The Motley News

The Low Cost of Our Clothing

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After watching the documentary, The True Cost, I went to my closet to examine the labels on all of my clothin. I found “Made In” tags from Honduras, Vietnam, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, and most often, Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh. At no point, could I find one pair of pants, one shirt, or one dress that was made “Made in the U.S.A.”

I’m writing this piece to tell my readers: I am a consumer of exploitative fast fashion and so are you.

While clothing (along with food and shelter) is a basic need of the average human being, it is difficult to fathom the lengths we do to in order to have the cheapest, most fashionable items for such a basic need. 

Even now, as I write this, I am wearing an incredibly cheap, but cute, outfit. I know for certain that I bought it, not as a need, but as a fleeting want. My top is from H&M, it cost me$10. My pants are from Old Navy, they cost me $15. When I bought them, I already had a closet full of clothes that could get me through the summer season. I just wanted these items because I thought I would try a “simple nautical” look this summer.

This fleeting desire is not entirely my fault, nor yours. According to The True Cost, Westerners suffer from a growing epidemic of “Fast Fashion” This movement within the fashion industry makes runway clothing easily accessible to the general public via companies like Target, H&M, Forever 21, and Wal-Mart. If you like the trends that were debuted during Fashion Week, then you can expect to see them in retail chains almost immediately. And for much cheaper.

As a consumer, this initially makes me excited. I like spending half the money it takes to look good. It feels nice to follow fashion trends while on a budget. My “simple nautical” look was actually easy to acquire. After all, most of our necessities (rent, utilities, insurance) are so expensive, isn’t it nice to treat ourselves?

But the negative impacts Fast Fashion have on humanity and the environment have been easy to overlook for the past twenty years (see NAFTA and TPP). The cheaper and faster our clothes are produced, the more harm we have to keep overlooking. Pretty soon, it’s going to be harder to deal with the effects of the Global Fashion Market.

Human Labor Costs

  • When Cambodian garment factory workers protested for a living wage, $160 USD/per month, the local police and government paramilitary troopers outright crushed the people. Five factory workers were killed, forty were injured, and twenty-three were arrested without bail. Adidas, H&M and Gap use Cambodian to make their clothing. Imagine fighting for just $160, to live on, per month. Now imagine the work you’re doing is not just 9 to 5, but all day, in a hot factory, where the risk of injury is a daily problem. Remember that some of us spend $160 on our cellular phone plans.
  • Speaking of the threat of injury, we should remember that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 was not the most devastating incident in the garment industry. While it did kill 146 laborers, it changed the way we looked at factory work in this country. The government began regulating industries after that and labor unions took hold, shaping how production is conducted. . . in this country. However, in other countries without proper regulations, the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, in Bangladesh, was able to happen. 1,129 people died because of ignored structural issues in the building. It was later discovered that the top four floors were built without permits and were not made to house the weight of factories. Clothing brands made in this Plaza were, Benneton, The Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Wal-Mart, and others.

Environmental Costs

  • The cotton seeds that India use, come from Monsanto. They are genetically modified seeds that are costly. American corn and soybean farmers should know all too well how this works. Farmers are forced to purchase a seed that is the owned (patented) by Monsanto, plunging them into a debt that is reminiscent of Medieval Feudalism. Unfortunately, these cotton seeds require A LOT of pesticides, so the Punjab region of India, has the some the most devastating cases of toxicity in its citizens.
  • According to the film, “Fashion, today, is the number two polluting industry on Earth, second to the oil industry.” Between the natural resources that it takes to make a pair of cheap leather sneakers and the waste that comes from the finished product is mind-blowing. Just below, is a picture of “children playing in a field of leather scraps, many of them soaked in chromium and lye.” All of these chemicals are being soaked up by the land and the nearby Ganges River. Local people are suffering from chromium poison

What do we do?

Because that’s usually the question that comes next. We first have to admit that we are very much apart of the problem. Every $5 t-shirt we purchase translates into a direct contribution to the destruction of the Earth and the exploitation of humanity. If that sounds dramatic, I’m sorry, but it’s true. The good news is that you can do something about this.

I for one, have to closely examine why I buy so many clothes. If I really get to the bottom of it, they don’t make me happy and when I’m rifling through my closet, I always believe that “I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR!” Any sane person knows that isn’t true. All I’m doing is keeping up with trends that will soon fall away, which is what capitalism depends on. Fast fashion is overloaded with so much supply that they push hard to create demand through advertisements.

It takes work and money, but you can find clothing made in America. Even on college campuses, we’re seeing a slow shift towards fair-trade fashion. I recently bought a t-shirt from the University of Toledo bookstore (upon graduation, I thought I should have at least one memento) which was made by an apparel company called Alta Gracia.

Introducing Alta Gracia products into university bookstores all around the country is a major step in the right direction. It means that a younger generation of consumers are becoming aware of garment labor practices and are choosing to do something about it. The manufacturing of Alta Gracia takes place in the Dominican Republic, but they treat their workers with respect by giving them a living wage, healthcare, and safe working conditions. These are the working conditions and benefits that we all expect from our jobs. Why don’t extend that same expectation to people around the world?

This article shouldn’t be your only reference on the issue. Please research where your clothes come from. Start by going through your closet and taking stock of how much you actually own. Sometimes it’s quite a bit. Do you need all of these clothing items? Are you wearing them consistently? Do you really need to buy more? Look at the labels. I’m willing to bet you won’t find many made in the United States.

Let’s start recognizing the people who make the clothes we wear.

I highly recommend watching The True Cost documentary and visiting their website:

Author: charishreid

Writer and Educator.

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