This is the English version of the previous blogpost.
If you want to read this post in Dutch, you can find it here.
It’s been an eternity since I wrote a blog post here. So many reasons. Life. Whatever. But it is itching a little bit again, and today it did more than just that. I just felt the urge to write. I watched the documentary ‘The True Cost’, on the occasion of ‘Slow Fashion October’. If you don’t know what ‘Slow Fashion October’ is, don’t worry. I also didn’t know before last weekend. Even though I have been interested in the concept of ‘fast fashion’ and its opposite, ‘slow fashion’, and the impact of fashion on the environment, on the people who work in the industry, and the world as a whole. That might sound loaded, but as the documentary points out very clearly, also with the statistics, is that the fashion industry probably involves more people than any other industry. It’s not only the finished product and how they get to our homes, but also the raw materials, the way fabrics are made and how they are processed. And you would be surprised about the ways fashion has an impact.
It already starts with the fabrics and how they are made. Cotton is probably the most ‘environmentally friendly’, a natural material. But just like with food production, the cotton production comes with massive use of water (2700 liters for 1 t-shirt!!) and of chemicals such as pesticides. It has tremendous effects on the local environment and health of the people. Strangely enough nobody ever seems to really think about that. We all want clean and organic food, preferably with few pesticides, we like to drink organic milk, we want biological fruit from the farm around the corner, we like to use natural skin products, … But when it comes to what we wear, what covers our skin a whole day (and sometimes also a whole night 😉), we don’t have the same standards or wishes. While, as one of the cotton farmers in the documentary mentions, our skin is the largest organ of our whole body, and our skin takes in lots of … . Obviously we won’t die because we wear a shirt that’s not made of organic cotton. That’s not the point at all. The point is we don’t even think about it. We just wear whatever. We look at the clothing tags to see how we need to wash a garment, but not what type of fabric it is and what that means, where it is made, …
And then I wasn’t even talking about synthetical fabrics yet, such as polyester, rayon, nylon, viscose, etc. These types of fabrics are produced by a heavily polluting process, that uses massive amounts of water. And not only that. Those fabrics are also partially made of plastic. Did you know that? I bet the majority of the people does not know that. We are all talking about using less plastic, plastic pollution, zero waste, the impact of plastic on our oceans, and all that. But do we ever think about our own clothes, and what their impact is when it comes to plastic?
We are all talking about using less plastic, plastic pollution, zero waste, the impact of plastic on our oceans, and all that. But do we ever think about our own clothes, and what their impact is when it comes to plastic?
I linked beneath this blogpost to quite a few articles about microplastics, and one of their main sources being synthetic fabric, and their influence on the ocean and our ecosystem. I can assure you that is eye-opening.
Maybe we think that it will all be ok as long as we put our castaways in the clothing containers you can find practically on every corner of the street, so to say. Or if we donate them to thrift stores. But what many don’t know, is that only a very small percentage of the clothes we dispose of in that way, will end up where we think it will end up, or where we want it to end up. Some rundowns will be transported to third world countries where they are sold for very low prices, and hence destroying the local fabric industry, such as tailors, small businesses, … . Sometimes the clothes are ‘returned to sender’ and end up in South-East Asia again after a long and polluting trip (think about the long boat trip, the oil, the trucks and long drives they have to do, the pollution of the industry that processes the clothes again, …). There they are partially recycled into other items, like f.e. blankets, as you can see in the short documentary called ‘Unravel’. That documentary is almost funny if you see the reactions of the women working there on the clothes they get in the factory, if only it weren’t that shameful for us. But the majority of the clothes we give or throw away will sooner or later end up in landfills, usually in poor countries on the other side of the world. And then what happens? That cheap 5 dollar t-shirt made out of synthetic fabric will probably end up sooner there and will also be there for a much longer time than a garment made of natural fabric, or a higher quality product that is potentially more expensive but will also last longer and you might want to hold on to it longer. Although more expensive garments are absolutely not always better, that’s for sure!
Besides all those things, you then also have the factories where our clothes are made, and the people who make them. I assume everybody has heard about the terrible disaster that happened in Bangladesh 5 years ago, where more than 1000 people lost their lives after a building collapsed where (cheap) clothing was being made. Luckily this raised the awareness and because of that, some changes have been made. But not enough!!There is much less attention now, other things are going on in the world, and of course we still love buying cheap clothes, ‘made in bangladesh’, ‘made in cambodja’, or wherever. Who cares, right?
But their working conditions could be improved a lot, to say the least. The documentary ‘the true cost’ for example, shows how the workers were demonstrating to get a fair minimum wage, and how their demonstration was violently nipped in the bud. A worker in Bangladesh who tried to organize a workers union, was attacked and abused together with the other members of their ‘union’. A factory owner explains how they really need the income and how hard the competition is. Clothing brands know this and use it to their benefit, of course. That’s just what the economy and capitalism do, right? They go and say: “that factory can make this garment for 5 dollar, can you do it for 4? No? Ok, then we go to the next factory, who might say yes.” If that factory says yes, another clothing brand comes and goes to a factory asking if they can make the same thing for 3. The factory owners are somehow cornered and forced to join in this game, because they can’t risk losing their income and their business. But those low prices can only be true at the expense of other things! And cutting costs on labor, safety, facilities, … is always the easiest thing to do.
