There is so much talk about 'ethical' and 'sustainable' fashion, but what's actually wrong with the fashion industry? In this blog post, I want to give you some insights in the current system and what needs to change.
(image from business-humanrights.org)
In a few words:
Our current system more often than not leads to & relies on
"Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain. Modern slavery is all around us, but often just out of sight. People can become entrapped making our clothes, serving our food, picking our crops, working in factories, or working in houses as cooks, cleaners or nannies." (from: antislavery.org)
In the fashion industry this can reach from gender inequalities, unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, corruption to abuse.
DESTRUCTION OF OUR ECO SYSTEMS
- all the fabric waste that goes into landfill, and all the toxins that end up in our oceans, co2 emissions, too much plastic all leads to pollution
- for wool, leather, silk production
Seven years ago, on the 24th April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing at least 1134 people and injuring another approximately 2500 people (!). All these people were making clothes for some of the biggest fashion brands in the world (29 fashion brands were identified), and the majority of the workers were, unsurprisingly, young women.
They noticed cracks in the building and expressed their fears regarding those irregularities but, coldheartedly, got ignored. Work needed to get finished, they were told.
Welcome to capitalism! Our current very fucked up system.
Those young women and many other workers that make clothes for the mainstream fashion brands don't have a proper salary, get exploited and abused. Many of the survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse are unemployed until this day and deeply traumatised from the horrible incident!
The current system exploits people by producing far more clothes than we actually need and all that for a super cheap price - because our world loves cheap stuff, am I right?! 80 BILLION new pieces of clothing are consumed each year (facts from: the True Cost). Just let this number sink in for a moment. If you're ready, here are more shocking numbers.
15 million tonnes of textile waste is generated alone in the US each year, which is almost 47 pieces of clothing per person per year (facts from: http://www.lsx.org.uk/blog/textile-issue-london-textile-forum-2018/). The numbers are obviously not better in the UK and other western countries. But just to give you an idea, nearly 50 pieces per person go to waste within 1 year.
And while I was helping at the Gate Church Carbon Saving Project in Dundee (Scotland), every Wednesday I saw how many unwanted pieces we received - and this is just from Dundee and only those clothes that people donate and don't throw away. So the numbers are even much higher when you consider ALL the clothes that are being donated AND discarted. These clothes that we sorted out went to different charities but even the charities had too many items already. So we ended up having lots of left over clothes and decided to organise Clothes Swaps with them. Physically seeing all those bags of clothes every single week made me aware just HOW MANY clothes there are all around the world that are being thrown away! This makes me wonder how much longer we need to wait until we literally see mountains of clothes surrounding us.
Overproduction means that clothes go to landfills and are being burnt. The resources that are used are being exhausted and the materials are toxic to us and bad for our environment. So about everything in this current system is wrong, ethically and ecologically.
"We have seen how much water it takes to grow cotton, (over 6000 litres to make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt) and how many pesticides are required to grow conventional cotton." (from: Fashion Revolution)
When we know all this, how can we continue supporting such a corrupt system? When we can STOP supporting this system why don't we do it? How many clothes do you have in your wardrobe that you never or hardly ever wear?
The problem is that brands are aware of this global shift of thinking and try to use it for their own growth and benefit. That’s the issue with capitalism, it's profit-orientated, and not made to benefit our community. Brands like h&m, for instance, use greenwashing to falsely reassure people that they are "sustainable" and "transparent" with what they do even though a year ago they were caught burning a big quantity of clothes they couldn't sell, their workers don't get paid fairly for their work (look at their prices - this can't be right), and they constantly bring out new clothes - this is the exact opposite of what S L O W fashion is supposed to be. So h&m, like many other fast fashion brands, need to change a hell of a lot before even being considered as a 'sustainable' fashion brand! From treating their workers fairly, to actually caring about the environment and producing less - they could produce clothing out of old materials for instance, and produce much less new stuff and this in a fair way without exhausting natural resources. There is so much room for improvement, corporations just need to decide whether they want to work with or against people and essentially themselves.
