Making the cross over to conscious consumerism does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of self-educating with tons of books, documentaries, and articles that are filled with absolutely horrifying truths. These truths will unapologetically slap you in the face with the harsh reality of your spending habits. That $10 H&M shirt is the equivalent of inhumane work practices such as child slavery, animal testing, and global pollution.
Let me throw some of those horrifying truths at you.
Where do you think your clothes are made? It definitely was not in an airy, light-filled warehouse where employees are getting a fully stocked organic kitchen, fair wage, and health coverage. It was made in a place like Rana Plaza, a garment factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in April 2013, killing 1,129 people and injuring 2,500.
The majority of workers in the global fashion industry rarely earn more than two US dollars per day, with many having to work absurdly long hours and struggle daily to meet their basic needs such as food and shelter. But who exactly is making your clothes? The vast majority of garment workers – approximately 80% – are women. According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated 168 million children are engaged in child labor.
Take a guess on the carbon footprint of that t-shirt you’re wearing. It requires about 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton needed to make one single t-shirt. 10 percent of the world’s textiles are produced in China, and we all know the smog there ain’t no joke. That’s just China. We’ve still got Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam to factor in.
And let’s not forget the waste fast fashion is responsible for.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the U.S. generates an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles per year. That is about 82 pounds per U.S. resident.
Of that 82 pounds, 85% (70lbs) goes to our landfills. That adds up to 21 BILLION POUNDS of textile waste per YEAR! Only a depressing 15% of this waste are recycled or reused.
This is the real price behind the price tag.
“But ethical fashion is so unrealistic,” you might say. “ People shop at H&M because it is the only affordable option! Why would I spend more money when I can buy clothes for less there?”
These are compelling arguments. Capitalism makes it close to impossible for a consumer to find affordable AND ethical products. But if you dig a little deeper than the price tag, you’ll come to realize that fast fashion is a trick. It’s manipulative, controlling, and compulsive. This is what fast fashion is telling you:
- “That polyester black leather jacket is so 5 minutes ago, but don’t worry- we’ve got affordable jean jackets that are so hot right now! Buy it NOW before the jean jacket trend ends! You’ve only got one hour to rock it before the next trend comes out!
- “Oh em gee girl, that $20 shirt is made out of really shitty polyester fabric, but have no fear! It’s only supposed to last a few months. Who cares if it breaks when you’re keeping up with trends?!”
- “Ew, you’re going to go out in that dress with the same shoes, again? You need like three different shoes to keep that dress looking fresh.”
- “You haven’t bought a new handbag to match your new watch? It’s only $10. I don’t get it. We’ve made it SO easy for you.”
This all might sound harsh, but that is what the industry wants.
Fast fashion treats you like a child, waving shiny things at you: it wants you to stay ignorant with those flashy price tags.
The less you think about your purchase, the more you spend on impulse.
You may not notice at first, but making a gradual change to conscious consumerism- that is to be more mindful of what you buy- will have you in control of the market and YOUR finances. Is that $10 t-shirt really worth it?
Being woke is HARD. But ethical fashion CAN BE affordable, and chic! Here’s how:
THRIFTING (The obvious)
Recycled fashion at its best. Shopping second hand is the ultimate way to being truly sustainable if you cannot afford to invest upfront. You are closing the humongous waste gap when you are buying second hand. It’s a win for your bank account AND a win for the planet.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY (Cheap ain’t always cheap)
Tired of buying clothes that fall apart after a few months? Instead of buying the same cheap basic black shirt from Forever 21, make the investment in a basic, sustainable, ethically made black shirt that you will only have to buy ONCE. The splurge is worth it, especially for your basics. In the end, you will not only be saving money, you will be saving the lives of exploited women and children making the cheap clothes you used to buy from H&M.
GET WITH THE ESSENTIALS (Less is more baby!)
Once you have your high quality, ethically made wardrobe you have everything you need. Focus on “need.”
Fast fashion is built on trends. Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, reports:
“The fast-fashion concept was pioneered by Spain’s Zara, which delivers new lines twice a week in its stores. H&M and Forever 21 both get daily shipments of new styles.”
Slow fashion, however, while still creating trendy pieces, is timeless.
Do you need five different pairs of shoes? No. Do you need eight different color dresses? The answer is still no.
Yes, sustainable fashion brands are expensive up front- but in the long run, you will be saving money, time, and well, I don’t know, the earth and human beings in impoverished countries. The quality of your clothes represents the quality of the person. You are what you wear, my friends.
All we can really strive for is a collective effort towards progress being made in the fashion industry. The change is in the progress. We have got to start somewhere, so let us start today. Be more mindful of your purchases, know who made your clothes, and consume less. You owe it not only to the world but to yourself.