Shopping Responsibly Is Important
I have observed how expensive daily needs have become due to inflation, from the increasing food budgets to the accelerating price of houses. Surprisingly, the prices of clothing do not increase along with the others. When walking around the mall, I can always find a t-shirt on sale for $9.99 in fast fashion stores. How could something be sold at such a low price? Shoppers are eager to buy the latest trend for cheap, then throw it out after the trend passes and move on. Consumers no longer bother to repair a lost button or to resole a worn-out shoe. If clothing feels cheap, fast, and disposable, that’s how it is treated. In today’s society, people are exposed to the media. Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day. The constant advertisements encourage fast-fashion. However, on the other end of the manufacturing chain, factories cause environmental problems. They are also the start of inhumanity. Knowing this, it is important for customers to shop responsibly so that they are not blinded by the practices of companies.
The clothing industry is the second-largest polluter of the environment. Fashion is a long chain involving production, manufacturing, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and disposal of the items. Industries emit 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse gas every year through the production of materials such as cotton, which is used in 40 percent of our clothing. Despite its wholesome image cultivated by the industries, cotton is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. Taking up only 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland, cotton absorbs 10 percent of agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides. Uzbekistan, the world's sixth-leading producer of cotton, is an example of how cotton negatively impacts the environment. In the 1950s, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers in Central Asia were artificially created from the Aral Sea to supply water for the cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Nowadays, water levels in the Aral are less than 10 percent of what they were 50 years ago. With the constant contamination from the fertilizer and pesticides from the nearby fields, the sea became over-salinated. The Aral became a dry sea due to the loss of 90% of the water. This resulted in colder winters and hotter summers. The overproduction of cotton caused significant problems in the region’s environment. In addition, materials used widely in the fashion world such as polyester and nylon are made from petrochemicals and are not biodegradable. Nylon produces nylon oxide during the manufacturing process. According to Ecowatch, the impact of one pound of nitrous oxide on global warming is almost 300 times that of the same amount of carbon dioxide. Fashion also pollutes the water source. The chemicals in the dye ruin the water supply near the factories. With fast fashion, the trends go in and out of style in a matter of weeks. Manufacturing factories are constantly making clothing to meet the customers’ commands. Without a doubt, buying into fast fashion supports climate change.
Fast fashion companies profit from cheap labour. Consumers build their happiness on someone else’s misfortune. In 2005, a CBC investigation found that Walmart used child labour. A significant amount of the store’s clothing was made in Bangladesh factories where children under 14 work for less than $50 a month. This was against Walmart’s self-introduced corporate code of conduct. Walmart explained that the factories were sub-contractors. However, by paying suppliers less money encourages the use of child labour. A similar situation occurred in 2013, when a Bangladesh factory collapsed, taking the lives of 377 people. Joe Fresh had an emergency meeting with the Retail Council of Canada Monday to discuss the collision of the Bangladesh factory, who made cheap clothing for them. Police investigation reported that there were visible cracks on the walls. However, Joe Fresh ignored the issue and told the workers to continue working. This resulted in the tragedy that occurred. These issues bring to light the inhumanity behind the bright cover of fast-fashion. It allows us to realize that people are making cheap clothing in places that do not meet the Canadian standard in regards to safety and human rights. While we can protest the working conditions of the labourers, the battle against inhumanity needs to start at the end of the chain, with the consumers.
Being a responsible shopper means that you know where your purchases come from. Fast fashion brands such as H&M, Nordstrom, Gap and Forever 21 rely vastly on underpaid workers (as low as $4 per hour) to make clothing that meets customers’ demands. Most fashion brands can not afford to be ethical, but consumers can. They could buy only what is needed and not wanted. This may mean not going shopping as often. Consumers could also stop buying clothes from non-ethical brands. Instead, they can buy from brands or organizations that are not using cheap labour and are contributing to a more sustainable future. Some of the top designers such as Fisher, Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren are leading towards a revolution in fashion. Eileen Fisher's company is already using 84 percent organic cotton, 68 percent organic linen and is reducing water use and carbon emissions. She says, “Because the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, I also think we can be a huge force for change. I have hope. I know it's possible to make clean clothes, to do it a better way." Eileen Fisher’s company is working to make its supply chain sustainable. Shown on their website, Fisher pledged that their company will use the most sustainable fibres they can lay their hands on. She promised that their cotton and linen will be organic by 2020. Furthermore, the company is working on the bluesign® technologies in order to shift its global dyehouses toward responsible chemical, water and energy usage. In addition to responsible shopping, consumers can shop vintage and in secondhand stores.
Since the appeal of fast-fashion is the price tag, it is understandable that many are attracted to it because of a limited budget. Shopping at a vintage or second-hand store is as inexpensive as fast-fashion items. It also lowers your carbon footprint. It is difficult to love and take care of our clothes when we are faced with tempting offers in the stores. However, it is important for consumers to purchase sustainable clothing, and to be okay about repairing a lost button. After all, the world is paying an expensive price for fast fashion.