When did we become the ‘throw away’ culture? It wasn’t so long ago that Christmas for many of us meant new clothes. Not the hand me downs you had to wear the entire year from all your older siblings. They were brand new and all yours, and those were meant to last you the entire year and the next if you weren’t so lucky. But now we buy and throw clothes without batting an eyelash or breaking the bank for that matter.
Journalist and Environmentalist writer, Lucy Siegle, took an in-depth look at the destructive impact that the fast fashion insatiability we’ve come to embrace has affected the developing world and the environment at large. Siegle first published ‘Green Living in the Urban Jungle’ (2000) which advocated green existence but then followed it up with ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World’ over ten years later. Proof we just weren’t getting greener or cleaner in fashion. If anything, we were retrogressing at an alarming rate. The book is an exhaustive scrutiny of the industry from production life cycles to what consumer’s roles are in the entire equation. Below is a summary of topics she discusses in the book, coupled with anecdotes of her life and 19 pairs of jeans (seriously 19??)
If you haven’t had a chance to read the book or watch the clip above there are some interesting trains of thoughts and facts she brought up. First of all, globalisation lied! Here was the promise that we would have a win-win situation of more jobs for the developing world and a more affordable product for the developed world. Yet, clothes got cheaper, but all we got in return were human rights violations, ecological catastrophes and a fashion addiction. Albeit the age of this book (five years old), a lot of what Siegle speaks on is quite relevant to date:
Fashion by numbers
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the full spectrum industry, it spans the expanse from farming to marketing to producing fashion shows. So you can imagine just how chock full of dilemmas it is. There are so many stages that fashion goes through that it’s spectacular how many resources are required. In the book itself, she addresses extraction and the refining process involved in the manufacture of fibres responsible for fashion appeal such as polyester, cotton, leathers and cashmere.
You think your closet is bloated? It’s estimated that 80 billion new garments are globally produced each year, making fashion a 30 trillion dollar industry. These figures cover fashion and textile that encompasses fast fashion and the luxury goods industry. This is because luxury somehow jumped on the instant gratification bandwagon that has them as enslaved to the micro-trends. These are new trends that can come out as fast as on a weekly basis but who really needs them? Fashion Weeks encompassing four seasons was already out of reach for many a consumer, but adding all the mini shows with new collections in between – to keep up with fast fashion – seems to be getting out of hand. Do we really need an entire collection on pre, during and post yacht attire? Yet all these clothes exceed demand and end up in landfills barely or never used. The United Kingdom alone is estimated to dump two million tonnes of waste textiles annually.
Fashion addiction can be real guys. Symptoms include not being fully in control, not understanding the consequences of your buying patterns, hiring out more storage for your fashion finds or even racking up debts because of your spendthrift ways. With fashion having such a sexy and covetable portrayal, we tend to forget about what happens behind the scenes to make it all happen.
So you may be asking yourself, if everyone knows just how ugly fast fashion can be, why is it still in business? Because it’s big money, darling. Fast fashion giant and Spanish founder of clothing chain Zara, Amancio Ortega, was the third richest man alive in 2014 proving just how profitable the industry can be for the cream of the crop. – *This year, he didn’t just continue to mint in the coins, but he surpassed Microsoft Giant Bill Gates to become the richest man alive, according to Forbes real-time billionaires list. He’s net worth stands at $78 billion while Mr Gates is estimated to be $77.4bn. It’s the same reason Bangladesh really banked on fast fashion – focusing 80% of its economy on the ready-made garment industry. This industry is valued at $20 Billion and it employs four million directly and you can add four million dependants
Fashion designers need to be empowered to go back to producing quality clothes. After all, if they create trash, the consumer will treat it as such. Creating quality also includes being aware of the entire process your clothes go through and who you’re sourcing from; however complex it may seem. And then creating the environment for them tap into their innovation to solve problems of pollution and lowering their on-ethical impact. Because we all need to go back to the time where the only danger that came from stitching clothes was pricking your thumb with the needle despite the thimble. Who knows, brands could choose to work together to become more transparent about their production ways to kick out the bad links in the production chain.
As A Consumer, Ask Yourself….
How long do you intend to keep this fashion item? The era of fashion disposability has led us to a place where we don’t care too much for our clothes, throwing them out just after one wear, when we should wear them each at least 30 times. Before you can even think about buying it, truthfully resolve whether there’s space for it in your wardrobe and whether it’s something you actually want or need. And not something you just want to buy because it’s cheap or on sale.
Who is making my clothes? Is it child slave labour used in Uzbekistan cotton fields who are being exposed to harmful chemical pesticides known to kill up to 40,000 cotton farmers annually, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)? Or is it a brand that outsourced to a textile manufacturer that has been implicated in grave environmental catastrophes?
Does this brand reflect your beliefs? Studies have shown that consumers are happy to pay a little bit more if they know that some of the ecological and ethical issues are being addressed and it would only cost those people a little bit more to get these workers to minimum wage.
Is this product 100% eco and ethical friendly? The possibility that the fibre may be eco-friendly but the manufacturing part of the production goes against ecological or ethical practices. Again, it comes back to taking the time to read the clothing labels for best care practices or to identify the materials it was made from. It’s about doing homework on the brands you chose to purchase, to know just what the product has gone through.
Should you donate? Because of the low quality of clothes being made today, it’s become a problem for charities that receive second hand clothes (SHC) because a lot of clothes easily deteriorate or fall apart. If you choose to donate, make sure it’s a great piece that has quality and some life in it. Most of these SHC end up in mitumba markets.
As sad as some of the statistics are in this video, she shares the facts to help consumers and designers make more conscious, well-thought out efforts. Although this video does a great job in summarizing the information featured in her book (available on Amazon), reading it will give you clearer picture of this complex industry and ideas on how to reduce the damage already caused. This book and video are no doubt informative, nevertheless, how do you get the generation the most addicted to fast fashion to change their perception on the situation? And even if your wardrobe isn’t bursting at the seams, are we still guilty of perpetuating this horrible fashion phase because of one or two stages in the production chain that are far from perfect? The adage that ‘nothing in life is free’ seems to be right, and enlightening yourself on the issues is the first step to being a greener member of society.