We all wear clothes, and we’re all likely to be concerned about the ways the clothing industry impacts on workers, the environment and animals. As consumers we have the power to make sure that our impact is a positive one. Every time we buy a piece of clothing, we’re supporting the practices of the brand that made it. Ethical fashion is about educating ourselves and making informed choices.
Impact on workers
The clothing, textiles and footwear industry is one of the most labour-intensive in the world. More than 60 million people are directly employed in clothing manufacturing, 15 million of whom live in Asia. The majority of these workers are women, and many of them endure gruelling work conditions.
It’s the high-speed consumption of clothing that puts enormous pressure on these workers. This is what we refer to as ‘fast fashion’. The price and quality of our clothing continue to fall, while hungry consumers continue to spend. Between 2000 and 2014 alone, the number of garments we bought rose by 60%. The people who make our clothes are therefore compelled to keep on producing, working to meet an insatiable demand.
In the world today, some 21 million textile industry workers are also the victims of forced labour. This is especially common in the cotton industry, where thousands of workers are driven to the fields, harvesting, spinning and weaving our clothes. In some Central Asian countries, young children are forced out of school to pick cotton. Child labour has also been used for the production of silk in some parts of India.
Factory fires, building collapses and personal injury are sadly commonplace. In 2013, an eight-story building in Bangladesh called the Rana Plaza collapsed and 1034 people were killed. This building housed a number of global fashion brands and brought to light to the serious consequences of our fast fashion fever.
Impact on the environment
Not only can the garment industry mistreat its workers, but it’s one of the worst offenders when it comes to the environment. Cheap clothes are designed to last just one season, and so we treat our clothing as disposable. Poor quality garments may be discarded after just seven or eight wears!
This vicious cycle of production and waste is eating up our most precious natural resources. It takes a tremendous amount of water to manufacture our clothing – one t-shirt alone takes 2720 litres of water to create. The textile industry is also a major polluter of fresh water through the discharge of toxic chemicals and dyes. Almost 20% of industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.
Vast tracts of arable land and forest are also being cleared to grow cotton or bamboo plants, for clothes. These crops are sprayed with toxic pesticides, causing serious health consequences for farmers, workers, wearers and the environment. Cotton production alone is responsible for 25% of the pesticides used in the world today.
On top of this, the production cycle of synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon are incredibly damaging. Synthetic materials are derived from petrochemicals, which links them to the most polluting corporations on the planet. They’re also highly energy-intensive industries, releasing around 23 kilograms of greenhouse gases for every 1 kilogram of fabric produced. These non-biodegradable fabrics end up in landfill and eventually leak pollutants back into the soil.
Impact on animals
Finally, millions of animals are exploited during the production of our clothing. Cows, crocodiles and kangaroos for leather, sheep for wool and geese for down, to name a few. Many of these animals suffer cruel treatment at the hands of the fashion industry.
While the Australian wool industry has a high standard of animal welfare for the production of quality merino wool, the controversial practice of mulesing sheep is a cause for great concern. Mulesing involves cutting the skin around a lamb’s tail (generally without anaesthetic) in order to reduce fly strike. Look out for wool manufacturers which do not support this procedure.
Angora comes from a special breed of fuzzy rabbit whose fur is prized for its softness and warmth. Some 90% of the world’s angora fur comes from China, where are no standards for the treatment of rabbits. Although the rabbits naturally shed their hairs, large-scale angora production involves plucking off the rabbit fur to attract a higher price.
Before you give it all up and join a nudist colony, Good On You is here to help. Using the app, you can discover brands who are doing the right thing for people, animals and the planet.