Wednesday, 24 April 2013
A typical day in Bangladesh’s Dhaka District, as hundreds of factory workers make their way into the Rana Plaza where they sweat to keep up with the high demand of fast fashion from brands like Nike, H&M, Zara and other familiar names.
Hours of unpaid overtime in a job where the fashion chains continue to get wealthier as the wages for the garment workers continue to drop, where the the workers fight fatigue and hunger to receive far less than minimum wage. Home to clothing factories, apartments, a few stores and a bank, the multi-story Rana Plaza has cracks in the walls and other unsettling indications of neglect. Despite their pleas to have their working conditions improved, nothing is done.
A decision that, on this day, proves to be catastrophic as the building crumbles into dust, killing over 1000 garment workers and leaving thousands more injured – the deadliest garment factory disaster ever.
Heavily abused and underpaid factory workers in extremely poor working conditions are not the only, continuing consequence of the ever-growing trend of fast fashion. Due to the focus on speed and low costs in order to consistently doll out new collections, this industry is also having a devastating impact on the environment. According to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, the fashion industry is responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Yes. COMBINED. In fact, if the industry continues as it is, greenhouse emissions are expected to increase by a whopping 50% within the next decade. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another sombre point to consider is the fact that textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of your drinking water after agriculture. One more thing… a US Department of Labor study in 2018 revealed evidence of forced and child labour in the fast fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam, amongst others. The list is long, way too long. This scares us. Does it scare you?
What does this have to do with you?
Well, everything. The likelihood that one of the garments hanging in your wardrobe was made in a sweatshop environment and has polluted someone’s clean drinking water is pretty high. It doesn’t matter how big or small your bank account is, or how many clothes you own. Every penny spent has power. Each time you fork over cash or swipe your card for a garment, you’re supporting the company you’re buying from, as well as its values and employees.
The biggest problem lies in the fact that consumers aren’t informed enough to make mindful, conscious shopping decisions. So what exactly is a conscious consumer? According to Medium.com journalist, Jaya Ramchandani, “a conscious consumer is an agent of change who considers the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of their buycott [choosing to spend money on ethical products] and boycott actions.”
To help put energy into your own ethical practices, and encourage others to do the same, here are some ways in which you can become a more conscious consumer:
Where was this piece of clothing made? What does the company I am supporting stand for? What is the environmental impact of the garment I am about to buy? While some of these questions may be answered by checking the label or doing some research online, it’s important to demand transparency directly from retailers when making purchases. Ask to see ethical fashion certifications that let you know if your purchase was made under fair and safe conditions. Use your purchasing power to make your voice heard and let companies know that you will not stand for unethical practices or shoddy values.
Less is More
Dame Vivienne Westwood once said: “Buy less. Choose Well.” The most simple solution is, of course, consuming less. The next time you’re itching for a wardrobe revamp, or feel like making a purchase to fill an emotional void (we all do it), reconsider. Becoming more mindful about how much you have and whether you actually need something is an important step in understanding the value of ‘less is more’.
Buy and Sell Second-hand
If the itch to refresh your wardrobe becomes unbearable, sell your unwanted clothes online or at a local market and use the cash to purchase some secondhand classics. You’d be surprised at the gems you can find when sifting through existing pre-loved items of clothes – designer stuff at a fraction of the price. If you can’t bear the idea of wearing a stranger’s hand-me-downs, chat to friends and arrange a barter day.
Natural fibres such as silk, wool, hemp, linen and organic cotton are better for the environment, and they’re also exceptionally comfortable and easy to wear. Synthetic fibres like nylon, acrylic and polyester are hazardous to the environment and almost always end up in landfills, taking decades to decompose.
Supporting local fashion brands that you know practice ethical sourcing of products and are taking steps in becoming more sustainable is one of the most effective ways for us to cultivate a better future together. Find local businesses that give back to the community and advocate sustainability. Support farmers markets, artisanal breweries, and local clothing outlets – simple, small changes like this can make a bigger impact than you may think.
While some criticism of the conscious consumerism concept states that ethical purchasing is nothing more than a way for us to feel better about ourselves, and that it won’t do much to change the more powerful, structural policies in place, we believe it is a start in the right direction. We certainly can’t escape the fact that we live in a consumer-driven capitalist society and we’re going to spend money, whether we like it or not. However, baby steps towards progress will, collectively, have a hugely positive impact.
Think progression, not perfection.