Today, one of the major industries of concern is the polluting fashion industry. This industry is actually the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry. We live in a world filled with chemicals that are hazardous to the environment, aquatic life, animals and ourselves. Sadly, industrial facilities are treating public waterways like private sewers in many areas all over the world. These factories willingly pump out a cocktail of hazardous substances into the local rivers and lakes. Why? Because we continue to buy and desire the cheapest and best looking clothes that follow the latest trends.
Not only is this nasty business we call “fashion” dangerous to our environment, there are also a lot of people suffering due to our unwillingness to pay a fair price for the clothes we desire. In 2013 nearly 1330 garment workers lost their lives due to bad working conditions in a clothing factory at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. This is only one example of the thousands of people, millions even, that live a miserable life due to the high demands of the Western world. The materialistic monsters that have been created by consumerism come at a really high price.
The True Cost
For years I have been interested in and have been an advocate for sustainability and sustainable fashion in particular. The ground breaking documentary ‘The True Cost’ has opened my eyes for good. This documentary tells the undeniable truth behind the polluting fashion industry. It shines a light on the darkest secrets about the clothes we wear, the people who make them and the impact the industry is having on our world.
The truth is that the relationships along fashion’s long value chain are broken. Consumers don’t know how and where things are made and producers have become invisible and anonymous. This opaqueness breeds the conditions that allow disasters to happen and obscures responsibility and accountability when things go wrong, like what happened at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a revolutionary documentary that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider ‘who really pays the price for our clothing?’.
From The Factory To The High Streets
Behind the scenes major international brands are conducting business with suppliers helping to sponsor toxic water pollution and murky business practices. Toxic water scandals and clothing items tested positive for hazardous chemicals are of no exception. The printing and dyeing processes are particularly chemical intensive and have contributed to creating some of the dirtiest and most polluted rivers on earth. This whilst so many locals are dependent on the water from these rivers for cooking, fishing, bathing and washing their clothes. Because we turn our heads away from the harsh truth and let these major corporations do what they need to do to earn high profits, we invite these chemicals into our lives. The lives of the locals have taken a dramatic turn having hazardous chemicals entering their lives and the lives of their children, polluting their rivers, and entering not only theirs but also our bodies. Causing havoc from the factory to the high street, from the north pole to our own homes.
Discharged wastewater from one of the most polluted rivers was highly alkalinized which is extremely caustic, will burn human skin coming into direct contact with the stream and will have a fatal impact on aquatic life. And yet, we still continue to feel satisfied when we score another bargain at H&M, GAP, Primark or any other polluting fashion chain.
Fashion Revolution: #whomademyclothes
As a social experiment, a bright turquoise vending machine offering t-shirts for 2 euros was placed in Berlin for the Fashion Revolution campaign. The aim of this campaign was to challenge people to think about the person who produced this t-shirt. Needless to say is that this campaign generated a lot of media attention as turned out that these customers were in for a surprise. Check out their video here.
The Fashion Revolution claims we need greater transparency in the fashion supply chain because we can’t improve conditions or protect the environment without knowing where our clothes are made. I completely agree. We need to challenge brands and consider who is paying the real price. We need retailers to take responsibility for the people and communities on which their business depends. Through this article I hope to inspire you to ask the brands whose clothes you love ‘#whomademyclothes?’ and help start a Fashion Revolution.
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
In order to be able to make a change it is important that consumers become aware of what sustainable fashion is. Sustainable fashion, also known as eco, ethical or ‘green’ fashion teaches the all-embracing thought of creating more sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical products. Whilst there is still a lack of consensus over definitions, the environmental sourcing and manufacture of materials, reduction of carbon footprint and safety of consumers and labourers remain important. It is largely understood that ethical companies make more thoughtful decisions and sell products whilst thinking about the people who make the clothes and thus consider fair wages, human rights, health and safety. When it comes to our planet, energy use, pollution, biodiversity and organic resources are important factors to consider. In other words – sustainable and ethical clothing should benefit both people and our planet.
Tell Tales Of Sustainable Fashion
Now you know what sustainable fashion entails it will be easier to change your buying behaviour and switch to more environmentally concious and ethical brands. But first, I want to highlight and inform you about what the tell tales for sustainable fashion are.
Here in The Netherlands we have a great initiative that is called ‘Rank a Brand’. It ranks over 600 brands according to how sustainable they are. All of these brands are assigned a label from A to E, A being 75% – 100% sustainable and E only 0 – 15% sustainable. A big part of their ranking system correlates with how transparent the brand is. To be able to make a more conscious and sustainable choice as a consumer you need to have access to important information about the brand that relates to their policy on climate change, the environment and working conditions. When a brand doesn’t expose this information and thus is not transparent about their practices, it will receive the ‘E’ label that advises the consumer not to buy from this brand.
As a consumer you can also look for certain certifications, the type of fabric used and the instructions label. Certifications that are increasingly more common for sustainable fashion are those of ‘Rank a Brand’ itself, ‘Made-By’ and the ‘Fair’ Wear Foundation’. In this overview you can see how much weight these certifications give to the environment, animal welfare and fair practices and trade:
In this video you can see how the certification of ‘Made-By’ and its MODE tracker works.
Price is not always an indicator for sustainable fashion. Paying more for a brand name product doesn’t necessarily mean you are paying for a fair wage or a less polluting product. 9 out of 10 times you will be paying for the marketing costs behind the brand. When looking at the instructions label you can see where the item has been manufactured. This can provide you with some insight on the probability of that item being produced fairly.
The type of fabric can also be a tell-tale of sustainable fashion. For example, wool, silk, nylon, polyester and rayon/viscose are very polluting to the environment due to their inefficient production processes and their unfriendly animal sourcing techniques. Also are they more harmful to the environment as these materials require a lot of land, water and pesticides to be able to be useful. In my last blog I will tell you more about what fabrics to look for.
Polluted waterways and soil, exhausted and underfed garment workers, abuse of animals and tons and tons of chemical waste are the by product of the polluting fashion industry. It doesn’t have to be this way forever. I believe that we should start by making the industry more transparent, so that collectively we can see and begin to understand how it truly works. And only then can we begin to fashion a new way of working. It’s like tackling an addiction. The key to overcoming ourselves as materialistic monsters is to start by looking at and being honest about the scale of the problem.
Together we can build a future where companies put people above profit, with laws that protect our environment and value our health. A world of innovation, opportunity and clean production. A toxic-free tomorrow we can be proud to leave to our future generations.
I’m sure that by now I have been able to convince you that sustainable fashion is more than just an expensive trend. Still need some convincing? Watch the documentary ‘The True Cost’ on Netflix and see for yourself.
Thank you for reading my blog on the polluting fashion industry. Stay tuned for my next blog for more tips on how to become a more sustainable and conscious consumer. I will include tips on how to achieve this mindset and lifestyle and how to become more aware of your buying behaviour. If I haven’t yet, I hope to inspire you to make a change and commit to a lifestyle that supports the environment, human rights and animal welfare.
– Buy less, choose well and make it last –
Please feel free to share your comments and ideas about this topic below.