Perilous pursuit of (cheap?) apparel
The global apparel market is worth an estimated 3 TRILLION dollars - but what is the true cost?
Humans have come a long way since the days of wearing animal skins for survival, and whilst clothes are still a necessity, killing animals or polluting our environment for them isn't.
These days there are many forms of manmade materials that are used to make clothing. However, whilst manmade fabrics eradicate the need for animal skin, they present other sustainability issues.
It is estimated around 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to create polyester, which can be found on most t-shirt labels these days. Polyester is used to both cheapen and make cotton go further, and it is easy to see why.
Cotton is a highly chemical-dependent and thirsty plant, it takes roughly 9,000 litres of water to produce one pair of cotton jeans.
Although production and material costs are low, the exploitation of human beings and the damage to the environment by the manufacturing polyester is high.
It's clear what is valued more by the companies that are producing our clothing.
Unlike other topics we have explored, America is actually one of the top producers of one of this raw material. However despite this, to reduce costs, the cotton is sent from America on a journey that accumulates many air miles to a country with little to no laws in regards to workers safety or wellbeing.
When it comes to the actual production of clothes, they are usually produced in sweat shops or large factories where workers are forced to work extremely long days for very little pay.
Not only this, the safety conditions are minimal - you may remember the Rana Plaza incident where over 1,000 workers died in a factory fire that had poor safety procedures in Bangladesh whilst producing clothes for Western retailers.
There are other daily risks that workers face including the use of toxic chemicals in production that also have harrowing effects on the local environment - textile dyeing and treatment is responsible for up to 20% of industrial water pollution.
The complex and drawn out chain of production our clothes take is littered with unethical and unsustainable practices.
However it seems that companies almost mock these injustices with their advertising.
The fashion industry is worth trillions globally and has acquired a world wide desire to keep up with trends and to mirror star studded advertising.
But is it all really worth it?
Is it worth damaging our planet for a pair of pants?
We can all be more conscious about where we buy our clothes, their provenance and the damage, pain and suffering that may have gone into making them ... because after all is an outfit really "cool" if it has been produced in this way?
In this day in age, there are ways in which we can supply ourselves with necessities such as clothing, without human exploitation and damage to our planet. So why aren't we?
We have highlighted below two great companies that are a part of the Visible Clothing Co, an ethical supplier with clothes made in their own fair trade factory in India, paying fair wages.
You can also try the following:
- Reduce: Avoid 'fast' fashion, choose quality over quantity
- Re-use: Swap your old clothes with friends, or take them to a local charity shop
- If your clothes rip, learn how to 'make do and mend', sew a button back on or stitch up a hole, if anything it will make your item of clothing more unique and personal to you!
- Recycle: Clothes aren't just clothes- the material can be used for many other things, get creative! need a new purse? how about making a dog toy from an old sock!?
- Completely beyond repair? it doesn't make them worthless! You can take your old clothes to a recycling bank or pop into companies offering recycling schemes.
According to the Waste Resources and Action Programme (WRAP), clothing has the highest environmental impact after housing.
Transport for food WRAP's Love Your Clothes campaign has a four-step guide to loving your clothes:
Next time you're out eyeing up an outfit in your favourite high street store, think about starting your own trend: Caring about the history and future of your clothes.
Why not go to one of the many high street charity shops first and see what you can find? Save yourself money and at the same time give some clothes a new home and raise money for people in need instead of supporting human exploitation.
Alternatively, check our some pioneers of sustainable fashion:
Antiform: UK-based sustainable design, utilising reclaimed materials sourced in the UK!
Matt & Nat: Mat(t)erials and Nature. 100% vegan and the linings of bags are made from recycled plastic bottles!
Zady: encouraging the 'slow fashion' movement
Stella McCartney: Agents of change. Fashion made without leather or fur, and promoting the circularity of clothing.
Visible Clothing & Eternal Creation (below)
If you have any great tips for sourcing sustainable fashion, up-cycling clothes or have any favourite companies, we'd love to hear them!
Want to know more on this topic? Take a look at these excellent documentaries: