Fashion industry is the second largest industry in the world after oil industry. The owner of Zara Amancio Ortega is the richest man in Europe and the fourth richest man in the world. That says a lot about the world of fashion.
Fashion is also number two most polluting industry next to the oil industry. It is a socio-economic topic covering the whole world and pertaining to each and every one of us. However everyone is not aware of things happening in the fashion industry and the way clothing production works. I think the more people know, the better we can work to make a change.
If I were to invite you to read just one topic on this blog then this would be it.
The maximum number of clothing items that I ever bought in one single year was 10 (clothing items include work clothes/ night dress/ socks/ undergarments/ scarves). And there have been years that I didn’t buy a single clothing item, the max I have gone without shopping is 3 years. I did not buy a single item (not even a hair pin) in 2017. I can create loads of combinations with the quality products that I already have and it gives me a feeling that I am wearing something new everyday. The clothing items that you see on this blog are accrued over a period of 15+ years.
And why am I telling you this? I am coming to that.
There are many people who have a budget set (say 100$ per week) to buy clothes/ shoes/ purses/ accessories. Unfortunately it is a story in most households. Do you know the average number of clothes bought every year by Americans? It is 65 per year - not per family but per person (I think the East is catching up too).
The point I am trying to make is - we buy too much.
Why do we buy so much?
Because we associate happiness with owning more. They call it ‘the retail therapy’. However therapy is something that fixes us for life, therapy is treatment - therapy can not be something that gives momentary pleasure, so chocolates or retail can not be termed as therapy. If retail is a therapy then it is so only for the shop owners, not for you and I. If you think following latest trends is making you look trendy or how many clothes you buy is showcasing you as rich then no - you are getting poorer and the only person getting richer is the owner of brands.
I have said this before on this blog - I am just reiterating myself - contrary to popular belief food and shopping can not be hobbies. Owning stuff and materialistic attitude is not going to make us happy. The way to solve the problems in our life is not through consumption.
Careless production and endless consumption-
I did a part time fashion designing course from Pune, India. I used to sew my own salwar kamizes for years in college. Sewing is a time consuming task, it is physically challenging too - it would give me a lot of back and neck ache, so how much ever I enjoyed sewing I decided to call it quits (and now instead I break my back on a software job).
However I must admit that sewing is one hobby that makes me the happiest. One sewing project takes hours and now I pick only one or two sewing projects every year. Good quality fabrics I buy for my projects start from 10$ per yard and you need say 3 yards for an adult skirt (more if you add lining). On top of that other materials are needed like thread, elastic, zipper and whatnot.
Anyhow, so up till now you must have understood from this post (and earlier parts) that
- We buy too much
- Sewing projects are time consuming
- Sewing causes a lot of physical discomfort and
- Sewing is an expensive affair if we want quality material
Remember that everything that we wear is touched by human hands … not robots. How is it possible that we are paying dirt cheap price when someone is working hard to make them? How much are the sewers paid?
We can buy clothes so cheaply because they are made of very poor quality materials and because people who make these clothes do not earn a living wage. They work in factories that do not fulfill safety requirements. They work with highly toxic materials. They often work over a dozen hours a day, six days a week, with no provisions and no legal arrangements, in locked buildings they can not leave even in face of danger. They risk with their health and with their lives just so that we, the people of the West consider it a given that we can buy a cheap t-shirt. And then, tragedies occur, like the one in Rana Plaza where over one thousand people were killed in a clothing factory building collapse. When we buy cheap clothes, we are playing with people's lives and well-being and on the most basic level, on human dignity.
Their need to work, their need to earn money is being misused, they are being treated as slaves. They need to be treated with as much respect as any other working professional would - be it the working hours/ safe working conditions/ health benefits/ sick leave.
In Cambodia when textile industry workers marched to ask for increase in the minimum wage - police fired guns killing and injuring people - their only ask was 160$ per month - they are currently given 30 cents a day. Why their government doesn’t help with this? Because they fear that if the wages are increased the business will go to other countries who are offering lower wages - the businesses obviously care only for profits. Our government has no rules and regulations over the trades, the companies decide the working conditions, minimum wage and these corporations are making loads of money.
This explains the reason why Zara owner is the fourth richest man on Earth.
But wait there's more to that. The fast fashion industry has a massive and negative influence on the environment. The aim is to produce as much material for clothes as fast as possible. This means that the chain of harmfulness starts right at cotton plantations. The cotton isn't just sprayed with pesticides but also monopolized by big corporations which means very few rich producers are able to farm ecologically.
BT cotton is cotton in which a gene has been added from a bacteria to produce a toxin - this patent is owned by a big company (Monsanto) and a poor farmer has to go to the company to buy seeds, these seeds are extremely expensive. The pesticides that are used to produce the cotton for our clothes is spoiling the soil. Use of fertilizers pesticides increases toxicity in the region where cotton is grown, it causes cancer, birth defects and many such illnesses. There are also weaving mills, dyers (Chemicals are used to dye) and tanneries polluting earth and water and also making people working on them and living close to them sick because of the proximity of all the toxic materials. Clothes are not biodegradable that means if you throw them they will sit on the land for many years.