We like to shush ourselves by saying or thinking that these people would otherwise not have jobs. Better this job than no job, or than an even worse job. These workers should be happy they at least have an income! But what kind of people are we if that is really our way of thinking? Are we more or better or … just because we were lucky enough to be born on the ‘good’ side of the world, having had the chances that we had? Those workers need to be happy, even though none of us would want to trade places. The minimum wages are ridiculously low, parents and children are separated because there is no money for childcare during the long working days, getting sick or pregnant is a huge financial problem, and so on.
Does the argument that they should be happy with the simple fact that they at least have an income, really is the truth behind our thinking? And if so, is that how we want the economy to function, in the clothing/fabric industry? Can you ease your conscience with it? Doesn’t it say a lot about who we are as people and as society, if we don’t even want to start thinking about it?
And don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint either! While I was writing this, I was wearing a pair of pants from Anthropologie, and a t-shirt from Zara. The latter is apparently doing relatively good, although there is still much room for improvement. But that can not be said about Anthropologie, so it seems. Their website says a lot of nice things about the environment and how they handle ethical questions in their shops and offices, but they just don’t give any information on the origins of the clothing, where and how it was made. I just went along with their image, the way they present themselves, and hadn’t even bothered to search some more information (and I’m not the only one). Such a shame they don’t give more transparency, because the only conclusion you can make, is that there is in fact something to hide. And besides this outfit I’m wearing, I guess maybe ½ of my clothes is from brands who don’t always do so well when it comes to ethics. I can say I was shopping more conscious for myself during the past few years. I don’t buy as much clothes anymore and try to buy mostly things I really love and will wear for a long time, like some sort of investment. They might not always be made more ethically though (that’s something else) but at least I wear them for a very long time, which goes against the ‘fast fashion’ trend. I buy lots of second hand clothes for the kids, but then again they have way too many clothes, so that’s not that good either. So I will surely not profile myself as someone who knows it all and who is standing here pointing to everyone else who doesn’t. But I do feel very concerned and also motivated. Motivated to begin with myself to be more conscious.
But what about the clothes we are wearing everyday? That really does come close, and that really is our own responsibility.
I admit questioning all this is not the most pleasant thing to do. It is so much easier to just stay blind for this issue. To just continue buying whatever we like to buy, whenever and wherever and for whatever price. To continue buying fabrics, to fill our daughters closets to the brim. And all that without much conscience problems. But isn’t that also a little hypocrite? We are all outraged whenever something happens in Palestina, whenever there has been an attack, a sunken tanker, or when some crazy president says the next crazy thing. But those are the things we can see as something different from us. It happens far away, or to or with people we don’t really relate to. It is easy to be indignant about it, and what is even better: we don’t need to take responsibility. It doesn’t call for action, we can observe and think whatever we want to think. But what about the clothes we are wearing everyday? That really does come close, and that really is our own responsibility. We want to be able to shop without any conscience problem, although our new pair of pants has to go in a paper bag, because we do no longer want to use plastic bags! But maybe the impact of that plastic bag on the environment was less than the impact of the pants themselves? And maybe that bag was made under good and safe laboring conditions, and the pants were not?
But what do we have to do then? I would say: start by informing yourself! That’s the start of everything. If you really read all the way till the end, that is a good start. And then again, it is totally unnecessary to take extreme measures right away, such as throwing/giving clothes away, never wanting to buy that brand ever again, and so on. Karen Templer, the person behind the ‘slow fashion october’ idea explains it in the most recent episode of the ‘love to sew’ podcast. You can really start small, and on your way you can change things that feel right and good and feasible, however small or big. Every little thing counts, and it all starts with informing yourself and being more conscious about it.
I will list some tips, and can refer you to a whole list of other articles and websites about it. And this is just a start, I only digged in this subject for the last few days, so there is much more information to be found! All websites and links can be found underneath this text.
.1. I discovered an app, called ‘good on you’ , where you can quickly and easily look up how ethical a specific brand is. They are rated on how their policies are around labor, environment, and use of animal products. It’s really recommendable, especially when it comes to the very detailed reports they have on many brands. Brands that don’t provide any information, get a low score anyway, even though whatever is known will be reported. This seems logical to me, because what could be a reason for not wanting to disclose information on these topics? You can also ask them to shed a light on a certain brand, by the way. Really very interesting!
.2. The internet is one big source of information. You would be surprised to see how much information you can find on this topic. It will just cost you a small amount of time and energy. Downside of this is that there is soooo much information that it can be tricky to differentiate between good and ‘bad’ sources. But the good news is that there are quite some websites and organisations who are specialized in this, and who are certainly a good way to start your search.
