This is one topic I’ve been hesitant to talk about much.
Geeeez… can you imagine why?
I myself am guilty to the rotten core about having drooling envy for the latest threads being splashed across my Instagram feed. So what does one lass say to another about her ethical fashion faux pas?
Keep silent? Pretend that it’s not happening? Hypocritically criticize all the celebs and fashion haulers while you go about your day sneakily shopping online so no one sees you going about the task of contributing to our global melt down?
Do I say, just because I only buy a new outfit every few months, that my sins are no less of concern than the Youtuber who has a new haul every week? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I want to stand for something and so I’m making concerted effort to make what I stand for to be in line with what I preach about. Sure, I’m human, but I’m not going to let that excuse me from slipping out the back doggy door with just a slap on the wrist.
The truth about the fashion industry, when you strip it down to it’s core and lay it out bare-naked, doesn’t make for a pretty sight.
Take for example an article from TreeHugger that details some concerning facts about the fashion industry in China:
“A single mill in China can use 200 tons of water for each ton of fabric it dyes; many rivers run with the colors of the season as the untreated toxic dyes wash off from mills”
“The textile industry discharges about 300,600 tons of COD and contributes to 8.2 percent of COD pollution in China.”
Then there’s this article that the Huffington Post released last year which created a stir about the reality of the fast-moving trends in fashion. The whole intent behind the industry is to keep you buying. It makes sense really.
But rather than chastise each other (or ourselves for that matter), let’s focus that energy on something more productive. Let’s ask the question:
What can we do differently to improve?
While so many are damning cows to hell for climate change, why not look at our own consumption habits? Even if you’re buying non-animal ‘fur’ chances are, it’s still a petroleum based product. If you’re buying clothes, chances are it’s made from cotton grown in fields that use 2,700 liters of water to produce enough cotton to make a single t-shirt (Source).
According to that same research, a kilo of beef requires 4000 liters of water. The problem I have with those numbers, is that they don’t stipulate the difference between factory farmed cattle and cattle raised on pasture where they can participate as part of the intricate and natural eco-system. Oh, then there’s the fact that you can’t eat cotton.
When I saw this recent report released by Behind The Barcode (you can access the full report for free on their site) detailing the truth about the fashion industry in Australia, I was pleasantly surprised at some findings, while mildly shocked at others.
Here’s some findings that were of particular surprise to me:
The GOOD News
> The report shows that two thirds of the brands they first engaged with in 2013 improved their grades in 2015.
> The number of companies who participated almost doubled, from 128 in 2013 to 219 in 2015.
> Global pressure and having companies take a stand and boycott bad practices, has had an impact on systemic changes. Such as the example in Uzbekistan where the government forces nearly 1 million people to toil in the cotton fields, including young children. The government responded by mandating no child labor is to be “used on a systematic basis.” Sadly, we know this still goes on in non-mandated pockets.
> You do have better options available. There are companies out there but you need to do your homework. Sadly, those that can afford to get their name in front of you through wide-spread advertising, are likely to be the ones that AREN’T spending that money where it needs to be spent.
The BAD News
> Child Labor is known to still be used in the USA for cotton production. Like, WHAT THE FLYING FRISBEE America???!
> There’s a heck of a lot of red splashed across the report and as much as I love that color, I feel that’s out of place in a report like this. Especially when it comes to the cotton production industry. It appears more accountability is being forced at manufacturing level, but accountability on the production end is dismal.
> Only eight of the companies have demonstrated that they are actively engaged with improving the wages of workers (but that’s still only in 2 tiers of the production process).
> Bangladesh is now one of the leading (and often unspoken about) hotspots for labor exploitation and the minimal wage barely reaches $68 US per/month. That’s incredibly depressing. We spend $68 willy-nilly.
> Only 9% of companies can fully trace their suppliers of raw materials. Transparency and accountability my ass.
> Far too many companies have made zero effort to uphold the right of an employee to earn a living wage.
> ZERO companies work with suppliers that are either majority-worker-owned co-ops, or have collective bargaining agreements in place. This is behind the times. We see that these practices are growing in popularity among other industries (such as coffee & cacao production) where co-op models are proven to work.
