The Pursuit of Less
Thirteen years old, has never received any formal education, walks kilometres every day to earn 6¢ per hour working in a sweatshop before returning home to a small shelter where there are younger siblings and other family members to feed. Local water sources are polluted but it is the only option. Basic life necessities are scarce or unattainable. Her name is Malia. She makes your clothes.
The sad reality is that Malia’s profile could fit the manufacturer of almost all of the clothes in your wardrobe.
Like a picture, the clothes you wear speak a thousand words. You can often tell a lot about an individual’s emotions, personality, likes and dislikes simply by the clothes and accessories they chose to wear; fashion is a great way to express yourself, and to make a statement.
In the fashion industry, with power comes poverty.
In today’s society, there is a lot of pressure on individuals to keep up to date with trends and designers. With brands releasing new collections monthly and publications criticising those who wear an item more than once, the pressure to be current, and fashionable, has never been so high.
The concept of fast-fashion has only made keeping up with the trends easier. With garments made cost-effectively and in bulk they can be sold for next-to-nothing. It has never been easier for a consumer to live in a throw-away society.
Whilst fast-fashion allows us to keep up-to-date with socialites and our peers, the need to have the latest and greatest is really just a want that has been exploited by impulse.When instead, what is really needed is insight.
To support fast-fashion means to not support those who fit Malia’s profile. As the cost of garments continues to drop, the cost on societies, and the environment continue rise – rapidly.
Take the time now to go look through your wardrobe. You will find a collection of beautiful pieces that tell a story of who you are. Now take a moment to think about the story of each of the items in your collection, what they have been made of, where they have been, even the hands they have been held in. I promise you will be surprised…
The Manufacturing Process:
When looking through your wardrobe, you will find that the majority of your clothes are made from either a synthetic – like polyester – or from cotton.
These materials have allowed for us to have an overflow of beautiful garments. Allowing us to feel good and look good. What majority of us do not know when purchasing these items is the impact they have on our environment:
Accounts for 65% of all textiles world wide
Lowest cost fibre.
Manufacturing with polyester requires over 70 million barrels of oil annually
Produces 3 x the carbon emissions than cotton
Each garment made from polyester takes over 200 years to decompose.
Accounts for 21% of all textiles world-wide.
Over 4,000 L of water is required to make just one pair of jeans.
Cotton is the world’s dirtiest crop and accounts for 16% of the worlds pesticide usage.
Making our clothes look pretty has an ugly effect on our environment. It takes over 26 L of water, and around 20 different toxic chemicals to dye just one t-shirt, one block colour!
Like all liquid waste, the now-dyed-water finds its way into our water systems and accounts for 20% of all freshwater pollution. This is a major issue in countries such as China and India where a respective 70% and 50% of rivers and waterways are already polluted from other manufacturing other goods. More often than not, this liquid waste will find its way into the only source of drinking water girls like Malia have.
Amplifying the harms of manufacturing textiles is the scale on which it occurs.Fast-fashion sites opt to produce in mass as it allows them market to a wider audience at an affordable price.
In 2019, over 130 billion garments were sold world-wide. In Australia, each women buys an average of 27kgs of clothes annually and throws-out around 23kg.
The overproduction of clothes attributes to the throw-away society we find ourselves in. Mis-representing what should be the price of production should be and the value and art of garment creation, fast-fashion tricks consumers into believing that they have over-worn, and received full value for their clothing after a few wears.
The fashion industry is depleting natural resources and emitting toxins and emissions at an uncontrollable rate as we are giving into material satisfaction at the expense of human compassion.
The sad reality is that it is unrealistic to expect people to stop participating in fast-fashion, but there are many other things we can do to help reduce the harms caused by the fashion industry:
- Opt for garments in their fibres natural colours.
- Consciously purchase clothing that uses sustainable dying methods such as colorzen and eco-bleaching.
- Purchase clothing made from less damaging materials such as organic cotton and organic linen.
- Extend the lifespan of clothes to be longer than the average of 7 wears.
- Buy fair trade items.
- Shop from thrift stores and other second-hand retailers.
Sustainability has become a rising concern to many younger generations with many already putting these practices in place. Large fashion retailers and organisations are feeling the push to improve their own ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) responsibilities and are making changes to improve their sustainability and supply chain process. Including combating the horror stories we hear from sweatshops.
One concept that has become increasingly popular in recent years is dress rental. Dress Rental allows individuals to rent the runway for a small fraction of the RRP it would have cost them to purchase the item.
Not only is dress rental an affordable way to stay up to date with all of the latest trends and edits, it also reduces consumption and improves sustainability as individuals are given a second option to fast-fashion.
From specific dress rental stores, to apps such as High Street Runway and even on Facebook Marketplace, you can rent almost any outfit you want whenever you want it!
Even here at UQ, college students have created their very own Facebook group called “Intercollege Ball Dress Exchange” where students can rent each other’s dresses with almost no notice. Amongst the UQ Colleges, this platform has become so popular that you could easily go an entire year without buying anything new, yet still be seen in all of the latest designer items (and even earn enough from renting these items to pay for it, win!)
Take another look in your wardrobe. Look at every piece you own. Now think about what has gone into each and every piece. Don’t just think about the materials, but think about the hands of the child who created it. The distances travelled, sacrifices made, the polluted water and the landfills that surround. All of that just for the average Australian women to wear each item of clothing an average of 7 times before throwing it out.
I challenge you this.
Pull every piece of clothing out of your wardrobe and divide them into two piles. 1) Clothes you have worn in the last 6 months and 2) clothes you have not worn in the last 6 months.I think you will be surprised at how much more you own compared to just how much you actually wear.
The impact the fashion industry has on societies and on the environment is detrimental and is happening now. It is time to be educated, to be conscious and to make a change. Wear that dress a few more times, lend it to a friend or borrow theirs instead of buying one.
Anyone who wears clothes has the opportunity to help make the fashion industry more sustainable and to help improve the quality of life of people like Malia.
Next time you are looking for something new choose to shop second-hand, or rent an outfit instead. You, and the world around you will be so much better off for it.