You’ve been hearing it at lot lately: you should recycle! Don’t buy things made out of plastic! Are your clothes ethically made? Why is everyone going on about pre-loved fashion? Why should I care about a plastic straw or chewing gum? Danae Martinez has some home truths to share with us about our buying habits and a Carlow-based solution to ease us into ethical buying
WELL, it all has to with sustainability. And what does that mean? Basically, sustainability is the ability that the earth has, or doesn’t have, to absorb all of the chemicals that are produced by humans, when we make clothes, drive cars, and even when we feed animals we eat. It also has to do with the resources that we are using up and will no longer be available for future generations.
Sustainability-oriented thinking believes that we should reduce how much impact we are having on the environment and urges us think about the future, because in the future we are going to need our precious environment. I mean, do you really want to buy a pair of jeans now for €10 and have no running water when you are 60? Is it really worth sacrificing the wants of today for the needs of tomorrow?
We need to stop; we need to stop listening to the shop windows and advertisements telling us to get the latest trend for only €5. We need to say no to the message of ‘buy! buy! buy!’ because the trends never stop and buying that dress will not make you more confident (we,, maybe for a night) and it’s not worth causing damage to the environment and our future selves for a new outfit pic on Instagram. Have I guilted your conscience yet?
I’m not here to make you feel bad and remind you of all the bad choices you have made and all the polar bears you have killed so far … well, maybe just a little.
If you haven’t closed the newspaper yet, there’s hope for you. Actually, there’s hope for all of us. Companies all over the world have been making changes; there’s a new green awakening. Companies like Google, Tesla, McDonald’s and even Tesco are adapting new and environmentally-conscious practices.
But why are companies trying to appeal to us by ‘going green’? Maybe big business tries to be ethical because it is good for humanity – or maybe they do it just to get on our good side, because we are ***good*** and we like our corporations to be good, too. Still, most of us are wondering what this sustainability thing is all about. What does it mean for our future? Will future generations have a future if we use all their resources?
I have done the homework for you and it’s been shown in a Harvard University study that companies that are good to the environment do well financially. We, as consumers, are willing to pay more for items that are ethically made, or things that are not going to be made out of plastic, or things we are not going to have to throw in the bin the week after we bought them. Big companies are interested in that; they want to make more money; so if customers are willing to pay for things, they’ll tell us whatever we want to hear, even that they are going green – which we know may not be completely true.
But at least we are talking about it. We are demanding better practices from business. Sustainability has been brought up as a conversation in social media platforms like Instagram and has increased a third in the last year. An industry that has been a concern for many people and is kind of an obvious one is fashion. Fashion is one of the five biggest pollutants on the planet, which is probably not a shocker for anyone anymore; and now with the idea of fast fashion, even less so.
If you have been living under a rock and haven’t heard about fast fashion, here’s a crash course. The fashion industry realised eons ago that it could make so much more money if it sold cheaper clothes to more people than expensive clothes to only the few. So fashion moguls took to creating multiple collections that are launched weekly instead of seasonally, like before. Fast fashion is trendy, cheap, and will usually tear during a night out when we are smashed on the floor drunk, waiting for the bus home. Would you care though? You bought a trendy t-shirt with a thousand sequins for €7 online for a night out and it disintegrates – big deal!
But you should care, because that shirt is made out of cotton, and producing cotton leaves people in countries like Africa or India with contaminated water, or no water at all, and multiple health problems. You should care because cotton production throws chemicals into the air causing, according to some sources, 80% of cancers. Do you know anyone affected by cancer? I do. Well, our t-shirts may have caused that.
And that’s a t-shirt. To produce a jacket means that we are using 25 years’ worth of water consumption for one person. So far, the fashion world has lapped up 200 billion tons of water, consuming the water that could have been drunk by 70,000 people over their entire lifetime!
