By Nushrat Anjum
Selected images courtesy of iStock by Getty Images
With the rise of globalization and consumer capitalism, more and more big clothing corporations have been outsourcing their clothes from textile industries in poorer countries. According to the documentary The True Cost, around 97% of American clothing is outsourced from third-world countries, whereas in the 1960’s, 95% of their clothes were made locally in the States. Nowadays, most people prefer quantity over quality when it comes to clothes. Everyone wants to avoid re-wearing the same clothes over and over -- and an easy way to do this is to buy cheaper garments. Our wardrobes have become so cheap that to discard that old dress or shirt barely even registers a second thought, let alone the consequences of it -- and it’s an alarming mentality.
One of the most common ways we justify this habit is by donating our gently-used clothes to poorer countries. We convince ourselves that we’re helping people who are in dire need of clothes -- but what we completely ignore is that we’re actually hurting their local textile industries to a great extent. Ten per cent of our donations are sold at thrift stores and the rest are sent onward to low-income countries. But these donations leave an unpredictable impact on their local economies. They can become dependent on the cheap, second-hand clothes that aren’t in the best condition. Besides that, a lot of the time these donations are sold bulk, so the people who receive them have no idea if what they are getting even fits, or meets the needs of their family.
Clothes that are left unsold end up in landfills which, in turn, has an impact on the environment. It can take around 200 years for a T-shirt to biodegrade depending on what fabric it’s made of -- such as polyester, spandex, or nylon. After record-breaking heatwaves around the world, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, floods in Asia, and forest fires in North America, evidence that climate change is real is mounting as the planet deteriorates.
By increasing the amount of times we wear a piece of clothing, and decreasing the quantity of garments that we purchase, we can prevent the environment from worsening. According to Zady, a brand that enforces ethical consumerism, “Wearing clothes 50 times instead of five (the fast-fashion average), reduces carbon emissions by 400% per item annually”. The negative impact that the textile industry, coupled with our unending consumption of garments, leaves on the environment is on the rise. The textile industry is the world’s second largest polluter of water and it takes 257 gallons of water to make one T-shirt.
Besides that, fast-fashion is the culprit of sweatshops and forced cheap labour. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of fast-fashion after China; however, garment workers work for low wages and in unsafe conditions for as little as $2 a day! Factory disasters are frequent in the country. In 2013, a garment factory called Rana Plazacollapsed, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 people. This is just one of the many factory disasters. Workers toil in a closed space with high amounts of harmful chemicals in the environment. This can lead to health problems like dermatological diseases, cognitive disability, and cancer. As conscious consumers you would think that after all these incidents the conditions of textile factories have improved -- but they’ve not...as large corporations continue to profit at the expense of those manufacturing their products.
As consumers we play a key role in this chaos. Because of our endless consumption, global production is on the rise. We own four times as many clothes as our parents used to own when they were our age...and it’s an unnecessary increase. According to Mattias Wallander, CEO of textile recycling company USAgain, Americans now buy five times as much as clothing as they did in 1980’s.
Now, what can we do? One of the best things is to switch to dressing more ethically. According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, “Ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing, and manufacture of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment.” An issue that a lot of us face while trying to build an ethical closet is that most ethical brands are online and expensive. Often, we’re not sure if it’s going to fit us. Also, we need to understand that their clothing is costlier because they’re paying their workers appropriately. Without a doubt habitual changes can help us make improved and informed choices.
Here’s a 5-step guide to building a more ethical closet:
1. Value and take good care of clothes that you already own
We need to stop treating clothes as disposable; if we take proper care of our them they’ll last for a long time. Start simple. Instead of throwing away a garment because of a rip or tear, learn how to sew it back. Hand-wash clothes that need to be hand-washed, and wash stains before they leave a permanent mark. By taking care of our clothes, we make them last longer and, thus, decrease our need to purchase excessively.
2. Only buy pieces that you love 100>#/strong###
Because fast-fashion gives us cheap clothing options, we don’t think twice before picking up a garment. We buy things that we think we’ll be wearing somewhere down the road....but that seldom ends up happening. So, only buy items that you absolutely love and know that you’ll wear for sure. Also, avoid buying clothes that don’t fit properly -- this is a really bad habit. Poorly-fitted clothes leave us unsatisfied and make us want to buy more!
3. Buy high quality, durable items
Remember the days when our parents focused on buying good quality clothing? At present, we choose quantity over quality. It’s time to reverse that thinking by investing in versatile, high quality pieces. High quality clothes will last longer -- so you don’t have to buy too many items over time.
4. Buy vintage or second-hand
By doing this, you’ll be reducing the amount of clothes that end up in landfills. Sadly, there aren’t many thrift shops currently available in Qatar -- plus vintage clothing isn’t always fit everyone’s fashion choice. But why not try and upcycle your parents’ clothes that they don’t wear anymore -- rock an oversized denim jacket this fall, or upcycle your own items of clothing.
5. Shop and support ethical brands
Ethical brands have strict codes of practice which include avoiding forced, cheap labour for production, being sustainable, and animal-friendly. Their garments are high quality and sometimes artisan-made. So they aren’t just beautiful, they’re ethical.
Here are some fair trade/ethical brands you can support:
What’s your favourite ethical brand or ethical clothing habit? Let us know in the comment section below! Also, don’t forget to give us a like and share -- it keeps us going!
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