Dear Partners in Green,
I recently attended a thorough, unsettling, and important presentation on the real cost of those items of clothing we buy on those too frequent stops at both bargain outlets and major clothing stores.
I had heard it before, but this time with commentary and slides, my response was visceral. I cannot “unhear,” or “unsee” what was presented.
Picture factories of mostly women in third world countries, hunched over machines, for endless hours, deprived of breaks, and dignity, paid a few cents an hour, so we can buy that extra sweater we likely don’t need. But how can we resist that price?
But it is not just the factory workers paying for your clothing in blood and sweat. Picture that same sweater a year or two later in a landfill or trash heap in India with a five-year-old child scouring for rags in hopes of making a penny or two.
That is our fashion industry, and with it comes the exorbitant environmental cost, in part due to non-biodegradable synthetic fibers used in 72 percent of clothing items. These fibers remain in landfills for 200 years before decomposing and contribute to the vast amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Not to mention the cost in natural resources and the use of insecticides in producing such items as the beloved, iconic blue jean.
And oh, those ploys to trick us into shopping! Shades of blue that change weekly, pant widths and lengths which are “out of date” even before you’ve left the store. The fashion industry is designed to make us feel “out of trend” after one week.
There used to be just two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. But now, the fashion industry has created 52 “micro-seasons” per year. With new trends coming out every week, the goal of “fast fashion” is for consumers to buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible.
We are being played. It is a game of monopoly. And in this game, there are many victims, including the shoppers, who have been led to believe mindless, recreational shopping is an innocent pastime, that we are helping the economy, and that our lives will be better, we will be happier, more fulfilled if we just had that sweater.
This did not all happen by chance, is not just a natural progression. This a well-thought-out strategy of CEO’s making an average of $9,600,000 per year as of 2017, and marketers and psychologists in their employ, whose job it is to keep us shopping, to tell us over and over that we are not enough, that we would be so much happier, prettier, so much more fulfilled and loved if we would just increase our wardrobe; just buy that sweater!
So we squeeze our clothes together to find a little more space, or we build another closet or move to another house. Americans are now demanding larger closets in new homes and many are turning spare bedrooms into giant closets!
What can you do? Breaking the habit, or quelling the need to shop may require one or two friends, if not a village, to offer mutual encouragement and support.
The driven, well-funded teams in the fashion industry use every psychological tool at their disposal to get you to buy what you do not need, and in the process contribute to poverty and environmental degradation. You, too, need a team to counteract theirs.
The issue of Climate Change is so immense you may feel powerless in addressing it, but you can make a difference.
- Talk about it, write about it, read about it.
- Donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. (Research the companies to which you donate.)
- With the aid of advice by people such as Marie Kondo, author of De-Clutter Your Life and Only Keep What Brings You Joy, sort through your closets and drawers.
- Shop at re-sale stores.
- Research retailers. Be an informed consumer.
These are things you can do. You are not a powerless cog in a wheel bent on destruction.
A poem by Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States, tells of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911 which left 146 people dead. A more recent factory fire was in Bangladesh, which killed 52 people who were trapped behind illegally locked doors; a factory providing goods for Walmart.
The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians
Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band
Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze
At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—
The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out
Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.
A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once
He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—
Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked
Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans
Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,
Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,
The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:
George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit
And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,
The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.
It’s time to call the clothing industry’s rhetoric exactly what it is:
But not sweet, and not little. It is time for the painful truth.
Wishing peace and health to you and your loved ones.
Thank you for being on this journey.
Till next time,
Schlossberg, Tatiana. Inconspicuous consumption: The environmental impact you don’t know you have. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2019.