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Call it Fashion: How We’ve Come to Wear Toxic Clothing


We don’t normally associate the fashion industry with massive environmental damage, but we should.

In addition to being one of the most exploitative industries there is, “fashion” is also one of the worst for the planet. When we look at all of the factors that come into play, you may not want to put on anything in your closet ever again.

The party begins in a slum in Bangladesh, where the poorest people on planet earth are treated like slaves. In point of fact, a 18th century slave in the United States was probably in a better socioeconomic position than a Bangladeshi garment worker is presently.

The urban development in Dhaka is deadly; two incidents can shown us just how poor the conditions in the world’s garment factories really are. Global warming plays a big role in creating the desperation that fuels the labor pool in Bangladesh, with rising seas destroying arable land.

Desperate To Survive

A demonstration of just how awful the conditions in Dhaka are was the collapse of Rana Plaza, where a garment factory was housed. There had been clear warnings that the structure was unsound, a day before the collapse there had been a large fissure spotted in the building. More responsible businesses had evacuated, but not the poorly paid textile workers.

When illegally installed generators that were on the building’s roof were fired-up, the building gave way. On that day in 2013 more than 1100 people died, crushed under the rubble of a totally preventable travesty.

Around the same time there was another disgusting display of how poorly these people are treated. At Tazreen Fashions more than 100 workers were killed. While the number is less impressive Rana Plaza, these workers were incinerated while they were alive.

They had been locked behind steel bars while they worked long hours. When the fire had started, there was nowhere for them to go. All of the emergency exits had been blocked off, so their escape was impossible. We are left to wonder if they were being held their against their will.

Despite these appalling conditions, people are flooding into Dhaka. It is estimated that 600,000 more people will arrive this year alone. These are people who are desperate to make a living, refugees in their own country with no other alternatives. Under these circumstances, it isn’t hard to see why the workers at Rana Plaza went to work that fateful morning.

The Slave Masters

We don’t like to think about how our modern lifestyle is maintained, or all of the suffering that it creates. The market for the Bangladeshi slave labor is the very same energy intensive culture that makes the oceans rise.

What is often called the “developed” world is developed because it knows how to exploit the most vulnerable people on the planet. While global warming is an oversight, the horrendous conditions that exist in the garment trade are completely preventable; supporting them is unconscionable.

When a person goes into a shop on high street and pays £5 for sexy a t-shirt, they know something isn’t right. There aren’t many textile factories left in the developed world, nor can they produce products that are in the same price range as what most consumers buy.

The recent push by large retail chains to integrate a perverse trend called “Fast Fashion” into their marketing mix is a perfect example of what is ripping our world apart at the seams.

People are buying clothing that is made to be worn a few times, then thrown away. These garments are cheaply made, and marketed aggressively.

Celebrities are involved.

The goal is to have a constant source of revenue via consumers that have to buy new clothing all the time. It is the “disposable razor” philosophy applied to a person’s entire wardrobe.

People are either unaware of the damage this causes, or simply don’t care about the environmental destruction and human suffering that it creates. This is the kind of mentality that a slave owner must have had, laughing as he whipped his money out of living flesh each and every day.

A Developed Economy

In her acceptance speech for a recent award, Eileen Fisher said that “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world…second only to oil,” and went on to note that, “It’s a really nasty business…it’s a mess.”

For those of you that think that Ms. Fisher is an activist of some form, you would be mistaken. She is in fact a fashion industry mogul, who has her own line of clothing. While she produces her garments in safer factories with better materials, she has an insider’s view of what may be the cruelest industry on planet earth.

When we equate economic development with the ability to pollute, destroy lives and offshore our avarice, the worst things are possible. A society that overlooks its most basic needs, like clothing, is likely overlooking other things as well. Fast Fashion is creating a situation where a supply shock could leave the developed world, quite literally, bare ass naked.

If you care to look at a map, you will notice that Dhaka is a long way from London and New York. While this allows the corporations to hide their dirty laundry a world away, it also opens them up to a long and complex logistical chain.

Many of these fast fashions will only stand up to being washed once or twice, then the consumer has to return to the mother ship to re-up on their clothing ration. This arrangement is beyond stupid. If money is taken out of the equation, the real absurdity of this system begins to emerge.

