on a lot of different levels. There is the issue of larger and more powerful brands stealing the works of smaller brands, the child labour, unsafe working conditions often endured by the people who make our clothes , unfair pay, animal cruelty and a whole lot of more nuanced issues. These social costs are often the ones that appear to be addressed the most in the media especially after the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013. What’s even more tragic is that about 1/6 people in the world work in the fashion industry and 75% of garment workers globally are female so these issues are incredibly widespread.

Some people say things like how we kind of have to consume fashion because otherwise people in third world countries might not have jobs, but if you have managed to convince yourself that you’re doing a favour to anyone but yourself when you buy a cheap T-Shirt I have news for you…You’re delusional. What’s the solution I propose then? Well I’m not entirely sure, I barely know enough about the problem to even begin to understand the solution I’m just putting what I do know out there.

The environmental side is a little different because I don’t think there are any actual benefits of fashion to the environment (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). The fashion industry is unbelievably harmful to the environment. Some issues are honestly so random, like when you wash clothes that are made from polyester the micro-plastics from it inevitably enter the water which is consumed by fish that are then fished for human consumption. Then there’s the fact that it takes 2700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt and that fashion is the second largest polluter of water. This is so NUTS because only like 2.5% of water on Earth is fresh water and only 1% is accessible because the rest of it is frozen so we really don’t have water to waste at all. Not only that but the pollutants can cause the water to become carcinogenic (cancer causing).

Additionally, fashion accounts for 10% of the global carbon footprint and it produces billions of pounds of fabric waste annually which will continue to grow. From 2000 to 2014 the clothing we own has increased by 60% and we kept each item of clothing for around half as long as usual. About 150 billion garments are produced yearly; so as much as recycling is a great idea the rate that clothes are produced heavily outweighs the rate at which it is re-used or re-manufactured. Even if you just think about it aside from all the data, it’s kind of crazy how every few weeks when you enter a clothing store it looks slightly different. We call it trendy, how fashion is always changing but is this cost worth it? Absolutely not mate. Things go in and out of fashion so quickly we almost forget things exist, like look at ZX Fluxes, they went out of fashion as quick as they came in. I can’t even imagine how many of them are in landfill or collecting dust somewhere in someones shoe cupboard because it’s social suicide to wear them.

We’re literally wearing our planets demise. Maybe this is slightly dramatic but then is it really? The data says otherwise.

As consumers who live in a consumption culture whose fault is it? CAPITALISM!!!

I’m kidding, sort of.

But I think with issues like this everything is so complicated, we all play a role, some larger than others and since this isn’t an open letter to the industry or government I want to talk about what we can do. It sounds flowery but we should be more mindful. Before you buy anything you should really think about how much use you’re actually going to get out of it, is it disposable? If it only going to be good for one picture? Can you even genuinely afford it? Maybe you don’t want to think about this because you don’t want everything in your life to be that deep but the reality is that it is that deep. I’m not saying you should never buy another garment again because that’s unrealistic but I don’t think anyone should act like it’s impossible to cut down how much they consume.

It can be hard because a lot of the time you’ll kind of forget the point or feel like you’re not making a difference at all, but everyone thinking like this is dangerous and we can’t convince ourselves that we don’t care just because we assume everyone else won’t. And that goes for anything that matters.

Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want – Anna Lappe

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:
Easy to read facts on the fashion industry:
https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/07/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics
Interesting paper about our responses to fast fashion alongside general attitudes to sustainability. (If you can’t access the paper just let me know and I’ll send you the PDF)
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.2752/175174112X13340749707123?needAccess=true&instName=UCL+%28University+College+London%29
Short video on the social and environmental costs of the fashion industry:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq0–DfC2Xk
Rana Plaza Accident in Bangladesh:
https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/geip/WCMS_614394/lang–en/index.htm
Cost of Cheap Fashion TED Talk:
https://youtu.be/5r8V4QWwxf0
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