“Cute top, where’d you get it?”
Chances are, you have no idea where that cute top came from. You have no idea who made it, where they made it, under what conditions they made it, and what sacrifices they had to make on a daily basis to have made it. You have no idea what dyes went into that cute top, or how the fibers of that top were grown and what environmental impacts that has had on the region in which they were grown. All you know is that it’s cute. And probably $4.95 from a top brand store. Bargain.
It is easy for us to be sucked into the fast fashion world. We are considered “consumers” after all. We consume things, and our economy functions on the basis of us consuming things. If we didn’t consume material things, well, our system wouldn’t really work anymore now would it? We are blasted constantly on various platforms with images and advertisements of clothing, shoes, fragrances, jewelry, vehicles, etc., marketed in such a way that leads us to believe that we will feel happy when we buy these things. We will feel beautiful. We will feel loved. And we will stand out. We will be important. This is the message and we are eating it up.
When do we ever give what we buy a second thought? Now I am not talking in the sense of, second thought because of price. What I mean is second thought about the questions about the cute top. Do we do research? Do we care about fair trade? Really, truly? Do we care about “ethical”? And are there standards in place to support a company’s claim to being “ethical”? Ethical to what extent and whose regulations?
Finally I made time to watch “The True Cost”, a documentary about the behind the scenes of the fast fashion world. What do we find when we really look into fast fashion? Underpaid, overworked labourers, working in horrendously unsafe conditions, not only in the sense of the factory’s structure, but also the toxic materials they are exposed to not only during the dyeing and sewing of garments, but the abundance of pesticides and other chemicals applied to GMO cotton fields to make the garments. We see illnesses and disorders from overexposure to these chemicals and conditions.
We see mostly women working long hours in hot and unsafe conditions. No parental leave, no benefits, no unions. We see a mother having to leave her young daughter with her parents because there is no one to take care of her, and taking her to the factory with her is not a safe environment for a child. We see this mother without options because she does not want her daughter to have to be a garment worker. We see this mother wanting to make a change, even having started her own union in her factory; when she and other workers united and made demands for better working conditions, they were locked in the factory and beaten by their superiors to silence them.
We see appalling environmental impacts, like waster water being poured into fresh water rivers, leaving residents without access to clean drinking water; foam, discolouration, and oil and other residues sit idly in embankments, or float aimlessly down the river. We see a haze of pesticides floating over the cotton fields, and workers spraying without masks or other safety gear. Not only do we see waste in areas of production, but also waste in areas of consumption. We produce over 14 million tons of textile waste each year on this side of the pond. Are you okay with that?
Of course, there is another side to this. Unfortunately, the workers in these countries need the jobs. So just because a T-Shirt reads “Made in Bangladesh”, does not mean you should just toss it back on the table. However, you as the “consumer” (I am really beginning to dislike that word), need to do some research. I can only speak for me, but I am not okay with purchasing something from a company that has no standards for the ethical treatment of their workers. If it’s offered cheap, it’s made cheap, and somewhere cuts were made.
So just because it’s cheap, or on sale, or super cute, or it “spoke to you from the rack”, does not mean you have to buy it. You have a lot of power as a customer, and you have a choice to make when you shop. You can choose to support companies that have zero standards, or you can make conscious shopping choices. Look into fair trade, look into steps smaller companies are taking, and ask important questions. Fast Fashion is not sustainable. And though you may feel amazing coming home with giant bags filled with clothes, what does that really mean to you? What is it truly giving you? Just give it a second thought.
Good timing for this post. Just found this on my FB feed this morning: headline reads “Fast fashion: Rivers turning blue and 500 000 tonnes in landfill.” Even donating your clothing is not the answer. How do you fight fast fashion? How do you shop for clothing? Have you found ethical or fair trade brands that support good standards?