The $3,000 trillion Textile and Garment industry is among the most profitable, employing over 60million people across a global network that spans both the developed and developing world alike. In this age of global consciousness, our clothes link us to each other in ways we never previously considered. Therefore, it is not surprising to see why increasing concern is placed around the origins of our clothing and fashion pieces.
As a personal shopper, the most common phrase among clients looking to reinvent their image is ‘I have nothing to wear’. This all too common phrase is used never really used by people who literally have nothing to wear, but by those with a closet full of less valuable clothing. Despite overstuffed closets hoarded with numerous pieces of clothing, shoes and accessories, it is somewhat challenging to imagine why most people still cannot seem to gracefully put together a coherent outfit. A majority of us are unaware of the actual pieces amassing space in our closet, many of which are duplicates, unworn pieces, and clothing that find their way to landfill too early in their garment life cycle. It is impossible to foster a new habit when we see the result of the old on a daily basis.
The Fashion Problem
In recent years, the rise of fast fashion has given way to the former traditional emphasis people had on quality, well-made fashion. This newer, unsustainable model, insists on producing clothing that is far cheaper both in price and quality at an increasingly faster rate than never before. Although the idea of cheaper and quicker made clothing may present themselves as commercial benefits brought about by this essentially innovative business model, the cost of conducting such a business are not nearly enough to justify the gains. Such costs, which are only now being factored into the total cost of production, include that of natural and human capital.
Fast fashion leads to two major problems, including large scale depletion of the natural environment caused by landfill and unregulated factory emissions. This model also fosters an unsustainable global supply chain that is incapable of supporting industry workers by providing fair wages and safe working conditions. Essentially, fashion-ability now comes at the expense of human lives, and the environment. As the second largest polluting industry worldwide, following that of Oil and Gas, drastic changes are eminent in the fashion industry. As of September this year, Burberry announced to fold several of its brands and only stage two seasonless collections, where both men’s and women’s would be showcased. Although this may translate to less profits upon implementation, the brand is challenging the idea of seasonal dressing from a shopper’s perspective. This is definitely a game changer that will eventually prompt other brands to follow suit.
As of December 2015, China’s clothing manufacture now accounts for 54% of global production. Last year alone, the country produced 71 billion meters of clothing which ET Retail now values at $23.5 billion. This figure is actually decreasing due to the rise of cheaper clothing manufacturing in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Although many might argue that outsourcing clothing production created jobs in developing countries, it has also made countries such as Bangladesh, heavily reliant on the garment industry which really does not contribute to the rise of more Bangladeshi International clothing brands.
In the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Factory collapse, western shoppers are now demanding more transparency regarding the origins of their clothing. Since fast fashion is a direct response of consumer demand, it is only appropriate that we become more responsible about our shopping decisions. We are saying that a $10 or $20 t shirt is not worth the suffering and death of thousands just like us. Style is no longer the single determining factor for choosing to purchase from a given brand. Instead, other factors such as the brands commitments to upholding human rights laws, reducing, if not eliminating the environmental effects of their business, and not surprisingly, the results of such actions.
Getting Down to Business
Three potential solutions to the problems caused by fast fashion are changing what we buy, how we buy them, and how we eventually use them. The ultimate goal is to lengthen our garment life cycles, in order to deter more textile waste from entering landfill. This would eventually lead to less cluttered closets, higher quality purchases, and a more definitive idea of personal style. After all, in the words of Coco Chanel, ‘Elegance is refusal’. The idea is to think quality over quantity, and keeping the amount of clothing coming into, and leaving our closets, at a minimum.
Step 1 – Changing What We Buy
This requires us to first determine our personals style before attempting to build a wardrobe around said aesthetic. Cleansing your closet is always a great way to start. Assessing your current closet for areas of improvement, estimating the monetary value of your closet, and evaluating shopping habits allow you to not only create an optimal shopping budget tied to a specific time frame – be it monthly, quarterly, or annually – but also gives you a clearer understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Ensure that discarded items are either personally donated to friends, family, and the homeless – It is no longer enough to dump them into large donation bins without caring about the fate of these items. Instead, items can also be reused around the house in innovative ways – Let your creativity run wild!
Step 2 – Changing How We Buy
This step entails the most work on our part. In an attempt to properly align both our personal style, beliefs, and core values, research is required. Research is not limited to brand name apparel brands, but includes alternative ways of acquiring clothing such as local independent retailers and chains, vintage, local and foreign artisans, bespoke, trading / swapping web communities, and DIY.
Step 3 – Changing How We Use
This final step focuses on finding ways to lengthen our garment lifecycles – such practices include styling devices like layering and mix n’ matching. Any great stylist would tell you that the possibilities are endless even with a few pieces of clothing. Learning proper care tips is another crucial step in extending garment cycles. Ask your mom, local garment cleaners, retailers, and fashion students and professionals, the more knowledgeable you are about garment care the more value you will place on your closet. Lastly having a good tailor, eco-friendly garment cleaners, and cobblers are very important for performing repairs to damages or ill-fitting items, in an attempt to lengthen usefulness.