Do you know which industries are the worst polluters and do the most damage to the environment? If I asked you which industry was the absolute worst, did the most polluting and caused the most devastation you would no doubt correctly say the oil industry. But do you know which major industry comes in second in causing catastrophic damage to our planet? This may surprise you but it is the fashion industry. An industry that I have been a willing and complicit participant in.
I used to drive a hybrid car. I have solar panels on my roof, and almost all of the total power required to run my home is powered by the sun. I was so proud to be reducing my carbon footprint and doing my part to reduce nonsensical waste, and to minimize my use of plastic bags and excess packaging. But then in 2015 I watched a documentary about the massive pollution and destruction caused by the fashion industry called The True Cost (Netflix) and was devastated to realize that I too was a part of the problem.
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A Confluence Of Events
I have watched The True Cost several times. (Seriously, watch this documentary.) One of my dearest friends, Tracey Martin, has been the keynote speaker at events introducing and discussing the film. Tracey has long been in the fashion industry and for many years now has been working with environmentally responsible and ethical companies to make her fabric dyes and to re-purpose products such as Indian rugs that she could use in her handbag line.
A couple of months ago life gave me one of those weird confluences of events. I had been reading that Ivanka Trump not only manufactures much of her namesake clothing line in Bangladesh, the country where the world’s most impoverished female workforce has a choice between the sex trade or the garment trade. Much of The True Cost is set in Bangladesh, showing you just how horrifically bad these women’s lives are, working at the world’s lowest minimum wage, in the worst work conditions, to make fast, throw away fashion.
Plenty of designers manufacture there, but most use factories that have independent auditors monitoring the wages and conditions of the women working there. Ivanka on the other hand, with all her family’s wealth, chooses to manufacture in un-audited factories that pay less than minimum wage. Minimum wage for these women in Bangladesh is 0.21 cents per hour, which is close to half of what is considered to be a minimum living wage. You cannot live on what they earn. See The Institute For Global Labor And Human Rights international minimum wage chart here.
Does Ivanka really need to pay less than 21 cents per hour to the women who make her clothes? And then how dare she get on the world stage to lecture about women’s rights and working women’s concerns when she is personally violating the most impoverished women in the world?
While I was stewing over this issue and wondering how I could both effectively make a change and clear out my closet, I was contacted by a company called PACT, who make fair trade clothing using organic cotton.
From their website:
WHY DO YOU USE ORGANIC COTTON?
Our organic cotton is a true win-win. Organic cotton uses up to 95% less water than conventional cotton during the wash phase and doesn’t contain the harsh chemicals, bleaches or dyes that conventional cotton uses. Additionally, conventional cotton often requires the use of chemical-laden pesticides that increases the debt burden on the farmer and leaches into the land and water. So not only is PACT organic clothing so super soft that you’ll never want to wear anything else, but your new t-shirt is also better for the environment and good for the people who played a part in making it.
PACT wanted to know how I pair down my closet and how I feel about ethically responsible fashion. Perfect timing.
The 3rd thing that happened right at this time was that my friend Tracey Martin released her fantastic book Sustainable in Stilettos: A Style-Conscious Guide to Navigating the Evolving World of Fashion and Beyond. This book not only explains how the fashion industry is polluting the planet at a terrifying rate, completely destroying waterways, rivers, and entire eco-systems, but also shows you how you can be fashion forward and fashion conscious, make ethically sound shopping choices and still show up in stilettos. That has always been my overriding concern – how to be both environmentally friendly and still look fashionable.
The book talks about things such as exactly how fast fashion is destroying the environment (you will be really surprised!), how to make a difference, how to make ethically sound as well as healthy fabric choices, how to change our buying decisions and how to modify them, garment care, and has a huge list of companies who back ethically responsible clothing, such as Eileen Fisher! Who knew?
I decided it was time to take action and pare down my own wardrobe. I have always believed that the key to a really functional wardrobe was to buy classic pieces that were well made, fit my shape perfectly and could be the foundation pieces not only for this season but for years to come. I have tried to stick to that plan but four years ago I got thyroid disease and an additional 40 lbs to my 5’6″ frame. Try as I might I cannot get the weight to budge, but I have to believe that it will one day come away.
