Did you know the textile industry is the second most polluting industry right behind oil? This fact alone blew my mind and made me want to do some digging and learn a little bit more about where our clothes come from and their impact on the planet. The truth might surprise you. The process of growing the materials for our clothes, to production of textiles and then turning that material into the clothes we wear is not a great one. Not only is extremely unsustainable but in most cases unethical as well. Not to mention, we THROW AWAY 70 lbs of textiles each year. Big companies like Forever 21, boohoo, H&M etc. manufacturer their clothes in places like China or Bangladesh where labor law practices are catered NOT around the safety and well-being of its workers but the how much can we get them to do with very little compensation. Just to put things in perspective the average pay these workers make is $2-$3 per day and risk their health and lives everyday to make the clothes we buy here in the western world. Remember the Rana Plaza Disaster?
Additionally, the way our clothes are produced does not sound like something I’d want on my skin 24 hours a day. The synthetic fibers in our clothes such as polyester and nylon are petroleum based and take hundreds of years to break down just like plastic These synthetic fibers break down in our washing machines releasing over 1 million tons of microplastics into our oceans each year. Even natural fibers like cotton or silk are still grown using toxic pesticides and other chemicals and pick up more during the dying process making them just as dangerous
However, you still need clothes and textiles, so how can we take part in the textile industry without contributing to the exploitation of human beings and the destruction of our planet? I came up with 5 ways that are simple and can easily be implemented.
- Buy Second hand: Thrift stores are your best friend. You’ll find styles that no one else has and you will save a ton. Plus it’s a fun way to shop, you aren’t just marketed something that’s ‘in-style’ you have to find the potential in each piece you find. Personally, it makes it that much more special and is a great conversation starter when you wear it out.
- Buy Local: From personal experience, I’ve found that when I buy just about anything from a small local company, it was made themselves with quality ingredients. Always do your due diligence, but this was has been the case 9 out of 10 times. Plus your investing back in your community by buying local so there’s an added bonus.
- Buy from companies who are transparent about their production process: Not all things can be thrifted. I would not feel comfortable wearing second hand socks, undies, swimsuits or even sometimes workout clothes (no hate if you do). At that point where do you go? You find companies who are transparent about every step in their production process. Companies like Everlane, Buffy, Good on You make earth friendly, ethical products that you can feel good about using. Ethical sustainable products do tend to cost more but you can alter your spending to afford these items. That may mean no eating out for a week but I think the trade off is a good one.
- Repurpose old textiles: Just because you have some clothes that are no longer wearable doesn’t mean they’ve reached the end of their lifecycle. Repurpose that old holey shirt and give it a new life. You could make a chic plant hanger, or cut it up and use it as cleaning rags, the possibilities are endless.
- Stop buying from companies who fuel fast fashion: These are your Forever 21, Boohoo, H&M, Zara brands. They are the reason fast fashion exists and all the negatives facts listed above is a result of brands like these. New clothing lines used to come out twice a year, spring and fall. Now it seems stores have new lines every couple of weeks? Don’t get me wrong HnM was my go-to store for just about anything, and I will continue to wear the clothes I already own from there but I won’t be buying anything new. I’m mad at these brands for not being transparent about their processes and continuing to produce clothes this way knowing that it’s not right. If you want stylish clothes try companies like RentTheRunway who rent designer pieces that you can swap out as your style changes. You have fashion freedom right at your fingerprints and in turn, you don’t contribute to the over consumption of clothing that ultimately ends up in our landfills. Consumers have the power, and if we demand sustainably and ethically produced textiles, companies will have no choice but to abide or risk becoming obsolete. Vote with you dollar, every purchase you make says something about your beliefs and values, remember that!
I hope this helps you understand a little bit more about the textile industry and where it stands today. Now I don’t know about you but a system that exploits its laborers, disregards our health through their unethical practices and continues to negatively impact our planet at an accelerated rate, while making an exorbitant amount of money that is rewarded to very few, is no system I want to be apart of.