On the 24th of April 2013, 1138 people died and 2500 others were injured when an eight-story building with several garment factories inside collapsed. The Rana Plaza disaster became a tragic illustration of the consequences of fast fashion, largely thanks to the 2015 documentary “The True Cost”. I urge you to watch it if you haven’t already.
As a result of this disaster a campaign called #fashionrevolution was launched and this week I looked a little bit more into the social and environmental costs of fashion and what we can do to join this revolution.
While up until the 1980’s it was more common than not to find “Made in New Zealand” on clothing tags – since then, most manufacturing has been outsourced to developing countries. There are 40 million garment workers in the world, mostly in Bangladesh and China, with some working in substandard physical conditions and many more being exploited – all for the sake of our obsession with cheap fashion. While the $2 or $3 a day might seem better than the alternative for people in these countries; the constant pressure to produce more clothing for less money is having an impact. We, in New Zealand are not paying the True cost of our clothing. The workers are.
While pressure continues to provide safe conditions and a living wage for these workers, both in New Zealand and around the world, we are still having to address the fact that fashion is our 2nd biggest polluter after oil. So, how does fashion impact on our environment?
“The True cost” shared the impact of genetically modified cotton – being intensively farmed and sprayed with Roundup to control pests. I’m talking large scale – millions of acres of soil being drenched in poison to try to keep up with the demand for fast fashion. I knew Monsanto was a dirty word – but it wasn’t until I started looking more into it in terms of a cyclical trap for farmers that I realised how significant this is for all of us. Google it.
After we destroy our soil, air and biodiversity we move to dying textiles with toxic chemicals which not only causes disease and death to workers, but gets into water ways, and the soil they use for food production. Speaking of water, the 2700 litres required to produce one t-shirt is a crime in itself, particularly given how many people don’t have access to clean drinking water.
<Sarcastic tone> But that’s okay because we now have a $5 t-shirt, which is considered disposable.
Clothing has become so cheap that we think nothing when we dispose of it or “donate it” to the op-shop. But, did you know only 10% of what we donate to op-shops sells in their shop? The rest is bundled, shipped overseas where they don’t want it either so is incinerated or sent to landfill. We in New Zealand are not paying the True cost of our clothing. The environment is.
So we, as consumers of cheap fashion find ourselves responsible for a dying planet and exploitation of people. We need systematic change. That’s where #fashionrevolution comes in. Change starts with us.
This list isn’t exhaustive but here are 5 ways you can do something.
- Shop wisely. Do you really need it? Chose quality over quantity, or just say “No”. (Added benefit of being good for your wallet too).
- Check out the label. Tearfund is one of the organisations who have made it easy for us to find out how ethical different brands are. If a label is an “F” leave it on the rack. Better yet – send a letter requesting ethical compliance. If we don’t buy it, they can’t justify making it.
- Shop local. We’ve got so many awesome local designers who you can support that there’s no need to ship in your fashion.
- Feel it. Think about what happens at the end of a garments’ life. Fair trade organic cotton, hemp or wool is good because it can break down naturally, unlike synthetic material. Another way to look after the environment is to avoid polyester or if you do wear it, wash it when it needs it not after every wear. Microfibres are getting into our waterways and is now in the fish food cycle. Yuk.
- Buy second hand. It keeps clothes in the cycle longer; stops the need for new clothing to be made and again, saves you money without the exploitative side.
#fashionrevolution is held around the 24th of April each year so we don’t forget the lives of those who died bringing us fast fashion.