Hand me down clothes
The majority of my youth was spent outside in the playground that was rural Ireland.
Trips to shopping malls were rare, as town outings were mainly confined to buying food. Apart from Christmas and special occasions there was no reason to buy new clothes.
When my eldest brother outgrew his clothes they were passed onto the next brother, and the next, and so on. Our clothes were made from natural fibers for the most part, durable and mended when necessary.
The days of handing down clothes are completely gone. What is more common nowadays is two friends meeting on the street. The first friend adores something the other is wearing. The recipient of the praise denies its beauty while revealing its true origins and price. Both parties gasp in collective astonishment at how such beauty can come at such a low cost.
High street fashion is now readily available for all budgets. The four seasons of fashion have multiplied using ‘pre’ and ‘post’ collections to sell more. Buy a coat today, return in a week and you will find your coat has already been replaced by the ‘latest style’.
Lift the label from what covers your modesty and see what it is made from. For the majority of us our clothes are made from synthetic fibers (man-made fibers).Historically our clothes were made from natural fibers like hemp, linen, silk, wool and cotton to name but a few. In the 1930’s the Dupont company invented nylon. This started the juggernaut of the petrochemical industry and in turn the fashion industry. Now we have polyester, acrylic, polyolefin etc. These clothes are made from oil which is turned into tiny plastic fibers woven together. We are wearing plastic.
How can clothes be so cheap?
The clothes we wear are made in toxic dilapidated factories in the poorest places by the poorest people. A retail giant in the west will ask the factory owner: “who can deliver an order at the cheapest price” – after that it is a race to the bottom. The factory that stands its ground over a price loses the business and in turn its workers lose their jobs. Health and safety is replaced by saving money. In 2013 more than 1100 people, mostly women, died when their place of work collapsed in Bangladesh India. They were assured weeks before their death that the cracks in the walls were perfectly safe. This is saddening common trend.
Toxic Plastic Waste
Our fellow human beings work in a toxic environment both figuratively and literally. The clothes are treated with dangerous carcinogenic chemicals. There is no protective gear in the factories and the waste water is continuously poured into the drains which flow into the rivers and finally into the ocean. The fashion industry is ceaseless our consumption relentless.
Clothes to Charity Myth
80 billion garments are produced each each year to clothe planet Earth’s 8 billion population!
On average we only use 20% of the clothes that we own. When we have accumulated too much we do the ‘right’ thing. (By coincidence the ‘right’ thing is cheaper than disposal alternatives.)
We give our clothes to a charity in the knowing that our unwanted clothes will go to the ‘poor people’. The harsh reality is that thrift shops do not not need nor want any more clothes. These clothes are packed into containers and shipped to third world countries like Kenya.
There, your old t-shirt is put up for sale on a market stall. The problem is so much cheap clothes flood these markets that the vast majority ends up being dumped or burned.
The future of clothes disposal
It has gotten so bad now that countries in East Africa are no longer accepting second hand clothes from western countries and more are planning to end this ‘legal’ dumping by 2019.
So now what? Where will we go with all our clothes? Now we have to dump or burn our unwanted clothes in our own backyard. Not only is this unsustainable but it threatens our very way of life. A health crisis ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
As our clothes are plastic they take hundreds of years to degrade. With every wash thousands of tiny plastic fibers eventually enter our ocean, then its inhabitants, eventually into those who eat the fish…….. ‘You are what you eat’ is changing to ‘you wear what you eat’.
Worn down we dump these clothes into landfills where toxic gases are released for more than your lifetime entering the soil that grows our food. When burned in incinerators the carcinogenic toxins enter our air with detrimental effects.
Rich Women’s Rights Versus Poor Women’s Right
Our addiction to clothes is not only an environmental tragedy but a human rights issue also. 70-90% of people who work in garment factories are women. These women are real life modern slaves! Someone’s mother, sister, daughter. A typical life is leaving their children with neighbors or family and travelling to the industrial town coming home once or twice a year!
We live in a time where women look for equal rights and equal pay from their male counterparts. The irony is that it is mostly women who buy clothes and mostly women who are directly affected by this consumption and addiction.
Our buying behavior
Collectively we need to stop buying so much. That is the most obvious and fastest solution to the problem of environmental catastrophe that we all face. If we buy less often we will have more to spend and as such we can afford natural fibers that are non life threatening.
Secondly the textiles giants must pay union run factories (fair trade) a higher price. I have never heard of a corporation looking to lower their revenue but I would rather they increase their prices and I pay another few dollars for my t-shirt knowing I helped another human being live with respect and decency.
By using natural fibers as our preferred material it will drastically improve the lives of those that work and live beside the apparel industry. Using natural fibers will remove the need for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and GMO seeds in the growing phase improving the farmers working conditions. Removing petrochemical products and using natural dyes in the manufacturing stage will improve the factory workers lives. Treating wastewater before it’s released will stop poisoning and maiming those who live beside these factories. Natural fibers will biodegrade and not turn our ocean into a plastic mold.
Hemp is the most ideal fiber to be used (As it was thousands of years ago). It can be grown quickly (within 100 days), it produces more per acre and is as smooth as silk.
Hemp clothing is stronger, more durable and breathable. It is antimicrobial. It keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter. At this moment in time mixed fabric items like hemp and cotton are common and it is a welcome start but from a recycling and ecological point of view mixing fibers does not work. It is all or nothing.
Sharing is Caring
Please share this article and help stop another tragedy that is killing human beings directly or indirectly. Awareness is key to starting the conversation. The world will not change overnight but individually we can be the change we wish to see in the world.
If you are looking to buy hemp made products or fair trade products you could start with Patagonia and Hempest. There is a huge gap in the market at present and as such an opportunity for farmers, industry, designers etc.
So the next time you meet someone on the street, praise them if they are wearing natural organic clothing, if they are not… Show them yours.
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