WARNING: Before you read this, prepare to say goodbye to your favourite £20 tops from your pick me up shops, because behind your ‘pick me up’ is the harsh reality of underpaid garment workers in dangerous conditions, contaminated water and an epidemic of diseases.
It's safe to say that most of us have heard of the phrase 'fast fashion'. But what does it really mean?
In recent years, the way we shop has completely changed, with high street brands and online shopping, we shop as fast as we eat. The nature of shopping has evolved into disposable clothing, with a 'buy now, think later' attitude, because when there are £3 bikini's available, why not right?
Prices have gone down, but the costs remain the same.
Which poses the question, who is bearing the cost?
Fast fashion brands are demanding production of clothes - fast and cheap. The bargaining power of the disposable fashion giants forces manufactures to agree to the production of items for next to nothing.
What about the people?
We know that the majority of our clothes are produced in China, India and Bangladesh. We know that factory workers earn as little as $3 a day. But we are often fed the line that the people need work and it is better than the alternatives they are faced with. However the reality is that garment workers have been beaten for attempting to create unions to enforce their basic rights not only as workers but as humans such as minimum wages and working conditions that won't result in their death. At least 3 people were killed during minimum wage protests in Cambodia where officers opened fire and we saw just how dangerous going to work can be for a garment worker with the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. Workers had noticed deep cracks in the building the day before and urged their managers not to force them to go inside. However, work continued as usual and before 9am the building collapsed killing 1,134 people.
What about our health?
Waters are being contaminated by the dumping of chromium from the leather production industry, chemicals used to dye our on-trend neon playsuit and microfibres of plastic from washing our clothes reaching the ocean. Toxic waters have resulted in a large number of cotton famers’ children in India suffering from various skin conditions and birth defects. The True Cost spoke of a doctor who has noted a pattern of cancers including brain tumours appearing in those working in agriculture. There has also been a wave of farmer suicides. A suicide is said to be committed every 30 minutes. Although we are not able to say that fast fashion is the single cause of these issues, I cannot ignore that alongside increased use of pesticides are increased suicides in farmers who use those very products. Those products that are used to produce cotton which are farmed ultimately to end up as clothing. There is an undeniable link between pressured production of clothing and ill health be it cancers, impairments or even taking your own life.
Where does it go?
My annual clear out to make room for my winter wardrobe has always been guilt free. In fact, to make myself feel good my barely worn items are donated to charity shops. Who knew that even that has a negative effect?! We think that damage limitation of our overflowing wardrobes full of things we don’t need is to give to those who do need it. Which, yes, does have its positives. But the level of clothes purchased and donated has become so high that our charity shops can only take a small percentage of them. The rest are sent to other countries where yes, some clothes are worn. But whats left is a substantial amount of clothing ending it’s life in landfills, where whilst they decompose release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane which negatively impact our environment.
We need to find ways to shop sustainably (keep your eyes peeled for ways we have found how to do so) and I for one know that I do not have the answers on how to do so perfectly yet, it is a work in progress and a journey to such.
So next time you feel that crave to shop and get sucked into the glory that is H&M think of the young mothers making your clothes for little to nothing in potentially life threatening conditions. Think of the chromium infected water causing diseases in children nearby. Ask yourself whether you are willing to buy into the suffering of people's welfare, health, lives and the environment for your latest purchase.
Low Impact, Zero Waste, Plastic Free? Do these title's confuse you? Yeah me too!
A couple years back during my Challenge Me phase I joined in for Plastic Free July and my eye's were truly opened to the damage that single use plastic was doing to our Earth. It's two years since I took that challenge and I have to say after the intial impact wore off so did my motivation. I'd made some pretty big steps towards becoming more sustainable though such as:
- Giving up the big four: Plastic bottles, Coffee Cups, Plastic Bags and Straws.
- Switching all soaps to a bar of soap in paper packaging. My personal favourite is Dr Bronner's.
- Making my own toner.
- Switching from standard moisturizers to coconut oil which has a range of uses.
- Quitting clingfilm or plastic food bags.
- Using Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar to clean my house, which in turn stops nasty chemicals entering your home.
- Switching to Soap Nuts to wash my clothes instead of regular detergant.
However, after watching both A Plastic Ocean & The True Cost I discovered that burning desire to do more again. I realised that my previous efforts had been easy to implement and stick to. Now with a new sense of faith and determination I could try again to save the planet and do my part in contributing to as least amount of waste as possible.
In my new quest I decided to begin with food, as this is where I see the majority of my plastic waste generated from. It almosts feels impossible to avoid some kind of plastic when we head to the supermarket, they cover everything in it! So this was my key focus during Plastic Free July.
I went in search of more sustainable food options and I found that I am lucky enough to have a local farmers co-op who have produce for sale at weekly markets, although sometimes it can be tricky to purchase all items without plastic it can be done if you are willing to spend a little extra time researching. Within one weekend I had discovered that I had an Organic Fruit and Veg market that operated on weekends, my health food shop sold grains, nuts, seeds etc in compostable packaging and that there was another store which allowed me to refill my items. These shops were all within a 15 minute drive from my home.
I also made another considerable waste saving switch by opting for a menstrual cup, and reusable pads. I personally prefer using these over the reusables in fact, since everything is soft and kinder to sensitive skin. Plus it means you save money in the long run and quit contributing to the hundreds of pounds of waste that ends in landfill every year.
Nina Shen Rastogi writes:
"According to the new book Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation, the average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of “pads, plugs, and applicators” in her lifetime. That sounds like a lot. But how much is 300 pounds in the grand scheme of things? Consider that the average American woman menstruates for 38 years—a period during which she can be expected to produce a grand total of 62,415 pounds of garbage (PDF)."
It is truly shocking the amount of waste we produce and anything we can do to limit our footprint is key. During the past month I have slowly been working my way through all of my current products with a view to update those to eco-friendly versions that do not create as much waste. If you are curious what products I have been opting for check out my current favourites here. Also by switching some of the must haves in my life to lower waste options such as rechargable batteries instead of single use ones, or discovering where to recycle my light bulbs has also made a huge impact in the long run and these are simple changes to make.
Further to watching The True Cost I have also committed to quiting fast fashion. I typically live more simply these days anyway, and rarely shop however sometimes it is necessary, so when I do I plan to purchase it will be from sustainable, eco-friendly brands only.
Since this issue is so important to me, I have teamed up with my lovely sister Ghislaine and going forward she is going to be sharing with us how we can live more sustainabily. Stay tuned for her awesome articles coming soon!
And of course, I will keep you posted on how my journey to sustainable living continues.
With love & gratitude,