–> Clean Clothes: https://cleanclothes.org/
–> Fashion Revolution: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/
–> Good on you (also the app!): https://goodonyou.eco/
–> Fairwear: https://www.fairwear.org/brands/ – especially interesting for Belgian/european consumers, but the focus is on labor and not on the materials being used and the way they were made and/or handled.
–> Ma vie en vert: http://mavieenvert.be/ecoshoppen-waar-doe-je-da/ – for dutch-speaking consumers, with mostly shops in Belgium.
3. Look at the tags of the clothes you want to buy. Where is it made? What material is it made of? Think about it before you buy, especially if there are reasons to doubt about the ethical side. Do you really need it? Will you be wearing it a lot? Try to avoid impulsive shopping or emo-shopping, especially also if you like to buy clothes online. Online it is even harder to find information on the fabric type and where a garment is made, it mostly just says ‘imported’. Take that into account.
4. Ask yourself some questions about your style, what it is you stand for, what it is you want to show the world with what you wear, what type of clothes you wear a lot, what type of clothes make you feel good, … Try to be mindful about those things as well when you buy clothing, in order to buy clothes that you will truly love and might want to wear for a longer time. You can find prompts on this on the instagram page from ‘slow fashion october’ and they are really such a good and interesting way to start this conversation with yourself.
And related to that, although not really about slow fashion, is this ted talk about wearing what makes you happy: “Change your pants, change your life” by Stasia Savasuk
5. Invest in your clothes and buy good quality items, especially also when it comes to basics that you will wear a lot and a long time.
6. Buy clothes that are GOTS-certified or that have an Oeko-tex label. Those 2 are not the same! What they are exactly and what the difference is, can be found a.o. here:
Many clothing brands have a specific department for ethically made clothes, such as H&M.
7. Do you have a small hole in your t-shirt of does your skirt/dress/pants not fit that well anymore? Try to repair or mend it before you just throw it away. For some of these things you can find very easy and quick solutions, that you might even be able to do without a sewing machine. There are plenty of tutorials online as well. If you need to sew or you don’t feel handy enough, there will always be a seamstress or tailor somewhere to do it for you. No, not your friend who happens to know how to sew, but the man or woman who has to make a living out of it. That way you also support local people, and it is all in alignment with the idea of ‘slow fashion’.
8. Is the problem really not to be fixed, then think about what you will do with the garment. Maybe your friend will be so happy with that dress that doesn’t fit you anymore? A lot of shops have a policy where you can bring your unwanted clothes to be recycled. Preschools or art schools love to get fabric scraps, and every dress can be made into scraps of course. There will always be organizations who work with/for people in need who can use your clothes as well. But before you donate, always inform yourself about what will happen exactly with your clothes, to prevent them ending up somewhere below the equator.
9. Making your own clothes is also a relatively good solution. I do say ‘relatively’ because it all depends on the way we do it. We buy too many fabrics (I’m verrrry guilty here!), we make more clothes than we/our loved ones will ever need or will ever wear, we make things without thinking it through and end up with something we don’t like or that doesn’t fit you well, and so on. And do we know how and where our fabrics are made? Do we really need 3 new dresses every season? Or a new dress for every occasion? And what happens to those dresses afterwards? How sustainable is our sewing? I can highly recommend 2 episodes on the ‘love to sew’ podcast about this topic!
10. If you make your own clothes, try to use organic fabrics whenever possible. Underneath this text you can find some links to places where you can find that easily, and I am sure there are plenty more!
Do you still have suggestions or remarks or anything else you would like to share? I would love to hear from you! And I would also love it if you would share this blogpost, because ‘sharing is caring’, right? The more people are aware about this issue, the better! (And just so you know: I don’t earn any money with this blog or with page shares or anything alike! Any advertisement you might see on this blog, is from wordpress itself, because it is a free blogging platform and the advertisements are the cost).
About ‘fast fashion’, ‘slow fashion’ and ‘slow fashion october’
About how synthetical fabrics such as polyester are made and their impact:
about cotton production and its impact:
The relevant podcast episodes on the Love to sew podcast:
websites or organisations that are specialized in giving and/or collecting information about how ethical clothing brands are:
https://www.fairwear.org/brands/ – especially interesting for belgian/european consumers, but mainly about the labor aspect and not so much about the origin and way of processing of fabrics.
http://mavieenvert.be/ecoshoppen-waar-doe-je-da/ – list with Belgian (web)shops for the conscious shopper
About the gots and the oeko-tex label and about ethically responsible and ecological fabrics, and where to find them:
It might be interesting to know that Hawthorne Supply (formerly known as Hawthorne Threads) also a large inhouse collection with a big variety of designs to chose from, that you can have printed on different types of fabrics, amongst which also are some organic fabrics: https://www.hawthornesupplyco.com/hawthorne-supply-co-fabric/F2AABD3F302E/