Or Renee and her ever shrinking wardrobe
I’ve always been someone with a lot of clothes and accessories. I am the product in many ways of my beautiful and colourful mother and my equally beautiful carefully coordinated maternal grandmother in this sense, with a love of matching accessories and bright colours and lipsticks. For what I lack of their dark, thick hair and deep brown eyes, I’ve certainly made up for in their love of clothing.
However, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly concerned with the patterns of our clothing purchases, including its implications for workers, the environment and our collective self esteem.
Clothing has through eternity been a signifier of wealth and status. Certain colours and fabrics suggested you were from a particular caste or class. The cut of your clothes could show whether you were likely to be in a field sweltering over crops, or being fed peeled grapes whilst reclining in the shade.
However the degree to which we could produce clothing, prevented accumulation and waste. The importance of caring and repairing for clothing, is a dying artform. Mass-production is now the norm, with companies offering ’boutique’ handmade clothing as an alternative. Whereas in history, most normal people “the plebs” would only have what they needed and this would be repaired until it became rags or some other household use, we have gone from having two fashion seasons “spring/summer” and “winter/autumn” to approximately 52 seasons.
52 seasons – once a week – retailers are pumping out supply into stores whilst communicating to us through traditional and social media, that we need to continue to keep up with fashion. The price-points of many of these retailers suggest that this is attainable and desirable for most people to achieve, and that somehow if we don’t participate we are somehow not “most people”. This drive to do retail therapy and be fashion forward is deeply destructive to our sense of self, our debt and our wardrobes.
Too much stuff
We are increasingly consuming more and more clothing of poor quality, to the detriment of our health and financial well-being. The garment and textile industry comprises a large part of the global economy, reaching $US3 trillion in 2011 (Marketline). The world now consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, about a 400 percent increase from 20 years ago, according to “The True Cost.”
There is no coincidence that this increasing supply of fast fashion (which can be extended to the cheap production of household goods and decorations – looking at you stores with ridiculous prices) has coincided with a growing industry of professional organisers, stores full of “storage and organisational solutions” and Kon-Maries. As people seek to be “most people” who can afford to keep up with fashion, they loose the sense of how much they need.
Shipping our problems elsewhere
We are pushing our waste onto others. Individuals amasse such significant amounts of “stuff” which they can either no longer store or organise that they then seek to “do good” and donate it. A common sight is charity bins overflowing onto the street with no regard for the weather or the elements (or the significant cost of disposing that which is now clearly ruined).
Worse still this fast fashion is loaded up and sold to people in the developing world. These clothes, already poor quality on sale, now second-hand are being sold to the worlds most vulnerable people, with the people in the developed world believing that they have donated it. Neither side of this transaction is ethical. This supply is retarding the continued growth or development of local supplies (with the added benefit of reduced costs/impact of shipping) and local industry that contributes to a growing economy.
Whilst the local charitable organisation may not collect it with this intent, the continued supply of clothing provides a market for middle men to buy these donated products and then sell it for sale in the local markets. Whilst this may provide an option for low cost and sometimes higher quality clothing for those within these contexts, the ongoing supply of cheap and fast fashion just ships the problem elsewhere. A sorter in India remarked to the Wall Street Journal ““I don’t understand why people throw away all these clothes. Maybe they don’t have time to wash them.” Such is the extent of this problem, terms have been developed for the phenomena. In Nigeria second hand clothes are known as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites) and in Mozambique roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity).
The toll of the whole value chain is just too much on individuals and the environment. The fashion industry releases significant amounts of chemicals in the treatment and dyeing of clothing, and this is compounded by doing so in countries where environmental protection is weak or lax, or where the importance of the clothing industry to the local economy overcomes any concerns relating to environmental impact. It impacts the local water supply and reduces air quality.
The ready-made garment industry, where multinational enterprise typically seek to arbitrage costs by carefully selecting the location of their manufacturing. There is fierce competition for market share in apparel between developing countries, which often means the reduction of conditions or removal of environmental protections (“Waste Couture”).
So what can a girl do? See my next post ….