I haven’t written a proper post on why we should consider the ethics behind the clothing we wear because I didn’t want this blog to be a constant feed of downer information. The realities of the fashion industry aren’t pretty and they can be overwhelming to take in.
BUT…I think it will be helpful to get some key truths out in the open, especially for those of us who want to know the reasons why we should take a deeper look into the clothes we buy. The truth is, by not paying attention to what we buy and wear, we repeatedly support human exploitation and the global climate crisis.
It Wasn’t Always This Way
Clothes weren’t always cheap and brands didn’t always release dozens of collections and styles per season. In the late 1990’s/2000’s, the fashion industry began to be bombarded with fast fashion. According to GoodOnYou, “Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.”
Instead of a designer/brand producing one collection per season, brands like H&M, Gap and Zara now release new items weekly, sometimes daily. How can styles change by the week!?!?! When we see new items for sale and different style trends in store windows or in our inbox, it can make us believe that we NEED to buy these new items to stay relevant. When a garment cost $10 – $40, the risk of purchasing is minimal. Who cares if the shirt loses shape after 3 washes…it was only 10 bucks!
With the rise of fast fashion, our consumption (and waste) has become absurd when compared to our ancestors. Anuschka Rees, in her book “The Curated Closet” compares our purchasing habits to those of our parents/grandparents, “The average person in the 1960’s bought fewer than twenty-five new garments a year and spent almost 10 percent of his or her income on clothes. Nowadays, we buy close to seventy new pieces a year – more than one per week – but spend less than 3.5 percent of our income on clothes.”
Ok, 10% of our income on clothes seems like a lot. I’m not saying we should all be spending that much. But…I think we get the point that we are buying way more than we need, way more than people used to buy and yet we are spending way less. How is this possible?!
Cheap Clothes Are Not Cheap
Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity explains, “Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker.”
Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker.Kalpona Akter
It still takes time, raw materials and energy to sew a shirt. You can almost always assume that if you didn’t pay much for the garment, the worker who produced it didn’t get paid fairly to make it. “Although wages have increased in some countries where clothing is made, many people in the supply chain are still paid too little and struggle to afford life’s most basic necessities. Women textile and garment workers frequently face sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Trade unions and workers’ ability to organise and fight for their rights continue to be hamstrung by employers and governments.” (Fashion Revolution, 2020)
The Wage Indicator Foundation found that in Bangladesh “the legal minimum wage is €16 per month, while the actual living wage for a single person is €72 per month and €142 per month if someone has a family to support. This means that a Bangladeshi worker would need to be paid 4.5 times more than the current minimum wage to afford a decent living standard and almost nine times more to support a family.” (Fashion Revolution, 2020).
Not only are workers not paid well and subjected to abuse and terrible working conditions, sometimes they aren’t paid at all. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, garments are the second product that is most at risk of modern slavery and imported into G20 countries. Slavery.
Throw Away Culture
To meet demand, factories are forced to produce clothing at lightning speed. “As a result, we have seen more frequent and deadlier factory disasters while the amount of textile waste created each year has skyrocketed, rivers have been polluted with chemical run-off from textile dyeing, entire bodies of water have been sucked dry from cotton agriculture, microplastics from our polyester clothes have proliferated our waterways and ancient forests have been destroyed to produce viscose and leather.” (Fashion Revolution 2020).
We have likely all bought into recycling our paper and plastics and are trying our best to reduce waste in general. But why are we still throwing out clothes like they are food wrappers?!
I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the horrors of the fashion industry in this blog. It gets worse. I know it can be super discouraging to hear of yet another social injustice that needs to be stopped, but fortunately we can all make small changes to support garment workers worldwide.
There is much more to know and learn about the realities of the fashion industry. It’s important to know what is happening in order to know what changes need to be made. The following resources are a great starting point:
The True Cost – a ground-breaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?
Fashion Revolution (www.fashionrevolution.org) – A global organization committed to seeing “a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit.” Fashion Revolution has amazing resources to learn about the fashion industry and what we can do to be part of the solution.
GoodOnYou (https://goodonyou.eco) – The world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings. GoodOnYou is available as an app where users can search a directory to find out the ethical standards of fashion brands. GOY also has some solid resources to guide ethical consumers.
Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last – Vivienne Westwood
There is no one solution to stopping the fast fashion industry. We all have different realities and needs that will affect how and what we buy. Regardless, there is something for everyone to do. Vivienne Westwood coined the phrase “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”
We should try to only buy what we need and when possible buy garments that we know are made to last.
We can take the time to learn about the brands we buy. We may be surprised to find that we’re paying the same price for a non-ethical garment than we could for a more ethical alternative.
Borrow, buy secondhand, buy local, buy fair-trade certified.
Mend our garments, wash them less and take care of them.
Little changes can make a huge difference, especially if we do them together.