Have you ever taken the time to notice how the cost of fashion has changed throughout the years?
With the costs decreasing in the last few decades, big fast fashion stores are making clothes so affordable that it’s leading to an overconsumption of unsustainable clothing. In the meantime, the human and environmental costs have been dramatically increasing. We’re made to believe that we’re saving money by buying cheap clothes, but we need to realise that this all adds up, and in the end, we’re actually spending more.
I remember when I was younger, we only used to buy clothes on occasions like Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. It was a yearly tradition. Dad would give us an allowance to spend and mum would take me to Valletta and let me choose a dress. I remember it being very exciting whereas now, we buy clothes out of habit, just because we think it’s a good ‘bargain’ or because we’re going out and we feel like we have nothing to wear, or because of society’s pressure to always stay up to date with fashion.
We are unconsciously buying clothes but never take the time to stop and think about who makes our clothes and why clothes from high street/fast fashion brands like Primark are so cheap. We need to realise the impact the industry is having on the world that we are living in.
There are currently around 40 million garment workers in the world, 85% of them being women and the majority of whom make less than €3 a day. This is supposed to be their living wage – what they take home to feed and care of their children. By purchasing these clothes, we are closing our eyes to the exploitation of cheap labour and the violation of workers’ and human rights in developing countries across the world.
In 2013, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,129 workers died, and approximately 2,515 were injured. The garment workers had complained about their working conditions but not only were they ignored, some were even beaten for speaking up. I would like to think that if people were aware of the conditions that these workers work in, and the good that comes out of fair trade working conditions and ethical consumerism, the world will start changing.
The reality is that, as consumers, we have the power to change this, and unless we start making demands and ask for each and every worker to follow fair trade practices, the fashion industry has no reason to clean up its act.
P.S. You don’t really need to pay for the ‘fair trade’ logo to follow fair trade practices.
Image: Rana Plaza collapse
Fast fashion is also the 2nd most polluting industry in the world, second only to the oil industry. When we think of pollution, we think of several things, but it never crosses our minds that the apparel industry is seriously damaging our planet – at least, it never really crossed mine. It takes 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, not to mention the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing, the great amount of waste clothing creates, and the resources used in farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping.
And I get it, not everyone can afford to buy fair trade products, but we can at least start by being more aware of what we’re buying. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of uncontrollable shopping at high street brands, but I’m proud to say that I will now start shopping more ethically.
So what can we do?
1. Start by asking questions and educating yourself about the issues. I recommend you watch The True Cost. I can assure you that you will never shop the same way again.
2. Treat your clothes as if they were an investment. Buy them only with the intention of holding on to them for a while, and not just buying clothes because they’re cheap or because you think you don’t have enough clothes.
3. Try to go for quality and not quantity. If you can’t really afford it, then at least be more cautious when buying.
4. Whenever you can, buy from second hand stores to reduce waste.
5. Donate or recycle/upcycle your unwanted clothes instead of throwing them away. Alternatively, give them to people who would like to wear them themselves.
6. Support Fair Trade! It’s important that we continue helping these developing countries by giving them work to do, but let’s follow fair trade practices and provide them with good working conditions.
7. Finally, and most importantly… Let’s remember that human beings are making the clothes, or any other product, that we wear or use.