The dirt on the clothing industry.
"Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want."
- Anna Lappé
How can we change the clothing industry to reduce its negative impacts and make better products in the process? To solve the problem, you need to understand it first.
If the true cost of a piece of clothing was written on the tag, it might include 10,000+ miles of travel by plane, train and automobile, thousands of litres of fresh water, hundreds of pounds of carbon and nitrogen dioxide, irreparable damage to ecosystems from toxic solvents, dyes and waste solutions, a tree cut down (potentially from an ancient rainforest), and untold human costs along a convoluted supply chain.
The cost of the clothing we buy is never written on the label.
If this is the first time you've asked yourself what had to happen for you to end up with the clothes on your back, then hey, nice work. You've just taken the first step towards solving the problem.
The conscious consumer is the most powerful consumer there is.
If you know what goes into the products you buy, you don't have to be complicit in a system that rubs you the wrong way. Your purchase is your vote.
It doesn't end there.
When you own a piece of clothing, you're responsible for its entire lifecycle. That includes how often your wear it, how long you keep it, how you wash and care for it, and what you do with it when you're done with it.
What if we thought of our clothing purchases as investments?
If you buy a t-shirt for $10 and wear it twice, that's $5 per wear. Wear it 10 times and it's only $1 per wear. Invest in a higher quality t-shirt that will last you for years of constant use and you're getting way better value for your money. Pennies on the dollar. Not to mention, all the other costs we just talked about...
Washing, drying and chemical dry cleaning can waste a tremendous amount of water and energy, and often use toxic chemicals that end up in our bodies and the ecosystem. And if you care about the sea life swimming around in the wild (which we hope you do), you should know about the toll that washing clothes made from synthetic fabrics can take.
Any time you wash a piece of clothing made with fibres like polyester or nylon, tiny invisible microplastics pass from the washing machine into the waterways, picking up toxins until they find their way to the ocean to be eaten by fish and small organisms. That means that if you like eating seafood, these toxic chemicals could end up on your dinner plate.
Now we're finally at the end of the line where you get rid of your old clothing. The trouble is, it's anything but the end of the line.
An incredible 85% of clothing and textiles in North America ends up in landfills. That's 10.5 million tonnes... try picturing 20.2 million Grizzly Bears. Synthetic fabrics can take thousands of years to biodegrade, and even natural fibres like cotton and linen, which have been heavily processed to become wearable fabrics, cause problems as they decompose, releasing greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals into the air.
If you're still with us, you're probably thinking this is quite the pickle we've gotten ourselves into. But don't let that scare you off any sooner than you'd let a steep ascent keep you from reaching the summit before sunrise. You've already started to wise up on the problems the clothing industry poses. Now you can dig a little deeper if you're keen to know more, and take action to leave it better than you found it.