|The Wizard of Felt up-cycles woolen sweaters into shrugs, re-sweaters, scarves, skirts, throws and more.|
In his book The Lorax Dr. Seuss may have been the first to write about the social cost of what’s known as “fast fashion”, clothing that is produced quickly, cheaply and consumed like fast food by shoppers keen to wear the latest styles, who then toss them aside when the next trend comes along. Cheap, stylish clothes are great for consumers but not so great for the environment or for the people stuck in the factories producing them.
According to a study out of Cambridge University (UK), consumers bought one third more clothes in 2006 compared to 2002. And the rate of clothing consumption continues to rise as companies perfect their supply chain management, getting more clothes from design to stores faster than ever before, and more cheaply. As a result, even though we’re buying more overall, we’re spending a lot less of our disposable income on clothing and therein lies the problem -- shoppers can’t resist a good deal.
This is how our “good deal” stacks up: Mass produced clothing comes from sweatshop-like factories with questionable employee practices and a lack of environmental oversight. It’s then shipped halfway across the world, bought, worn for a bit and often tossed.
According to the U.K.-based Ethical Fashion Forum, consumers in Britain send more than 60 pounds of clothing and textiles to the landfill each year. What happened to mending clothes to extend their life and donating used clothes to charity?
In her book “To Die For. Is fashion wearing out the world?” author Lucy Siegle asks the same question and chronicles how we moved from buying a few pieces of high quality clothing each season to practically swapping out entire wardrobes from year to year. Seigle investigated the ethical and human rights issues associated with off-shore clothing factories, and draws attention to the environmental impact of creating textiles. (Among the stats: about twenty-five percent of all pesticides used globally are used to grow conventional cotton, and it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce enough cotton fabric to make a t-shirt.)
It might be easy to blame the major corporations for creating fast fashion and the disposable culture of value-end clothing, but consumers are just as culpable since we’re doing the buying.
The power to change it all rests in our wallets. If you like clothes but want to lessen the environmental and ethical impact of your fashion habit visit: www.slowfashioned.org and take the pledge to practice conscious consumption. Here’s their guideline for change:
Learn more about where your clothing comes from.
Buy quality rather than quantity.
Support handmade, local, sustainable or second-hand clothing.
Take good care of your clothing so it lasts longer.
And when clothing is no longer used, donate it to charity. The Canadian Diabetes Association operates the Clothesline, a service where they pick up used clothing and housewares. You can also drop it off at Value Village. Romero House and The Salvation Army also accept used clothing donations.