I may have mentioned in passing, but I am majoring in Sustainable Fashion (as well as Marketing and Politics and various other things), and I'm about to get real serious and delve deep into the immense problems of the fashion industry. I'll be writing a lot more in the future about the different facets of the problem but I wanted to begin with an overview.
Do you know where the shirt you're wearing comes from? Do you know where it goes when you drop it in a charity bin or throw it out? If you're anything like the average consumer, you've never stopped to think about these things. But you need to. You very seriously need to know about the industry into which consumers are pouring billions of dollars, an industry that is the second most polluting industry in the world (second only to the oil industry), an industry that leads to thousands upon thousands of deaths every year.
The issue begins with the plants that form textiles. Yes, friendly reminder that most of our clothes are in fact made from plants or animals, especially cotton. The cotton industry is rampantly flawed, from the hundreds of farmer suicides per year to the the chemical pollution of pesticides to the monopolization of seeds. Agriculture is delegated to the poorest societies in the world and the costs of degradation are never really felt by the consumers, in the end.
The next stage of the problem is with production and boy is this a big one. There is a huge environmental and humanitarian concern -- factories release harsh chemicals and pollutants into surrounding impoverished areas of third world nations amongst people who can barely survive on the meager wages that they are forced to accept from the factory managers. The factories themselves are sweatshops, they are under maintained buildings ready to collapse at any second (as many have) where too many workers are forced to meet ever heightening quotas in filthy conditions, working generally for well over 18 hours a day. Many clothing brands have managed to disassociate with these sweatshops by contracting through other production companies so that when blame is pointed, the company (like H&M or Walmart) can throw up its hands and claim they had no idea what was going on. The humanitarian issues are immense, but so too are the environmental problems. The clothing dyes are chemically destructive and often released into the surrounding areas with no filter causing huge health and ecosystem hazards, the electricity fueling the factories is produced by highly-polluting coals and fossil fuels, and the wastes (such as fabric fragments, dud pieces, etc.) pile up by the minute.
Next in the life cycle, the clothes reach you, the consumer... in theory. In actuality, there are dozens of studies which prove the direct correlation between the value we place on material goods and our unhappiness. The more we value material goods, the less happy we really are. The fashion industry is positioned to make you feel inadequate and to make you want more. Don't have the latest bag or shoes? You're not up-to-date, you're somehow lagging. We value fashion as a method to pursue our own individuality, yet we follow trends blindly without even realizing it. I know it's probably over-quoted but think of the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Andy is lectured by Miranda Priestly about a cerulean sweater and the dozens of jobs and considerations that went into its making. The point is there is no escaping the fashion industry, no one is exempt from participating in fashion. So if we are all a part of the industry, we are all a part of the problem, and one of the main things I would argue that we as consumers need to do is be more aware of our decisions. To compare it to the movement towards organic and locally-grown food in the past decade or so, people have started to push for healthier chemical free options for what they are putting in their bodies -- why, too, are we not worried about what we put on our bodies?
Here I have outlined only very briefly the lifecycle of the fashion industry and the problems associated at each level. I fully intend to continue writing about these problems in greater detail, so stay tuned. And please, think about the impact of what you are buying, think about the likely hundreds of hands that went into producing that garment, and think about the disastrous repercussions your continued support of this flawed industry will have. That is my main goal in writing about the problem -- to help you to be aware of the issues and remain a conscious consumer. And I'll be completely candid in saying that I, too, am clearly ingrained in the fashion industry (I have a fashion blog for crying out loud) so I don't want to come across as hypocritical. I don't necessarily know what the solution is to any of these problems, but I hope that by fostering discussion and raising awareness, we can move towards finding solutions.
If any of this is interesting to you I would love to hear your comments and feedback below! Also check out the documentary 'The True Cost' to show you a bit more about what I am discussing here.