So What's the Deal With Sustainability?

So let's flash back about a year ago. I'm at the tail end of my freshman year at Kent State, I'm lounging on my 2 inch thick, twin extra long dorm mattress eating ramen out of a mug. (in other words living large and loving it) I have finals to study for but instead I'm adding everything I see to my "Watch Later List" on Netflix (sorry Mom), and doing anything not to let the tab on my computer with my math homework on it cross my line of vision. (In other words being extremely responsible) As I was scrolling through the documentaries section I came across one called "The True Cost" This documentary was about the Rana Plaza building collapse that happened in April 2013. This catastrophe was the collapse of an 8 story commercial building in the Dhaka District in Bangladesh. Cracks in the building's structure were discovered on a Tuesday, and following the discovery the bank and shops on the lower floors of the building were immediately closed; staff ordered to go home. Garment factories were located on the upper floors, and due to stress that was placed on the management to meet deadlines, factory workers were not only not dismissed but ordered to return to work the next day. That following Wednesday morning the building collapsed with the garment workers inside, resulting in roughly 1,100 deaths and around 2,500 non fatal injuries. Non-fatal injuries were the majority of the time life altering; people were trapped under rubble for hours to even days paralyzed and needing limb amputations to be freed from the debris. 

The companies that these workers were producing garments for were European and American brands that had out-sourced labor, including The Children's Place, Joe Fresh, Mango, and Primark among the 150 plus companies that used this factory for production. The truth of the matter is that although this disaster is known to be the worst garment factory accident in history, the conditions that is occurred under are all too typical in today's fashion industry. The majority of the companies that we buy our clothing from are producing clothing at a record high speeds (hence the term "fast fashion") and at continually declining prices, so much so that women's clothing prices have decreased by one third in the past 10 years and production deadlines are slashed by many weeks each year. 

Fast fashion isn’t free, someone somewhere is paying”
— Lisa Siegle

This practice of churning out as much clothing as possible, as cheaply as possible is commonly called "fast fashion". Some of the largest offenders include Zara, Forever 21 and other bargain retailers. What happened in 2013 at Rana Plaza was a wake up call for the industry and since then there have been many brands emerging centered around sustainability, and a great deal of existing brands are working towards improving their sustainability status. Although progress is in the works the true power to cause change in the industry does not lay in the hands of companies. We can blame money hungry corporations, unenforced foreign labor laws, or even God himself for the horrible reality that the garment production industry creates for so many people, but at the end of the day it is you and I who is truly to blame.  

Bandana: Thrifted Jacket: Thrifted

Bandana: Thrifted Jacket: Thrifted

5 Sustainable Brands to Check Out:

  • Everlane (Check out their "pick what you pay" section)
  • People Tree (Check out their "Outlet" section)
  • Nisolo (Awesome shoes and accessories) 
  • Patagonia (Activewear, Check out "Worn Wear" and their repair and recycling services)
  • Reformation (Super cute and trendy pieces)  

Take this survey to see to what degree your life style choices add to modern day slavery:

Cami: Gap, sustainable option:  People Tree  Jeans: Urban Outfitters, sustainable option:  Reformation  Belt: Thrifted

Cami: Gap, sustainable option: People Tree Jeans: Urban Outfitters, sustainable option: Reformation Belt: Thrifted

People today buy one third more clothing than they have in the past ten years, and this is what is fueling the spiral into faster and cheaper production. As long as there are customers who are willing to support an industry that works in this way it will continue to exist, so the responsibility lays in our hands as consumers, global citizens and human beings. Although we may never know someone who works as a garment maker, and we are not the factory owners threatening employees with the loss of their job to work under inhumane conditions, we have to remember that our community extends far beyond our own city, country and into the entire world with the choices that we make. 

What we gain from these purchases is not worth what is lost in the lives of the people that pay the true price. These practices are human trafficking and modern slavery. Garment workers are subdued to physical and sexual abuse as a way of control by factory owners and managers, extremely long hours (in some cases 16-17 hour work days during peak season) and unsafe working conditions. As if those realities of their job are not bad enough the pay they make is likely not even enough to support their families. For example, the average garment worker in Bangladesh is paid the equivalent of thirty-eight American dollars per month, and the basic diet for a family of three (sugar, rice, beans, cooking oil, etc.) costs around sixty-eight American dollars per month. This means that even if both adults of a house hold, assuming there are two, work as garment producers, they can hardly put food on the table for ONE child and themselves. 

Not only do these cheaply made, many times ill-fitting pieces hardly give you but a few hours of instant gratification, (seriously our brains work in this way; material things cannot give us real happiness. It's science people!!! Look it up.) but they are low quality and end up probably costing you, the consumer, more money to continually replace as they inevitably fall apart. Additionally this consumeristic culture has proven to be linked to a rising numbers of people suffering from anxiety and depression.  

With jargon filled, informational pages on retailer's websites about their manufacturing practices and environmental impact, it's no surprise that many consumers are still in the dark about what sustainability is and if their favorite brands are being ethical in their production methods or not. To help you out here are some ways to educate yourself and shop more responsibly:

  • look at the "about" or "mission" sections on a retailer's website, many brands that are seriously focused on sustainability will make it known in these sections
  • shop local makers and crafts people in your community 
  • shop second-hand (my favorite!!)
  • use to look up facts about a brand's manufacturing practices