Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Is globalization really the win-win solution its touted to be? In theory, people from developing countries would get jobs and come out of poverty, while western countries would benefit from cheap products. In reality, it has played seriously big role in accelerating climate change and thwarting sustainability goals as workers keep getting exploited and the environment suffers due to over-use.
Fast Fashion is a prime example of globalization gone wrong.
You might think that fast fashion is awesome because you get to wear more clothes at a fraction of what you would have paid twenty years ago. It keeps your wardrobe fresh, and oh, because of social media, you can't be seen wearing the same clothes again and again. Americans are purchasing five times the amount of clothing than they did in 1980. This is possible thanks to globalization and reckless manufacturing and advertising.
Research has shown that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter of our planet (the first one is the fossil fuel industry). Imagine this: Your clothes are often manufactured in third world countries (using synthetic fibers and local resources which pollute the immediate environment i.e. chemicals dumped into water sources), by slave labor (unsafe working conditions, less than minimum wages, long hours, no benefits), and transported across the seas (packaging, fuel and other supply chain impacts) to be bought by consumers who discard them after a few uses as they shop for more cheaper clothes. The discarded clothes are mostly made with a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, and live out their lives in landfills.
But...I sell or donate my old clothes.
Because of constantly changing trends or a few flaws or cheap material, second-hand companies may not take all your clothes. We often donate our old clothes, but charities manage to sell only half of the clothes we donate. The rest are packaged and shipped to textile recyclers who then convert them into industry rags or ship them to other countries. There are so many clothes that people discard and donate that charities have to put out signs saying they are at capacity. A lot of developing countries don't want our cheap clothes and they are taking measures on reducing imports.
Companies and other organizations are working on closed-loop clothing where clothes are made with fabric that can be easily reused or extracted for other uses. Some fast-fashion brands are working with designers to create more sustainable clothing or have buy-back programs. But the problem is so huge that these solutions are not enough.
So what do we do now?
Here are a few ways to make your wardrobe more meaningful and sustainable:
Invest in ethical brands: Look for brands that are fair trade and ethically sourced. Read the labels. Check out this wonderful website to find some brands you like.
Buy less, swap or buy second hand: We buy clothes because they are cheap. Not all clothes spark joy and we couldn't care less about discarding our clothes in pursuit of newer ones. (The average American household produces 70 pounds of textile waste every year). Be mindful while buying. Swap clothes with your friends, raid second hand stores to look for your next outfit.
Build a capsule or contained wardrobe: Buy a few pieces that are good quality that you can mix and match to create different looks. Declutter your wardrobe so you don't have to spend time thinking of what to wear.
Learn to mend or find someone who does: Because clothes are so cheap, people discard clothes because a button fell off, or there is a small rip in a seam. It's very easy to make small repairs to your favorite clothes. Buy long-lasting clothes that you would treasure and keep.
Buy more natural clothes: It is very tough to find clothes that are 100% natural. But they are definitely better for your health and for the environment. For cotton clothes, try to buy sustainable cotton. Growing cotton is tough, and farmers often go for higher amounts of pesticides and GMO seeds to get a bumper crop, to the detriment of their land and the surrounding environment.
The holiday season is on us, and we will be lured by Black Friday sales and huge discounts all the way into January. Remember to buy what you need, buy sustainable, and get more joy and meaning out of your clothes. Clothes tell a story, and may yours be a good, interesting one!