Did I shock you? Well, brace yourself for this one: the fashion and cotton industry are the two industries where slave labour is common. Great, right? Next time that you are buying that shirt or those trousers, and hopefully not that jacket, think about all the people that are still slaves. They have no choice about when they get up to work, what time they go home; they don’t have breaks or vacations; no-one cares about their benefits; no-one care if they’re sick, they’re pregnant or they’ve just been run over; employers only care about them working to make those clothes.
So check the label for cotton on the way to the cash register. Would you look weird doing it? Probably, but those children and women stuck in slave labour, getting paid €11.50 a month will appreciate it. Instead, choose another material, like alpaca, wool, linen. Make it your goal not to frequent shops that sell cheap clothes and accessories, because cheap clothes mean cheap labour.
And if you decide to screw the slaves because you really want those clothes and you can’t live without them, you can be part of the statistic that says that if the fashion industry keeps producing cheap clothes to satisfy our demands, by 2030 we will bring upon the world a catastrophe that will leave coastal towns under water, that will leave people scarce of food and the coral reef extinct.
That fact shocked everyone into action a few years ago. Remember Emma Watson wearing a dress made of plastic bottles? When Adidas launched runners made out of ocean waste? Or when H&M launched the ‘conscious collection’? Again, fair play to them, but it doesn’t feel like a lasting effect. However, there are companies that took the matter a little more seriously; companies like Weekday makes all its items out of recyclable materials, Reformation has a scale for you to know exactly how much water and carbon emissions were used to make any particular item, and Patagonia offers to repair the items you bought from it or buy them back when you’re done using them.
Some other companies are promising to do great things like committing to sustainable or recyclable cotton, to use other materials, or be 100% sustainable in the future. But we will see if it’s true when it actually happens.
So far, the majority of the fast fashion industry is not doing too well. In a report last year, it was shown that the fashion industry is slowing down on the sustainability efforts, that 40% of companies don’t even have it included as part of their action schedules, and that between the biggest players sustainability efforts completely stopped.
The report tries to explain that the fashion industry thinks sustainability is a trend, that it will pass, and that people are not going to be interested in it after a while. It’s through your purchases and mine that we will prove them wrong. And they are wrong: 75% of people think sustainability is important and 50% say they will change to more sustainable brands in the future. Well, the future is now – if we want to have a future, that is.
So now you are ready; you have the courage to say ‘no’ to the store windows; you are not going to click that advertiser banner at the side of the screen with the 20% off and the €5 tag. But if you still have a night out and have ‘nothing to wear’, where do you go?
I think you know that what I’m about to suggest, and it’s a scary thought. You imagine this place as dingy and dark, with smelly clothes that have been worn by someone else’s dead grandmother, right? Wrong! Vintage shops, or ‘consignment clothes stores’ as they are called in the USA, are not scary places: trust me. I also used to think that way, but then I stepped into a vintage shop and it changed my mind. They’re full of fun clothes, with character, fabrics that feel long lasting, and they’re clean. We all have clothes, and when we don’t want them we donate them, and we are not dead; and usually before donating them, we clean them; and even if you are a lazy hound, the shop owner does it for you. So don’t be scared of stepping into a vintage shop: there are even clothes with the tags still on them sometimes.
Here in Carlow, there’s Dress to Impress on Tullow Street, a lovely vintage shop run by owner Breda Hewy. Stepping into her store was like entering wonderland full of colours, fun dresses, and the loveliest accessories. Her scarves were to die for, and I wanted to get them all.
Breda is really into sustainability – obviously – and considers it to be a really positive movement. She’s glad that more people are buying and recycling second-hand clothes. She’s committed to the sourcing of good quality products, and the mantra of ‘repair, reuse and recycle’. She hopes people keep recycling clothes and stay away from fast fashion.
So now you have no excuse; now you know where to get your clothes, what to stay away from, and if you decide to buy cheap, what you are a part of.
Don’t let your wants of today take away your needs –and somebody else’s needs – of tomorrow. We can all work together to make sure that we get good quality products at a fair price, for us and for all people involved. Because people, and not clothes, is what’s important.