When I was in my early teens, I had a job at a jewellery store. Every time my pay came through, I was off to the shopping centre to buy another dress. Or top.. or shoes.. or bag…….
I was obsessed with the idea that I couldn’t wear something twice when I went out. What would people think? What if someone took a photo of me and uploaded it and then everyone knew that I’d worn the same outfit twice?! I cared so much about what other people thought (who probably wouldn’t have even realised that I’d worn the same dress to another party) and knew nothing about the impact that my shopping sprees were having.
People are becoming more aware about their food choices. We know that certified organic food isn’t sprayed with toxic chemicals, so the farmers, the environment, animals, insects and the consumer aren’t being poisoned by these substances.
The same applies to clothing.
The clothing industry is the second largest polluter of the world. Only second to oil.
Unless the clothing is certified organic, the materials that they’re made from are having a negative impact.
- In many countries, safety around spraying pesticides, herbicides and toxic chemicals, isn’t well regulated and the workers aren’t educated about them. They spray these substances for hours, without face masks on, breathing in the toxic chemicals, resulting in chronic diseases.
- The farmers living on or people living near these farms are also being harmed by the toxic chemicals.
- Pesticides are proven to also be harmful to bees. About 90% of flowering plants need pollinators to survive. When the bees try to pollinate the plant, they die or become less able to thrive. The bee population is devastatingly dropping, which is especially alarming as they are so important for the production of most of our food.
- Over 20% of cotton crops are genetically modified (GMO).
- Uzbekistan is the 6th largest producer of cotton in the world. Cotton is a very “thirsty” plant, and in order to adequately water the plantations, in the 1950s, water was diverted from the Aral Sea nearby. Today, the water levels in the Aral are less than 10% of what they were in the 50s. Fisheries and communities reliant on fishing have fallen apart. The sea dried up, became over-salinated, full of pesticides and fertilizers, contaminating the soils and resulting in health crises.
- Polyester and nylon are made from petrochemicals. They are not biodegradable, use large amounts of energy for production and produce greenhouse gases during manufacture.
Once the materials are harvested, they are most commonly shipped to countries where regulations and wages are very low. Again, there are many implications of this.
- Worker’s rights and safety are a major issue in third world countries. There have been many factory disasters over the past few years, where workers have tried to speak up about unsafe working conditions including large cracks in the walls and nothing was done, resulting in the building then collapsing.
- In 2013, Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, a clothing production factory, collapsed and killed over 1000 workers and injured over 2500. The upper floors of the eight-storey building were built without permission. 80% of the people who worked here were women aged 18-20. They worked 90-100 hours a week, with two days off per month. Not weak, month. Young “helpers” were paid 12 cents per hour, junior operators were paid 22 cents an hour and senior sewers were given 24 cents per hour. On the day of the collapse, the workers refused to go into the building to start work, as there were huge cracks in the walls that had gotten noticeably worse. The owner hired gang members to beat the workers until they were inside and working.
- In 2012, China alone had over 6000 counts of violating environmental regulations including the use of factories that had been shut down by authorities for various reasons including safety for workers. Other violations included discharging wastewater from hidden pipes, releasing untreated pollutants and exceeding legal total pollutant discharge amounts.
- Dyeing fabrics uses over 200 times the water amount than the material amount that it produces. So more than 200,000 litres of water are used to produce 1000kg of material. And when an error occurs or the fabric is dyed the wrong colour, it all gets thrown out.
- Approximately 2 trillion litres of water are used to dye fabric globally per year, often this is discharged untreated in to nearby rivers.
- The Citarum river in Indonesia is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Hundreds of textile factories line the river, and due to the unregulated disposal of waste, the river is now having adverse health effects on over 5 million people living nearby, not to mention the environment and animals. The river is full of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals including nonylphenol, a substance that is deadly to marine life.
- Nonylphenol remains on the clothing after production and comes out bit by bit with each wash, as we wear the clothing.
- 1430 million kilograms of textiles are thrown away per year in America alone.
So what can we do?
- Make do with less. We don’t need 100 dresses and 50 t-shirts. Stop buying and start downsizing. At the moment, I am downsizing my wardrobe to a handful of each item. 3 dresses, 3 playsuits, 1 skirt, 5 shirts, 3 jumpers, 2 jackets, 1 pair of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of bathers. Pick out your favourites and donate or sell the rest (make sure you research where you are donating it, as a lot of donated clothes ends up polluting third world countries). There are also a million DIY ideas for using up old and unwanted clothing.
- Buy natural fabrics, certified organic and fair trade clothing.
- Shop local and limit online shopping to your country.
- Buy second hand clothes. Either from op shops or online buying groups like Facebook buy/sell/swap groups. I love doing this. I’ve bought expensive brand clothes second hand and once I’ve worn it a million times, I’ve swapped it for a similar item in a different colour or print. So much cheaper and it feels so much better!
I’m not going to lie… It was hard to let go of the shopping. That dopamine rush you get when you’ve finally saved up for that dress you’ve been wanting forever… ahhhh. And then it’s gone. It was a split second of false happiness.
I am so much happier knowing that I’m not caught up in that cycle anymore. The feeling isn’t fleeting, it is there every time I get dressed. And not because I’m wearing something for the first time. Just the opposite.