Fashion is complicated, and I don’t just mean in that matching-shoes-with-belts way. The style choices you make have far reaching socioeconomic implications, both at home and halfway across the world.
In short, the t-shirt you wear affects the world.
How Your Style Affects the World
A decision to buy a garment goes beyond seasonal trends. Where the garment was made, who makes it and how it is made, are questions you need ask to unearth hidden social and environmental costs. If the garment’s history reflects any of the following practices, the price tag doesn’t indicate half of its cost:
Unlike the air-conditioned malls and boutiques where their work is sold, most workers in the garment industry toil in dangerous and oppressive conditions. They are forced to pull long shifts and take on large loads under the shadow of violence; for this, workers (often including children) receive abysmally low wages and no benefits.
Cotton is the most common raw material in the garment industry. It’s also the most damaging. According to the Organic Trade Association non-organic cotton farming uses approximately 25% of the world’s insecticide.
As a result, aggressive cotton farming has a negative impact on farmer health and the local ecosystem – it poisons waterways, soil, and air; drains water reserves; and use of excessive chemicals damages land productivity in the long run.
The popularity of animal skin encourages cruel harvesting of animals. Animals are recklessly farmed and traded in filthy, torturous conditions before being slaughtered. Endangered animals are also aggressively poached, derailing fragile conservation projects.
Production Process – On the one hand, the use of energy inefficient methods along with harsh chemicals and dyes contribute to increasing levels of pollution within the surrounding environment.
Post Use – On the other, rise in affordable fashion has given rise to use-and-discard buying trends. Once the clothes go out of fashion or favor, they are disposed. These clothes end up in shrinking landfills.
How to Get Ethical about Style
Ethical fashion is the use of ethical and eco-friendly practices in the creation and purchase of clothing so as to minimize environmental and social damage.
Buy Fair Trade
Fair trade brands ensure worker welfare is taken into consideration during production and sale. This includes fair wages and benefits as well as a safe working environment. Many big retailers stock fair trade garments today. You can further source fair trade products through websites like Clean Clothes Campaign and Fashion Check.
Look for Green Labels
Eco-friendly fashion lines are becoming more and more accessible. In addition to big retailers, there is a growing green fashion movement. Leaders include Terra Plana and Responsibly Gorgeous, creating lines that use chemical free natural fibers like organic cotton, hemp, and jute.
Reinvent the Old
Shop thrift – Give your local thrift and vintage stores a shot. It may take longer, but you will find some unique pieces. Besides, what better place to shop for old trends making a comeback than at a vintage store? You’ll also find an outlet for your unused clothes.
Clothes Swap – Take into account the clothes you don’t wear and ones that don’t fit. If you’re anything like me, that’s a considerable pile. Consider a clothes swap with friends and family. This way you get to have a party, refresh your wardrobe, and get rid of unused clothes, all without waste. You can also use swap websites like www.whatsmineisyours.com, www.swishing.org and www.posh-swaps.com for worthwhile exchanges.
Upcycling – Why throw away old or damaged garments when you can turn them into something funky? Need more convincing? Check out this tutorial on converting an old t-shirt into something new.
Along with adopting green habits, it is important to learn as much as you can about these issues. Refer to the many online forums like Green America Today and the Ethical Fashion Forum for industry information, actions and policy implementation.
For more green solutions check out Matador’s Green Products focus page.