What are the clothes you are wearing today? Where do they come from? Who made them? How much were the people who sewed them paid? How many liters of water were used for their production? How long will they last in your closet? We must ask questions about our clothes. We need to break the silence of collaboration that has flooded our closets with cheap, anodyne and highly polluting pieces. Winking has made us feel less guilty, but the absence of guilt does not absolve us of responsibility.
To make a garment like a T-shirt requires 2700 liters of water, the same amount that one person would drink in 900 days. The garment is designed, cut, dyed and sewn by different people who live far away from where the shirt is ultimately sold. How come the shirt costs as much as a sandwich?
The pollution caused by the fashion industry is second only to the automobile industry. It accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, derived from energy used in production, manufacturing and transport.
Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean. Every year, 85% of the textiles produced end up in landfills. Burning past seasons’ products is a very common technique in the world of expensive fashion. Luxury brands have burned over $30 million worth of unsold products simply to avoid selling them and prevent their symbolic value from diminishing.
We must slow down the consumption of clothing! We need to downsize our closets and ask ourselves uncomfortable questions that lead us to engage in various consumption practices: Do I really need another pair of jeans? What is behind the desire to buy something new? Long ago, fashion stopped being just about buying and selling clothes; it has become a big market of identities. And it seems that identity is also in crisis: on average, people bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000.
We need to buy less and think differently about buying clothes.
For example, we need to understand what it is about the jacket that – despite the passage of time, wear and tear and changing trends – has remained in our closet, unscathed and still a favorite. The fashion industry needs to be more intentional about producing clothes that are loved and worn, “rather than quickly becoming emotionally redundant and easily replaced,” as Tamzin Rollason of the Center for Urban Research aptly put it . The long and extended use of clothing is one of the most crucial ways to achieve a less environmentally disastrous fashion.
We should devote ourselves more to swapping clothes, buying used clothes that someone else no longer wears. We should dedicate ourselves to repairing and transforming dresses or pants that we don’t wear, or that are damaged but can be turned into something else. The only truly sustainable way is clothing made without using new materials.
Buying used clothes should not be the exclusive act of people who love vintage clothing. It should become a normalized, ethical and cool practice for everyone. It’s a mandate to breathe new life into the excess clothing that floods our society and ends up in landfills!
We also need more people to learn to make their own clothes. Through this self-made, custom-made commitment, we can and must challenge the tyrannical fashion production system and its size scheme, which makes it increasingly difficult to love our bodies as they are. Making our own clothes is a way to be sure of the origin of our clothes. It would help break the chain of poorly paid labor that comes along with clothing made in China. Doing so would also restore the body’s virtue of roundness and flesh. A dress should conform to the body, the body should not be forced into a dress.
We should take a page from the movies, where even the most unremarkable character appears listed in the credits. Clothes should adopt a similar system in which “credits” (tags) recognize everyone who had a hand in creating the garment. Then, when we ask who made it, we can learn about the people who worked, cut and sewed it. Perhaps with so many names and lives attached to a garment, we will stop regarding clothes as disposable and instead start appreciating them as something valuable that deserves to be honored.
We need to ask questions about our new clothes, our closets, and our old clothes. By doing so, we can find ways to prevent our desire for beautiful clothing from becoming a real disaster.