Fashion is all about keeping up with the latest trends, right?
Then why is it so behind the times when it comes to social & environmental responsibility across every aspect of its supply chain.
A while back I watched the Norwegian Documentary Series, Sweatshop and recommend it if you need an insider look into the reality we’re facing.
Meanwhile, here’s my advice when it comes to Fashion:
It’s a Moving Target
If you try and keep up with the latest and greatest, you’ll be scrounging for pennies the next day because you guessed it, the target has moved yet again. With the growing trend in fashion blogging and vlogging, this attitude towards Fashion is so fickle and widespread, I’m concerned that people aren’t getting the right information to make informed decisions.
Someone Will Always Have a Problem With What You Wear
So stop trying to dress according to another’s standards. Dress for your own taste and who gives a boney model’s ass what other’s think.
Understand The Company You Are Investing In
We need to stop thinking of our purchases as one off payments between you, as simply the consumer, and the company. With your purchase you are making a deliberate choice to INVEST in said company. You don’t have to own shares in a company to be an investor. They are using YOUR money to REINVEST in their operations. And so the cycle continues. Think you dollar doesn’t count? For some massive conglomerates, maybe is doesn’t matter that much if you make the individual decision to boycott. Times that by even a few hundred, then can start to see the potential. Movement by numbers.
On the flip side, for the small, ethically aligned label that’s run by your friend’s friend, that decision you made to spend a little bit more on their product that takes into account the WHOLE production process… that money you spend with them enables THAT process to continue. Are the cogs in your mental wheel turning and clicking now?
There’s nothing seedy about shopping second-hand. Okay, maybe if you’re buying someone’s second-hand underwear. There’s a lot of stigma around the old charity shop, but heck, consider it part of your charity giving if you must. Find pleasure in scouring a second-hand store and finding a gem at a bargain price. It prolongs the lifespan of that piece of clothing and keeps it out of landfill. Take pride that it was something YOU picked out rather than having some person you’ve never met dictate what you should and shouldn’t be wearing right now. Piece together your own fashion style. I talk more about ethical consumption in my ebook.
Stop Window Shopping
Several years back when I worked in the city, I spent my lunch breaks wandering from clothing store to clothing store. Whether through sheer boredom or lack of self-esteem, I felt the need to constantly upgrade my wardrobe and yes, it didn’t help that I had the money to spend at the time (although now I wonder all the amazing experiences I could have used that money for) and was deliberately placing myself in front of temptations way. There’s no denying I enjoyed the addictive ‘hits’ that purchasing a new hip-hugging number gave me & prancing about in it like a little show pony (hello skinny me!). Is it no wonder that I found myself slowly accumulating a shirt here, and a new dress there without even realizing it?
- Unsubscribe from email catalogs (you know the ones – ‘SALE FOR TODAY ONLY’).
- Unlike and unfollow Social Media pages from brands that you just can’t get enough of.
- Stop browsing online stores mindlessly.
- Stop visiting the mall every weekend.
- Spend your time (and money) more intentionally.
- Use your spare time doing something more productive for your well-being.
Go on a Fashion-Fast
It seems everyone is doing a 30-day this, a detox that and an intermittent fasting here & there. We’re all for ‘clean eating’ (which don’t get me wrong, is great) but where’s the attention on what kind of filth is in our wardrobes? Why not commit to a 30 day Fashion Fast? Then extend that to 90 days… and 180 days… and then 365 days? Sounds pretty darn awesome to me. Heck, count me in. Wanna join in?
Don’t let me dictate your rules though. Do what makes sense for you as you know the exact areas in your life you can improve. Go cold turkey for 30 days if you think that will help. That may even seem like nothing for some of you. Great! Then commit to a whole year if you want! If you want to makes some rules about only buying from locally and ethically produced/manufactured brands or only buying second-hand, then all the more power to ya.
Here’s the thing. It might be idealistic for me to think that the Fashion industry is going to change dramatically in my lifetime. The reality is, it won’t if we don’t do anything about it. There is no question about it, the sheer scale and size of this issue needs to be addressed at a government (and global) level. This does NOT mean we can remain complacent as consumers. I support you wholeheartedly my friend.
If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.
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