Fashion is a form of communication. It is how we express ourselves and communicate to the world who we are. What story is humanity telling through the clothes we wear? The cover of our story may look hip, and the price tag is definitely reasonable but when we begin to look below the surface we find a horror story. It’s so scary many of us won’t dare to look beyond the cover of the fast fashion story. It’s much easier to live life on the surface, in an illusory bubble of content. Sooner or later, we must face the daunting facts of our fast fashion industry and begin to cultivate the solutions to its dark reality.
We want to shed some light on the fast industry as it relates to three pillars or “branches” of the tri: Participation, People, and Planet. While much of this will be hard to swallow, fear not. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are real, applicable solutions to this mess we have got ourselves into.
Before we look into the grimy stomach-churning details behind our wardrobe, I want to remind you that it hasn’t always been this way. Just about 50 years ago in the 1960’s America produced 90% of our countries clothes. Clothes back then were made to last and the price tags reflected such. For almost all of human history, clothes were considered valuable investments. With that value came integrity and respect. The slower process of production yielded durable longevity in our clothing. Unfortunately, we have strayed far from this path.
We have traded our participation in clothing production for cheaply made clothes at a cheaper price. Jump ahead to present America now only produces 3% of its own clothes, most of which last only a couple of seasons before they’re tossed. Did you know that 13 trillion tons of clothes end up in the landfill every year? … and that’s just in the U.S.
I know what your thinking, “My clothes don’t end up in the trash! I donate my clothes instead of tossing them.” Your head and heart are in the right place. Unfortunately, only 10% of clothes donated get sold, and for the rest, they end up in the landfill.
Now we are not suggesting to skip donating and hasten the landfill process. What we are suggesting is a shift in mindset around our clothing investment. There are solutions out there and while your typical large corporate clothing store may be a cheaper option, companies like Patagonia, People tree and even Levi’s offer us a clothing option we can feel good about. Participate in changing the story by investing in ethical clothing options. Shop for fair trade clothing brands like: Patagonia, Prana, People Tree, and Indigenous.
Globalized production has led us to outsource to low-cost economies where wages are kept low, and working conditions are unethical. To paint a picture of how large this industry is, consider that 1 in 6 people work to some degree in for the fashion industry. This fact is even more stunning when you realize that 80% of them are women making less than $3/day. As we have made incredible progress with women’s rights, and equality in America we have overlooked this fact. Incredible women with their hearts in the right place are making a stand for their fellow sisters while wearing an outfit crafted by the hands of a young girl being paid less money in a day then the cost of a latte from Starbucks.
Did you know that according to the international labor organization 11% of the global population of children are working in the fast fashion industry? That is roughly 170 million children! Most of these kids are forced by poverty to drop out of school to join the working class.
Of course, it’s not our fault! How were we supposed to know? The price tags keep dropping and the styles keep changing. We were just keeping up with the trend…Big business has avoided sharing the facts and in doing so have sold us a lie. Of course, it wouldn’t be good for business if they put a tag on the shirt saying “Made by children!”
To paint you a picture of working conditions, look no further than the collapse of a building in Bangladesh. Due to no standards of safety, this garment factory completely fell to ruble crushing 1100 of its workers. Two of the biggest companies that source their clothing from Bangladesh are Walmart and GAP. The fibers are often toxic in these factories too. Cotton fibers create dust in the air that contains bacteria, fungicides, and pesticides. All too often there are no mask requirements for workers causing illness among the employees.
With organic clothing options we minimize the risk of unhealthy working conditions and with fair trade clothing choices, we ensure that we are not supporting businesses that do not value their workforce.
You surely have heard of carbon dioxide and how it negatively affects our atmosphere. Well, let me introduce you to it’s less common but much more potent and destructive cousin nitrous oxide, N20.
Nitrous Oxide is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas and is the single greatest ozone-depleting substance. Nitrous oxide is emitted when people add nitrogen to soil using synthetic fertilizers. In the 2015 crop year, U.S. farmers applied over 503 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to 8.6 million acres of cotton. Two-thirds of all fibers used to make our clothing are cotton based. Excess nitrogen run-off from synthetic fertilizers can contaminate streams and groundwater. Beyond NO2, cotton uses a vast amount of water to grow placing a substantial strain on the environment.
In China there is a sad joke that you can tell what color is “in-style” that season by the color of the rivers. In China, it’s estimated that 70% of their lakes and rivers are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry. Mark Angelo, director of the eye-opening film “RiverBlue” states “waterways in China, India, and Bangladesh are devoid of life even as local communities rely on these rivers for drinking and bathing. The water in these rivers has become a public health crisis with a high incidence of cancer and gastric and skin issues afflicting those who work in the industry or live nearby.”
Thankfully there is an answer to textile production that solves these daunting problems we are facing. Our beloved tri partner, Agraloop is creating solutions and paving the way for a new textile story to emerge. The Agraloop™ Bio-Refinery transforms food crop waste into high-value natural fiber products in a cost-competitive and scalable way, providing sustainable and regenerative benefits. They utilize a range of feedstocks including oilseed hemp and oilseed flax straw as well as pineapple leaves, banana trunks, and sugar cane bark. These crop waste resources together offer 250 million tons of fiber per year. That is 2.5x greater than the current global fiber demand. This technology can replace our outdated and unethical fiber systems, creating a regenerative model to support people and planet for years to come.