Cotton Candy

Cotton farming occupies about 2.4% of the world’s arable farmland, but it uses around 10% of the agro-chemistry that we blast into the Earth, and about 25% of the noxious insecticide we manufacture.

This is the same insecticide that dirt poor Indian farmers drink to kill themselves in protest of the multi-national agro-chemistry monopolies, by the way.

Cotton also loves to suck up water. Remember that sexy t-shirt you just bought for £5? Well it took around 2700 liters of water to grow the cotton to make it fabric for it, and that doesn’t take into account the additional water needed to dye and process it.

More on that in a minute.

Cotton, like most fabrics, is also heavy. I don’t need to tell you that schlepping around a big bag of dirty laundry is a royal pain in the buns.

Commercial clothing manufacturers do the very same thing, but on a giant scale. The labor that produces £5 sexy t-shirt’s is rarely near the cotton fields, nor are the processing facilities that turn the raw cotton into fabric.

In truth we don’t have any idea how much energy a £5 sexy t-shirt requires to bring to high street, but we are pretty certain that it won’t last you very long.

But at least you look sexy in your t-shirt.

The Toxic Waste

Once the raw fabrics are created, either from resource intensive cotton, or by refining petrochemicals into fabric, it is time for the chemistry department to take over. The factories that dye your fabrics are extremely nasty places.

There are areas in Indonesia that “specialize” in dying fabrics for mass consumption. The upper Citarum river zone is covered in textile factories. Little, if any, attention is paid to the waste that is dumped wholesale into a river that gives more than 15 million people their water.

Swedish mega-store H&M has a slogan, “New stuff is coming in each and every day. So why not do the same.” It is from places like the Citarum that developed nations source their Fast Fashions, each and every day toxic chemicals like nonylphenol are discarded without regard for their effect on the local population, or the river’s ecosystem.

Nonylphenol is an endocrine disruptor, and is highly toxic to marine life. When Greenpeace tested the runoff from factories in this area, they stated that it was, “highly caustic, will burn human skin coming into direct contact with the stream and will have a severe impact (most likely fatal) on aquatic life in the immediate vicinity of the discharge area.”

Keep in mind that you will be wearing the products from these factories. While most of the chemicals are water soluble, Fast Fashion isn’t meant to be worn more than a few times. You can be sure that your sexy t-shirt will leach everything that it can into your skin, then be thrown away. Just in time to buy a brand new one, and get your transdermal toxin fix.

The effects from this economy are catastrophic, and the luxury that consumers are buying is a sham.

Leave My Sexy T-Shirt Alone!

The developed economies of the world are awash with not only toxic clothing, but toxic social philosophy as well. Fast Fashion is a symptom, but the problem lies far deeper in a group mind that is hell bent on total destruction.

Any culture or country that would accept this kind of business model is monstrous, but for it to exist in order to supply inexpensive clothing leaves me at a loss for words. Anyone who would willingly support this kind of abuse is a waste of human life.

Stop this now.

Find ways to clothe yourself that don’t involve incinerating the poor and desperate among us, it will cost you more but you can be proud of yourself.

You won’t be committing acts of depraved tyranny against the helpless poor; that always feels good.

Look for locally produced products you can take advantage of, or support your local tailor. It’s not a holistic solution, but we have to start somewhere.

Tell people what Fast Fashion is all about, and don’t ever accept this kind of economy as progress. Most of all, know what you are putting on your body, where it came from, and where your money is going.

These companies are able to create misery and destruction because people don’t care.

Start caring.

[via alternet]

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  1. There is really no need to focus on fashion, fast or slow, or on sexy t-shirts. The problem concerns everybody, including plain regular underwear, socks, professional clothes, etc. I wouldn’t even know what a “fast fashion sexy t-shirt” is but mass-market clothes must represent the biggest pollution compared to “fast fashion sexy” ones.

    It would be nice to follow up on what consumers can do to resolve this issue. I have a couple organic cotton t-shirts, but I have my doubts on the kind of dye that’s been used on them, that process is probably not very organic.


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