I express my grief over many things like (a) people don’t work out, eat junk, parents feed their kids restaurant food/ processed/unhealthy food every other day (b) animals are killed for food and making leather for humans (c) many do not know even the basics of gender equality (d) clothing industry is treating the laborers/ environment poorly - people tell me not to think about it - enjoy your day, why do you have to think about all this they say. But I believe we should care. Let’s not merely, just exist. Let’s live a conscious life. If we are talking about a long term sustainability and well-being on this planet then the industry will have to change and also ‘we’ have to change.
I can't stand authoritarian opinions and I dislike selling my point of view. But remember that I am not knocking on your door telling you how to live your life, you have chosen to read this blog where I am expressing my opinions, so continue reading if you feel you need to change or make a difference in this scenario (how much ever little it is), else you can say 'I know how the fashion industry works but I don't care to make a difference', in that case stop reading now.
Here are the steps that you can take if you care about finding a solution to the fast fashion problem, like I do.
The industry works for us and gets rich thanks to us. The consumers are not some statistic, imaginary group: it consists of individuals, of you and me. We let it grow and get strong. So how do we start?
- Slow down. Don't let the ads tempt you, don't go browsing the shops. Detox. We're buying too much anyway. If you see a skirt for 4$ think what kind of quality it is - the good quality fabrics that I have bought in this country for sewing an adult size skirt takes at least 10$ a yard - so something that is sold for 4$ is plain bad quality and also think how much was the sewer paid for his/her hard work (as the company is going to keep maximum profit). Next time you buy at sale realize that the company is still making it’s profit - the sale that you get is by cutting the wages of the sewers. I have thought a lot on this topic and the best solution that I see is - Stop the mindless consumption, reuse, recycle and reduce.
- Buy sensibly - from a lot to good. It is better to buy something that you are positive about: something that will match the rest of your wardrobe, made well and out of quality materials. Something that will last for many years. That way you create a well defined personal style. It's a smart thing to do for the environment and the society. Every year we dump millions of tonnes of clothes and only a small part of them reach the second hand/thrift stores. We spill a massive amount on developing countries, destroying the local and traditional workplaces at clothes making. The largest part goes to garbage dumps where it will decompose for hundreds of years, harming the environment (clothes are not bio-degradable).
- Look for better alternatives. I buy only few items every year from decent brands, I know their fabric is good quality - and I prefer to buy at brands who have ethical rules and regulations - you can check it on their websites is they follow ethical process. People who can should look for alternatives - look for tailors in your area, or local boutiques who you know are doing ethical business.
- Donate your clothes (when you are done using them) to someone you know or someone in need. As I said earlier clothes are not biodegradable. In my family we all use each other's clothes, my nieces use the clothes that don't fit me anymore or the ones that I think are no longer age appropriate for me. I have no issues using clothes that someone else has used before but I know many people do not like it, using used clothes is too lowly for them - it is something that only the poor do, well I don't want to comment on how you should feel about it but think innovative ways of reusing, recycling and repurposing clothes. For example, I use worn out clothes at home, turn them into rags, I have seen people making quilts with their old clothes or repurposing clothes to make baby/ toddler clothes. When it comes to donating clothes - My first preference is donating clothes to people I know - so that I can see them getting used and the next option is donating to salvation army. I am sure you will find lot of people around you who will happily accept used clothes - so donate.
- Start to think about your clothes like they were made to last. Head fashion designers keep saying that fashion should not be disposable. So, start to clean your clothes the right way: it's different for polyester and cotton and wool. Tags will help you decide what to do and then there is internet to dig through for detailed instructions. I always use the handwash mode on the machine for washing all my clothes and also I never put them in the dryer - the result is I use the same clothes for more than 15 years. If you own a piece for so long that it got damaged over time, then remember that you can shave the pilling on a sweater, patch a hole on the elbow and if you lost weight then all your clothes can be adjusted for the new measurements. Some things you can do on your own while it is better to have others done by a professional. A lot of skirts that you see on this blog were a size or two bigger, they have been adjusted to fit my new measurements. Why is this important? You're caring for the environment because you're limiting trash production. You're also supporting local artisans and so, helping people whose jobs are going extinct. For example I always go to a cobbler to get my broken shoes fixed but many people choose to throw away things in the excitement of buying new stuff.
The clothes that live with you for a long time, get a lot of stories ingrained in them. One of my childhood friend wore skirts that her mother used to wear when she was in college. Those skirts were a different fashion altogether, they were unique because they were not in the market at that time and she got a lot of compliments on her clothes and a lot of surprised reactions when she said this is my mother's skirt. So if you've ever been given a garment worn by your grandmother or your grandfather in their youth, you know what I am talking about. Also it is good for the pocket - you can save money and rather spend it on some good things like real estate!
And lastly 'The true cost' is a very good documentary on this topic.
And lastly 'The true cost' is a very good documentary on this topic.