Like it or not, we are all consumers. Though going to the mall or shopping online might seem like a normal part of our daily lives, each purchase we make has a larger, global impact beyond that on our wallet or closet. In fact, purchase decisions are one of the most significant ways in which the average individual influences the world around them. It’s a fact that can not be denied: if you want to have a positive (rather than a negative) effect on our planet and the people on it, making conscious, ethical purchase decisions is a must.
The Impact of the Clothing Industry
Whether you’re a fashionista who loves to shop or a person who buys clothes solely for practical purposes, we all buy apparel. The multi-trillion dollar industry that meets these needs is largely dominated by “fast fashion,” or companies that manufacture and sell clothes for as cheaply as possible. The result is that consumers buy more clothing - and keep it far much less time - than was common in the past. There are people who throw out articles of clothing faster than they can go through a gallon of milk.
The fast fashion industry’s focus on low prices, and the resulting rise in consumption that has gone along with it, have numerous consequences of many different kinds.
Impact on the Environment
Manufacturing clothing is hard on the environment. Making one cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water - enough for two and a half year’s worth of drinking water. Producing a pair of jeans emits the same amount of gas emissions as 80 miles of driving. (And that’s not to mention the emissions made from the transportation and shipping of said clothing). On top of that, every second, over 2,500 kilograms of clothing - one garbage truck’s worth - is burned or discarded into landfills. And non-biodegradable fabrics - like the synthetic textiles that dominate the fast fashion industry - can take over 200 years to decompose.
Most fast fashion is manufactured in developing countries where laborers suffer harsh working conditions for low wages. While this may have the benefit of boosting these countries’ economies, it only harms the human beings who must labor in factories in order to do the actual manufacturing. Eighty percent of apparel is made by young women under 24 years old, and many countries worldwide have been revealed as also using forced and child labor. A typical garment worker abroad - regardless of age - earns the equivalent of only a few hundred US dollars a month. This includes overtime work (up to 16 hours a day) under poor, unsafe working conditions with often abusive supervisors.
The Importance of Choosing Ethical Brands
Every time you buy a shirt or pair of shoes or what-have-you from a fast-fashion company, you are supporting these business practices and their impact. You are voting with your dollar, creating more demand for these companies to continue doing what they do, regardless of the damage that it causes. You are endorsing exploitative systems that harm our planet.
But you don’t have to be a part of that. The good news is that there exists an alternative: clothing companies who truly care about their impact on the world, often sacrificing high-profit margins in order to source clothing ethically and fairly compensate the producers and manufacturers of their product. Choosing to buy from these companies is a way of creating more demand for ethical clothing, signaling to the fashion industry that it is worth it to you to spend a bit more on your wardrobe in favor of ethics.
Responsible purchase decisions have real, tangible value. It is one of the few things an individual can do to make the world a better place, one of the sole real sources of power that the average man or woman has. You only vote in elections once every few years; you vote with your dollar nearly every day.
Img Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/SDR3oDS4mOc
Buying ethically-sourced clothing is taking a stance. It is making the statement that you care about human rights and the environment. And doing the opposite, continuing to buy fast fashion, is a form of endorsement of the damaging status quo. Our planet and the human beings who populate it ca