Image from Fashion Revolution
It’s an exciting time to be a consumer. Now more than ever we are aware of the change we can make in the world each time we hit ‘proceed to checkout’ or swipe our card. We vote with our money each time we spend – we vote to pay someone in a developing nation a fair wage, to keep industries like jewelry-making alive in New Zealand, to ensure land, rivers and people are not being poisoned by chemicals while growing our fabrics.
The world is waking up to the massive ecological and human cost of our unchecked consumerism that saw us buying more and more for less and less, creating the illusion that we are living abundant and successful lives.
Over 150 billion pieces of clothing are now churned out every single year by an industry reliant on exploitation. There are roughly 40 million garment workers in the world today, 80% of whom are women. Three quarters of these workers are in developing nations where poverty wages, brutally long hours, unsafe conditions, abuse, lack of rights and short-term contracts are commonplace.
And it’s not just people being squeezed by the fast-fashion industry. Clothing industry magnate Eileen Fisher has recently claimed that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on earth - stating only Big Oil is dirtier than Big Fashion.
Fast fashion, fast food, fast tech – we’ve never paid less for these things. But it isn’t truly getting cheaper because people, somewhere, are paying the cost of our savings.
These people suddenly became very real to us on April 24, 2013 when an eight-story garment factory collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Over 1100 people lost their lives that day and thousands others were injured. The building had developed structural cracks, which workers had noticed. Despite hesitations workers were forced back into the building by management in order to deliver us, the consumer, the cheap fashion we have become so addicted to.
International trade has the potential to transform developing nations through economic empowerment (jobs for example) just as it has already done in the west. The key is to ensure that vulnerable people – who are under pressure to accept work no matter how little they are paid – are making enough money to live comfortably, safely and with dignity. That means at a minimum, enough money to pay rent, eat nutritious food, access health care and educate children. Human beings are making our clothes, and they matter every bit as much as you and me.
We don’t need to be scared of better work and pay conditions for these people. Yes it will mean paying slightly more for our clothes, but to coin a phrase made famous by Vivienne Westwood – “buy less, choose well, make it last”. I bought a pair of pants from a popular online clothing retailer last year for $40 that busted on the FIRST WEAR. That equates to $40 per wear, or the equivalent of spending $4000 on a pair of pants I could have worn 100 times! Buying fewer, better quality pieces might even cost you less money in the long run.
Companies simply won’t continue to make products that we won’t buy, giving us the ultimate power to change the world we live in. Here at Ethical Style Hunter we want to create an online community of like-minded people who care about this stuff, and provide resources and links to products, companies and organisations that help us vote with our wallets in order to be kinder to our planet and our people.