This caused the problem of my core pieces of clothing no longer fitting, and much desperation shopping trying to find clothes in larger sizes. My closet started to overflow.
The first thing I did was to pull everything out of my closet and sort it into piles. There was a pile for things that currently fit me. There was a pile for pre-thyroid fashion that no longer fits but will hopefully sometime soon.
Then there was a pile of clothing that I consigned. Good quality items in good condition that someone else could re-purpose and get some wear out of. The final and sadly largest pile was items to donate.
The donation pile was sadly huge because I had at the point of purchase rationalized buying these items, all of which come under the fast fashion category, because they were cheap. I had figured I could wear them for a season and then give them to charity and in doing so help someone less fortunate than myself. Noble thinking perhaps, but in reality I had been propping up manufacturers who create a chain of destruction every step of the way in the creation of these garments. From beginning of production, the chemicals, bleaches and dyes used to treat and color the fabrics, the run off from these industries turning rivers into bubbling, frothing chemical waste tributaries and destroying surrounding land, to the poorest women in the world being forced to work in insufferable conditions to make this stupid top or skirt or dress or pair of pants that only ever got worn a few times.
As an interesting side-note my thyroid doctor has talked to me about the dangers of fast fashion with relation to thyroid disease and autoimmune diseases. When the chemicals used to treat, bleach and chemically color clothing that sits against our skin, (the body’s largest organ) then make contact with our skin for hours on end as we go through our day, they (the chemicals) then enter our bodies via our skin and cause all kinds of illnesses. In my case perhaps thyroid disease. In other cases autoimmune diseases. Who knows if we will ever know conclusively during our life time how fast fashion has impacted our health?
The sad truth is that only, 10% of the clothing we donate actually gets worn by people in need. There is more throw away clothing than people can wear. 90% of the bargain clothes that we buy wind up like this. Landfills in places like Haiti with steaming piles of cheap clothes, releasing chemicals and chemical dye compounds into the earth and the atmosphere, no doubt taking hundreds of years to break down. In our lifetime we will not see the clothing landfill in this photo from The True Cost, biodegrade and disappear. Isn’t that frightening? And the world is full of fast fashion wastelands like this.
My Choices Moving Forward.
Moving forward I have a new plan for my wardrobe. I have been paring it down, and although not having an entirely minimalist wardrobe, I am making an effort to have fewer items. I want more core pieces that are interchangeable, and that move effortlessly from year to year.
I am no longer interested in buying fun, cheap, just one season items.
I am devoting the same amount of time and energy I expend on reading food labels to reading clothing labels so that I am more aware of where an item was manufactured and exactly which fabrics have been used.
I am making very conscious decisions about any clothing item I buy. Instead of picking up cheap white t-shirts at fast fashion joints I am going to buy organic cotton tees for only a few dollars more from PACT (see here)
I should add at this point that I have no affiliate marketing with Pact, and they have never so much as given me a free T-shirt. I make no financial gain by linking them here or by talking about them.
I am using Tracey’s book, Sustainable in Stilettos as a guide to modern, chic designers who make environmentally and ethically responsible fashion.
When I hear about brands that are known polluters or who utilize un-audited sweatshops in places like Bangladesh, I will not only not buy from them but will also make sure I tell my friends not to buy from them. I have never bought an Ivanka trump product, nor would I, not because of politics but because I am not her target market and hers are not clothes I would wear. There are however other brands using the same sweatshops as she is and some of them will be targeting me as their ideal consumer. As I find out who they are I will make sure they are not getting my shopping dollars.
If you have Kindle Unlimited you can read Sustainable In Stilettos for free! Learn about Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans and download this as well as any other Kindle books for free. If you choose to buy Tracey’s book please take the time to leave her a 5 star review on Amazon.com. The best way to push a book to the front of the line and to get it to show up on recommended lists is for that book to have huge numbers of positive reviews.
To make a conscious choice about the clothes you wear check out PACT here