I was really shocked by The True Cost (2015), tackling the different (shadow) aspects of the fashion industry. As I said in my previous blog, when I was younger (in high school) I actually got really interested in fashion design, and even considered pursuing fashion studies, but after two consecutive small end of the year school fashion shows I realized that it wasn’t the right path for me, to much stress, and it had a kind of short-lived vibe to it that I just couldn’t put aside, I guess that (indirectly) this is one of the reasons why I chose to get into jewelry making.
This post will revolve around the fashion industry : its economical, social and ecological impacts on all of us (the less developed countries and the more developed countries) as, ultimately, I understand that everything is linked and we’re all in the same boat, yep my friend…
Interesting facts :
- The global fashion market is worth 3 trillions of dollars per year
- The fashion industry is the world’s N°2 polluting industry on earth after oil
- The biggest clothes manufacturers are located in Bangladesh and Thailand in which 85% of workers are women
- The average american throws away 82 pounds of textile waste each year
« The Fashion Industry : The many-tentacled monster »
The first crucial thing that you need to understand is that the fashion industry is a labor dependent industry : 1 in 6 people alive today in the world work in some part of the fashion industry, making it the most labor dependent industry on earth.
The cotton industry : No-win situation
Where it all begins, to make cloth you need the raw component which is cotton.
The largest seed and chemical corporation in the world Monsanto owns the genetically modified cotton seed monopoly on the market, not only do they sell the seeds but also the fertilizers, the pesticides and the medicine.
The biggest cotton farms are located in Punjab, India, to whom Monsanto sell their seeds. Because those seeds have been genetically modified, they need special care, especially fertilizers for the Indian cotton farmers to keep up with the market’s productivity which also implies that they need to use pesticides too. You see it coming right, what’s the biggest problem with this ? The more you use the fertilizers and the pesticides, the more you need to use them.
In addition to a horrific ecological impact, there is also a terrible social impact linked to the cotton industry, using those chemicals make the workers and the local population sick with an increase rate in cancer, physical and mental handicaps. That’s where Monsanto is back on stage, they also sell the medicine to the locals to cure the health problems, so basically it’s a win win game for the big corporations and of course, they decline all responsibility in the health, ecological and social harmful impacts linked to the use of their products.
What we never hear in the news either, is that death by drinking pesticides is the largest way of suicide recorded in history. One farmer every 30 minutes takes his own life by drinking pesticides in India, in the last 16 years 250 000 farmers have committed suicide.
Wastes : The untold story
The USA’s annual textile waste rate is about 11 000 000 tons, most of this waste in non-biodegradable. And only 10% of the cloth we donate actually are sold in local thrift stores, the largest part of it is sent to less developed countries like Haïti.
You may think that this could be one of the few positive aspects, it ain’t. By sending their excess ‘cloth wastes’, the more develop countries clog up the local market leading to the closing down of pretty much all the local textile companies, so what happens next? The few surviving companies have to adjust to the global fashion industry market by working on-low cost productions for export.
The 2.0 Slavery : The workers
I think that this is what stroke me the most, and really made me feel terrible, the social impact of the fashion industry. Throughout the documentary we follow a young Bangladeshi working in a textile factory, raising her child. This is just a glimpse of what is happening all around the world I guess.
Most of the workers can’t afford to keep their children even in the city’s worst slums. In order to give their children an education and a chance to have a better future, many workers are leaving their children to be raised by family or friends in villages outside the city only getting to see them 1 or 2 a year.
When workers unite and protest to get higher minimum wages they get beaten, or killed in strikes that quickly turn into riots, the footage seen in the documentary is eye-opening.
The 2.0 Slavery : The consumers
On the other side, there’s us, the consumers, bombarded with adds and (not so) subliminal messages.
So let’s start with the basics of our western culture, what is the essence of advertising ? The way to solve your problems is to consume.
« Advertising is a category of propaganda. You think of propaganda as a totalitarian thing, very grim, loud speakers, we think of Hitler, we think it’s a foreign thing. It’s actually as American as Apple Pie […] They want you to believe that you will look wonderful in that thing, but when you put it on, they make you feel that you actually look kinda fat in it. Sorry you bought it, but there’s another one you can buy. »
- Richard Wolff, economist
So what is the bond between advertising and consumption?
« There are 2 kinds of products, the kind that you use like a washing machine, car and so on, the things that you buy and use for a long time. And then there are the things that you use up chewing-gum, cigarettes… Consumptionism is all about getting people to treat the things they use as the thing they use up. »
-Earnest Elmo Calkins
And what is the cultural and psychological impact of those two on us as individuals and consumers ?
The interesting fact is that I actually mentioned materialism in a previous article but it won’t hurt to talk about it once more, materialism is based on the idea that the more things you acquire the happier you’ll be. But in reality, studies are showing that the exact opposite is happening, the more people base their happiness on possessions and materialistic things the less happy they are, psychological problems go up as materialistic values increase.
The follow-up of Fast Food : Fast Fashion
« Fashion is something that dramatically changed. Fast-Fashion is something totally new. The price of cloth has decreased as the cost of living has increased . Therefore, it’s like a sort of consolation part of people’s lives. »
- Guido Brera, Investment manager
The million-dollar question : What are the tangible solutions ?
« Some people come up to me and say : but if we become less materialistic our economy will tank. There’re right in some level because our economy is based on materialism. »
-Mark Miller, prof of media culture NYU
« The real problem is within the system itself. The economic system cannot be questioned or criticized and if you don’t criticize something for 50 years it rots, it goes to sea. Capitalism couldn’t be questionned […] If you don’t change the system, you’re leaving intact the decision making of this entreprise, which means the small group of executive in charge are going to be working in the same system. Subject to the same pattern of rewards and punishment, which will sooner or later make them reimpose there or elsewhere the very condition you’re fighting against. So stop this stuff about improving their (the workers) conditions, deal with their system or else you’re not serious. »
- Richard Wolff, economist