The true cost of the clothes you wear
Article written by Tasmin Hansmann
Fast Fashion is killing the planet. This is nothing new, but at this point the fashion industry is the 2nd biggest polluter of our planet, right after the oil industry. Besides the constant production of new, cheap clothing items, which often use plastic and violate human rights, cause emissions and fill up landfills, some clothing has even more problems than these. Especially dyed products and denim clothing are having a big impact on the environment.
Dye another day
Bright colors make every day a little bit better. But the latest trend colors in our clothing are often responsible for a lot of damage. Fashion is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution and the chemicals are not only intoxicating the water, but also the land and with it the animals and plants. In the process, the health of the humans living close by and especially the health of the workers in the factories, is severely damaged.
The fashion industry uses around 93 billion cubic meters (21 trillion gallons) of water annually, enough to fill 37 million Olympic swimming pools, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. As most fashion items are produced in countries where it is the cheapest for the companies, they are usually without any strict regulations or the needed infrastructure to deal with this industry, and the waste ends up in the environment.
In many places, like Dhaka in Bangladesh, which is one of the main producers of fashion items, the rivers, which used to be the life force of the region, are running black with chemicals, salts, metals, and dye. It is not safe anymore to drink or use the water. It is intoxicating all life within the river and along its coast. Children living close by are getting sick from the water. The air smells rotten. The fish are dead, drinking water is a limited and now expensive resource.
The workers in the workshops are treated badly and paid almost nothing. In some cases, for example the silk dyeing industry in India, you will even find modern-day slavery at work. The mostly female workers are having long work hours with no breaks and no security. If they work directly with the dye, there is no protection from the chemicals, leaving their hands colored for the rest of their life and their lungs and skin badly affected by the chemicals.
Not all jeans go to heaven
The problem with denim is similar to the problem with dye. It pollutes valuable water. Producing a single pair of jeans consumes around 7,500 liters of water, from growing the cotton, making the fabric its signature blue color all the way to the finished product, according to the United Nations. Besides the huge amounts of synthetic indigo dye which are used to create the classic jeans colors, even more toxic chemicals are used to create the unique look of denim, especially the trendy “worn out” style.
If the pants are made from stretchable material it gets even worse. To make the fabric stretchy it uses Spandex or Elastane or Lycra, which all describe the same material and are found in every stretch item, from yoga pants to high-class jeans. It is made out of Polyurethane, one of the worst types of plastics. Therefore it is not bio-degradable and hard to recycle.
Luckily, a few companies are trying to use the stretch material more responsibly and to make denim that is biodegradable and does not end up on a landfill where it stays forever. Unfortunately, most clothes you can buy in the mainstream stores, do not have this quality.
Buying clothes that do not ruin our planet
We all need clothes to wear, so how can we avoid this dilemma?
The first idea that comes to mind is to shop sustainably. While shopping at small businesses, indigenous-owned businesses or sustainable businesses is an amazing alternative, it might not be affordable for everyone, as the prices are usually higher than fast fashion brands. In this case, try and repair clothes that are broken, which is often easier than it looks. You can also shop second-hand or make clothing swaps with friends, family or strangers at clothing swap events. Avoid fast fashion brands if possible.
Always remember to ask yourself if you really, truly need this item. Most people own way too many clothes that use up resources of the planet, take up space in our homes, eat up our savings and are usually only bought because they are trendy at a certain point in time. Try to invest in fewer clothes that are of good quality and produced sustainably. If you get rid of clothing items, try to re-use them (for example as rags for cleaning or DIY projects), sell or donate them, do not simply throw them away.
If you want to go one step further, hold fashion brands accountable. Check how transparent they are about their production process as well as their dying techniques and where their resources come from. Research if there is any evidence out there that they might violate human rights or harm the environment. Contact them via mail or social media and ask them directly. Be loud. Be annoying. Demand change.
How you can help
We’re devoting the next 12 months of our lives to raising the money and awareness we need to stop species going extinct, and to put them back into recovery.
Our project brings together the best projects and thinking from 7 charities and a whole slew of experts from across the planet. Let this be the moment we say “NO MORE EXTINCTION” and start rebuilding their world, for all our benefits.
Please do consider donating and sharing our message to create a global voice of positivity and action. Thank you xx
Dye another day
Written by Lucy Siegle and Paul Goodenough
Art by goodbadcomics (Aditi Mali)
Not all Jeans go to heaven
Inspired by: Candiani Jeans x Livia Firth x Eco Age
Written by: Sarah Florence Lord x Paul Goodenough x Cale Grim (Thing in Squares)
Created by: Cale Grim (Thing in Squares)