The power of Choice
Ana Barroso, Production Manager at Create Fashion Brand, Lda.
The rapid increase in the availability of cheap clothing has led to two major things- convenience for the general public and utter destruction for the environment. The truth is that cheap clothing comes with a bitter price, a price that our planet has to pay.
In this article, I will talk about the true environmental and social costs of cheap clothing and discuss how the growth of water-intensive crops like cotton, the release of toxic dyes and chemicals, and unhealthy and unfair working conditions is having a deep impact on our environment and the people that are exploited to fulfill our materialistic desires.
Furthermore, I will explain why sustainable products are at times expensive compared to what you’d buy from any ordinary shop.
Let’s start this matter by addressing the social problems that are triggered as a result of our growing demands. These social problems are generally predominant in industries where these garments are produced and directly affect the working class there. From unsafe working conditions to harassment and exposure to destructive toxins, these workers have to go through a variety of different problems to satisfy our endless fashion desires. And worst of all, they are not even paid enough!
● First and foremost, the mass violation of basic human rights. To fulfill the insane demands for new fashion items, women in Asia have to work tirelessly in unfathomable conditions. They are forced to work in dangerous working environments being exposed to unstable buildings that have even collapsed several times in the past resulting in a loss of human lives. As if it wasn’t bad enough, sexual and verbal harassment and physical abuse are also very common but unreported.
● Child labor is yet another tremendous issue. The ILO has estimated that around 170 million children are forced to become part of the industrial labor. This is especially common in the textile industry, where hundreds of workers are needed to satisfy the fashion demands of consumers in Europe, the US, and across the globe.
● Low wages is another widespread issue that is a major source of plight for workers. Reports show that women who primarily work in the garment-producing industry may get as low as $1-3 for a whole day’s work and any sort of protest is mostly met with brutality by factory owners and even the government. This is one of the main reasons that the constant abuse and lack of conditions are barely reported and, as a consequence, not considered an issue.
Let’s move on towards the environmental aspect now:
● The fashion industry contributes to about 5% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions and with climate change and ozone depletion already on the rise, this is a source of major devastation for our planet. The fast fashion industry is currently causing permanent and irreversible environmental damage.
● Water resources are also under great threat due to the industry. Not only does it contribute to contaminating existing freshwater reserves, with the lack of water treatments and the
dumping of chemicals, but its insanely high water consumption can lead to serious water scarcity. It takes around 2700 liters of water to make a single cotton t-shirt and annually billions of these t-shirts alone are made!
My main reason behind sharing these environmental and social costs is to now make a comparison between sustainable fashion practices and fast fashion productions.
Now, even though fast fashion practices pose such destructive dangers and deprive workers of basic human rights, not everybody gives purchasing at sustainable shops a second thought, and those people who have eco-friendly ideas and wish to buy from clothing stores that work sustainably, often complain about how their responsible approach is instead met with pricey items.
However, the fact is that sustainable items are expensive for all the justified reasons. Firstly, sustainable companies are mindful of the wages that they pay to their employees. They do not indulge in conventional methods of only focusing on making profits and this also involves not exploiting basic human rights. Many industries search for desperate communities where people are mostly unemployed and are willing to do practically anything just to earn a few pennies. On the contrary, we maintain a firm policy of fair wages.
Secondly, to ensure minimum possible damage to the environment, many factories have to make heavy investments to introduce environmentally friendly technology in our workspace. For example, we at CFB ensure that our factory’s floor plants use special roofing materials with major thermal isolation. We have also applied UV ray protection films in our factory, controlled water tabs, reduced water consumption machinery, and reduced consumption lamps throughout the company. All of this has to be brought through capital-extensive investments that we have to add up in our final product costs.
Moreover, sustainable fabrics come from plants and animals. Similar to food crops these natural resources are farmed and thus, end up costing much more than the synthetic materials that are made of chemicals. To follow ethical guidelines, farmers and weavers are also paid a good price for their valuable contribution.
For more clarity, let’s consider the following example: On one hand, there is a company that produces a shirt for 3€ and sells it for 8€ making a profit of 5€; On the other hand, there is a company that works sustainably and has installed water filtration plants and other sustainable technological strategies. Now, because of the additional cost in the production, the final product cannot be sold, obviously, for 8€, but that does not mean that the product is being overcharged.
Apart from the financial aspect, there may be other reasons why people might not think about investing in sustainable products mainly due to lack of knowledge.
In a documentary filmed last year, local experimenters went out on the streets of Germany offering passers-by free clothes. The only twist was that they had to poison the fish in an aquarium that they had set nearby. The thought of free clothes seemed to excite many but when they were asked to poison the fish, all of them refused, letting go of an amazing opportunity to get hands-on free clothing items.
This experiment carries great symbolic importance and reflects how if people are educated the correct way, they will always prefer to make sustainable choices, even if that means paying a little more than they usually would or even letting go of completely free items.
This is also the purpose of this article. To spread information and knowledge, so that step by step, we can achieve better and fairer conditions to both the people working on the textile industry, as well as to the environment that we so desperately need to take action for.
Given the information you’ve read, would you change your power of choice? Create Wisely, Develop Consciously, Break the Cycle!
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