(image from ohsevendays.com)
We need to ask ourselves #whomademyclothes and #whatisinmyclothes. These are important questions to raise. It's the same as asking ourselves where our food comes from. We don't have time to waste, the time is now or never.
Of course, ethical brands cost slightly more than an h&m top or an Asos hat. But firstly, you know who and what you are supporting with your money, you know that your actions don't contribute to someone else's misery.
Secondly, I found myself having more clothes than I would wear. Next time you want to go shopping with your friends, why not do a clothes swap instead? Use what you have in your wardrobe, swap with friends and family if you have the possibility, borrow from them and give your clothes to them - sharing is caring! Most of us don't need all the clothes we own. We are used to buying into this consumerism and brainlessly buy new clothes because we are taught that buying something new will complete us and make us feel better, and as soon as the magic of that new bought piece wears off the cycle repeats. To break this vicious circle, we can prolong the timespan of our clothes by mending and repairing them. We can embroider them and change them up. We can upcycle them and make something new out of them.
Think where and how we can spend our money reasonably and with good conscience. Let's treat others the way we want to be treated, with respect, love and care.
Write to the brands you like and ask them #whomakesyourclothes. Here is a template you can use (it's that simple, but you might need to scroll down to find the letter template. You can then send the letter directly from the Fashion Revolution website to the brand).
Another thing I highly encourage you to do is to sign the Fashion Revolution manifesto since - surprise!!! - what we really need is a fashion revolution! We need a fashion industry that works with the environment, not against it. We need a system that values people over monetary profit and growth.
And hell yes, we can have that if we all work together and speak up!
What we want is to end modern day slavery!
What we want is to redistribute power and balance it.
What we want is to have safe and supportive working environments with a fair wage for everybody.
What we want is to nurture regenerative ecosystems.
What we want is to move towards a circular economy and end the culture where everything is being perceived as 'waste'.
What we want is acknowledge and value heritage, craftmanship and local artists.
Fashion can be beautiful, inspiring, fair, creative and comforting.
I want to share more on my blog about fair fashion, secondhand and vintage fashion, DIY projects and more! At the moment, I am dyeing with left over avocado peels and skins, but you can dye with other free and natural dyes without harming the environment or exploiting someone.
Also, there's a brand new course by Fashion Revolution, FREE and it only started 3 days ago! (And no, this is not sponsored or anything, I just genuinely feel this is a good thing to do and am happy that Fashion Revolution exists to hold brands accountable). You can sign up here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/fashion-s-future-and-the-un-sustainable-development-goals-/2/todo/74423
1. I highly recommend you watch The True Cost https://truecostmovie.com/blog/ - this will give you a better insight in the whole fashion industry
2. Fashion Revolution https://www.fashionrevolution.org
3. Slow Fashion Factory https://slowfactory.foundation
Disclaimer: I want to acknowledge that for many people even in privileged countries it is still hard to get their clothes from somewhere else since they don't have the means to get their clothes from fair fashion brands that usually tend to be more expensive. Charity shops are also not the norm everywhere. Whereas in the UK, America and Australia, there are lots of thrift stores, charity shops and op shops, these are lacking in many other countries, like Luxembourg for instance. I guess there is less demand here due to the overall state of the country - it counts as a rich country. There are still lots of people suffering from poverty here so I don't blame anybody who really cannot afford to buy anything else than fast fashion.
The problem is not those few people who really can't afford to buy anything else. The problem is that many people who are privileged and have the money, don't want to acknowledge that and don't want to see the problem. Acknowledge YOUR PRIVILEGE and STOP abusing it by exploiting those that have less! Imagine you or someone you really love works as a garment worker 60 hours a day, gets abused, exploited and doesn't even have enough money to survive because they get so little. Think about it, and then think again about the choices you make.