May I ask you to close your eyes. Imagine you are 3 floors above the busy streets below. You and everyone else will stay in this room for the next 10 hours, and are allowed two bathroom breaks. The desks in front of you are industrial sewing machines, where your bag sits is now your 3 year old child who you could not afford to send to daycare. This is the life of roughly 40 million people worldwide, starting as young as 10. I understand that this story is hard to relate to, living in a place like this with all the privileges that come with it, but that’s not my point. Feeling empathy for these workers doesn’t do anything for anybody, but acting on this empathy is what I ask of you today. The fashion industry has developed a dangerous system of production with its rise in popularity and it’s having a detrimental effect on the people who are at the bottom of it. Every time you get dressed, you become part of one of the world’s most polluting industries that is killing the planet and the people. I am using this opportunity of your attention to teach you how much of an effect your clothing choices are having on people you will never meet and the health of our planet.
Everything we consume has an effect on the environment, from food and petrol to the pigments and cotton you wear on your skin. These effects can range from minor, such as the decomposition of a cotton shirt to major like the destruction of habitats for cotton growing land. But these effects aren’t accounted for in the $49.99 you pay for your tshirt. I am sure that within the people in this class most of you do not think about what goes into the clothes you buy but this is what I want to change today. Here are some facts:
It takes an average of 15000 litres of water to produce the cotton for one pair of jeans. Thats enough to half fill a shipping container.
In one non organic cotton tshirt 500 grams of pesticide has been used, which will pollute both the soils and the run off water, poisoning the habitats of frogs, insects and fish.
As low as 4 cents from the total cost of your shirt will have gone towards the workers who actually made it.
The minimum wage in Bangladesh is NZ$90 a month. In New Zealand that can be earned in 8 hours, while it takes them 216. Campaigners claim this is one fifth that of the countries living wage, a salary which provides the workers comfortable are desirable lives. But this cannot be achieved by laws set by the government as the Bangladesh economy simply cannot afford this. What must be changed is us, the first world citizens who are driving this unjust system of consumption and leaving lives in ite path. On the 24th of April 2013, 1134 garment workers died in the Rana Plaza building collapse. This sparked media reports and widespread information on the lives of the garment workers in Bangladesh and opened the first world to the dangers of the industry. The multi use building was evacuated of all other sectors but the 2000 garment workers were sent back, showing the industry’s disrespect for human life. The clothes marked not only with “Made in Bangladesh” but almost any developing country are brought into the world through an unfair method of production where rich white men put financial gain before the fair treatment of their workers.
Some of you may have heard of fast fashion, a rising trend in western consumers where clothes are treated as easily disposable items. People are no longer conscious of how much energy, water, human hours, chemicals and environmental damage an item of clothing has anymore and it’s a damaging habit. I believe there is an attitude within our first world community allowing people to exert the blame for things such as global warming on others. 100% Pure New Zealand right? How could our country be blamed for all this ‘global warming’ and unjust treatment of workers Well guess who just recently got its first H&M and Zara retailers? That’s right, New Zealand. H&M and Zara are two of the most profitable clothings companies on earth and are so because of the fast fashion mindset they subconsciously promote, and the negative effects their production lines have which they like to ignore. So this time New Zealand is part of the group of first world countries which are driving this damaging industry and we are to blame for the negative effects it has. But it’s not just fast fashion, it simply the purchasing of excessive goods that is making your carbon footprint and the effect you consumerist life is having much larger than it could be.
Sustainable fashion is no longer about hemp pants, crocheted bags, tie dye shirts and sandals. Dozens of companies around the world have begun to recognise their effect on the environment, creating outlets for us consumers to buy better clothes. Kowtow, Patagonia, New Balance, People Tree, and Stella McCartney are just some of the world recognised brands who are creating better options for people to suffice their shopping craving while minimising the effect their clothes have on the planet and the people in it. I’m not asking you to go home and replace your whole wardrobe with more ethical clothing, because that would do more harm than good. I am asking you to think next time you pick up a shirt from a clothing rack or click on a $50 pair of jeans. Are the benefits I will get from buying this enough to justify the effect it will have on others? The responsibility of fixing this unjust system of production not only in Bangladesh but throughout the whole fashion industry lies with us,the consumers. When I shop I like to ask myself “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”, factoring in both how much I actually like whatever it is I’m looking at and also if it will last that long before it starts to pill, wear away or just fall apart. This prevents excess purchasing, cutting down on my carbon footprint and is the first step to abolishing this wrongful system of production we first world citizens take for granted.
I can’t force you to be sustainable, but I can try and make you more conscious consumers who are able to think about their effect on the world and can spread this awareness, starting the chain which can end this unfair treatment of workers and begin the fight against climate change which will reap benefits for the future of us and the generations to come.