“Fashion today is the #2 most polluting industry, second only to the oil industry.”
Surprised? I learned of the catastrophic effects of fast fashion in Andrew Morgan’s documentary The True Cost. The staggering statistics given, combined with the heart wrenching images of violence, disability, and poverty from the countries producing our fast fashion trend clothing, made it impossible for me to see anything glamorous about this side of the fashion industry.
And I consider that a success. Andrew’s work helped mold my understanding of this facet of the fashion industry with his intention to bring knowledge to his viewers and ignite action towards bettering our way of producing and consuming clothing. The issues of the industry are intricate and convoluted—spreading across multiple countries, governments, economies, needs, and natural resources.
THE TRUE COST FACT SHEET
Over the past 16 years in Punjab, India there have been more than 250,000 recorded farmer suicides due to debt to seed monopolists. That is the largest wave of recorded suicides in history. If this stat wasn’t horrendous enough for you, consider the concept of pesticide toxicity creating birth defects and long-term diseases to the exposed farmers and their families.
In Bangladesh—one of the cheapest places to find human labor—there are issues of human rights and safety regulations. Factory workers’s needs are dismissed and the individuals are punished for any attempt to progress union rights. In April 2013, over 1100 factory garment workers were smashed and killed in the Rana Plaza collapse—a building filled with workers making clothing for various Western brands and retailers.
Cambodia faces massive civil instability between the government—who is fearful of losing American business, thereby ignoring labor laws in order to maintain a competitive market of low labor costs—and factory workers fighting for a livable minimum wage. Riots in the streets have led to open fire by police personnel.
Haiti is experiencing both health impairments and economic downturn due to our “gift” of second hand clothing. 90% of our donated clothing never sells in American thrift shops, which is then shipped to Haiti in heaps. The chemicals released from the piles of clothes create health issues while the readily available items of clothing have disintegrated the previously thriving local textile production business.
Foreign countries are experiencing the toxicity of textile landfill waste, in which America alone has contributed 11 million tons of waste that will continue polluting the ecosystem for 200 years.
The people of Kanpur, India are facing detrimental health issues due to the 50 million liters of toxic wastewater that is dumped into their natural water resources daily. What from? Leather production for our fast fashion clothing, bags, and shoes.
What’s worse is that our American consumer capitalist economy is now built to rely on heavy consumption practices in order to sustain itself. This form of consumption has grown exponentially—400% over the past 10 years. Today we purchase 80 billion new clothing items a year.
And for what? Because consumers are getting cheated, as well. Psychologists have found that consumers grow increasingly unhappy as consumption rises.
The whole system is so intricately convoluted. A masterfully crafted disaster promoted in such a glamorous fashion. So the question becomes, how do we take this information, this knowledge of the convoluted system we’ve created, and change it without ridding of free trade, democracy, and creativity?
Economically speaking, the industry should consider the long-run benefits for continuing business in this manner—which are actually inexistent. The business of fast fashion is doomed to fail. We are setting ourselves up for economic failure due to the rapid depletion of natural resources in which this industry is dependent. Our ecosystem cannot keep up with the pace we are demanding.
No Natural Resources = No New Clothing Produced = Decline in American Companies = Crash in American Capitalist Economy
But there is something that we can do that may contribute to some relief. Each of us. And that is to change our perception of consumption. We can expect more from the companies producing fast fashion and support companies that go about production in ethical, sustainable ways. Stella McCartney noted the concept of consumer control in the documentary. She stated that as consumers, we have the purchasing power. We do not have to buy into the system of unethical fast fashion — we can expect more from the clothing companies from which we purchase. As consumers, we hold power because without us, the industry cannot sustain itself. Aside from increasing our ethical expectations of brands, we can also treat our clothes better.
Fashion is not meant to be a disposable item. Yet we often use it as such — which leads to many of the issues discussed in the film. The fast fashion industry designs the clothing products in a substandard manner in order to ensure the items are in need of a quick replacement. In the Huff Post article, “5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know” by Factory45 founder Shannon Whitehead, we learn that clothing is designed to fall apart, simply so we can continue purchasing. And if somehow the fast fashion dress miraculously made it through an evening of wear without the sequins unraveling, then the company ensures that the dress is out of trend by the next week, so we still feel compelled to replace the item with the new trended dress. It was only $10. Why not replace and toss away?! Instead of producing clothing twice a year by season, fast fashion companies produce by week, constantly changing the trends to increase sales thereby increasing profit. We continue to consume, continue to dispose the older items, continue to increase the profits of the fast fashion companies, continue to contribute to the landfill, and continue to enable the system to proceed in this detrimental, unsustainable manner.
We need change. The first step? To check out the film for yourself. (Trailer below!)
We welcome thoughts on the matter—hoping to generate discussion on the complex issue. Views from an economic, social, environmental, local, or international perspective are appreciated. Feel free to share your thoughts below.
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