Monday, May 6, 2013

Moving Beyond Disposable Fashion

The Climate Crusader is taking aim on fast fashion, with its unethical labour practices and wasteful ways.

Over 600 Workers Dead

More than a week ago, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 600 workers. If you follow the news, you've likely seen the story. Unfortunately, it appears not to be an isolated incident. A fire in a Bangladeshi garment factory in November killed more than 100 people, and a smaller fire in January killed seven.

Here in Canada, news came out that clothing from the popular Joe Fresh line was manufactured at the plant. The company's CEO has been forthcoming and apologetic; they've promised to establish a relief fund and implement new standards around product manufacture. I'm glad to see that they're taking some degree of responsibility for the situation. However, I believe that we need more than one (or two, or three) companies to make a change. We all need to re-examine the way that we approach fashion.

The Price of Fast Fashion

"Disposable fashion" or "fast fashion" refers to the practice of moving fashion trends quickly and cheaply from the catwalk to your local store. The system relies on responsive supply chains and cheap manufacturing. As with nearly all manufacturing, this means going overseas to countries like Bangladesh, where wages are low and employment standards far less stringent. If you're paying $9.99 for a shirt, you can be sure that the person who sewed it is making very little.

Our fashion system doesn't only pose ethical problems, which reveal themselves in collapsing buildings and dead workers. It's also tremendously wasteful and harmful to the environment. Those cheap clothes typically aren't all that well-made. If you only wear that $9.99 shirt a few times before it falls apart, then you need to buy another to replace it. And another. And another.

All of those shirts carry an environmental footprint, from growing the cotton (which likely isn't organic, and therefore is treated with a lot of pesticides), to manufacture, to shipping, to heating and lighting the store, right down until you get in your car, head to the mall, and cart it home in a plastic bag. Even if you carry a reusable bag and cycle, you're still looking at a significant environmental impact. And then, at the end of the day, all the shirts that don't sell have to go somewhere, too.

Moving Beyond Disposable Fashion

This is all pretty depressing, but the good news is that as a consumer you have the power to vote with your wallet. Every time you spend money on clothing, you're making a statement about the kind of fashion you want. Here are a few ways to reduce your own reliance on disposable fashion:

  1. Shop second-hand.  It takes a little more work, but thrift stores can be treasure troves or barely-worn (or even never-worn) clothing. All those designer brands that go out of style after a couple of months often find their way to second-hand or consignment shops. Not only is the clothing cheaper, but you're saving it from the landfill and often supporting charitable causes at the same time.
  2. Look for ethical fashion. Ethical fashion may be more expensive, but it's often better-made. If you invest in quality clothing items and take care of them, in the long run you may find that you spend far less on fashion.
  3. Buy less. This is the biggest and easiest step you can take. Every time you don't buy something, you're saving money and the planet. If you consider your purchases more carefully, you can avoid finding yourself in the situation of coming home with a bag of clothes that you don't actually even really like all that much. You're also stepping outside of that fast fashion system, that relies heavily on all of us buying more clothing than we really need.
How are you reducing your reliance on disposable fashion?

1 comment:

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Great, timely topic! Particularly interesting to me b/c my old roommate was a labor relations person -- she traveled internationally checking conditions for workers in all kinds of industries. I once knew -- from her -- which countries tended to have decent conditions and which were constant offenders.

I try to shop mostly second-hand, particularly for my children. When I buy them new clothes, it's usually with gift certificates -- but to high-quality retailers at least, so the clothes last a long time. Honestly, when it comes to new clothes, I really haven't made the switch to fair trade, organic and all that. It's hard enough to find clothes that fit or to have time to shop! Someday. For now, I try to shop used, and buy less.


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