Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Hand Style: Extending the Life of Your Used Clothing

By now, you’ve likely heard about the environmental damage and poor working conditions on the manufacturing end of the tech industry. We in America are drawn to glossy new gadgets, and as soon as they break or become outdated, it’s usually cheaper and easier for us to discard the item completely and replace it with a new one. While it is nice to equip ourselves with new smartphones, computers, and small appliances whenever we can afford an upgrade, we tend to put little thought into what happens to those goods before and after we own them. A new iPhone might serve it’s purpose and bring us joy for a year or two, but rarely do we take into account the hazardous work and lasting environmental effects involved in the production and discarding of that same iPhone.

Now, consider the clothing industry; how often do you buy new school clothes, a summer outfit, or pajamas with the intention of holding onto those garments all your life? If you’re like most of us, you probably plan to replace at least some of your wardrobe as soon as the items feel worn or out of style. Companies with the most affordable clothing—H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Target, to name a few—produce clothes to be current and inexpensive, and often only carry a line of clothing for weeks at a time under the assumption that we’ll be back for more soon. Manufacturers have found ways to produce the fits and styles we want at a low price, and that’s made it much easier to maintain a stylish wardrobe that rotates according to what’s “in.” So, rather than settling on an expensive, high quality garment and wearing it for years, many of us Americans have fallen into the habit of buying cheap clothes with the intention of cycling through them quickly. To quote comedian John Oliver, “trendy clothes are cheaper than ever, and cheap clothes are trendier than ever.”




You might be wondering, how do companies make money selling such inexpensive clothing?
The simple answer is, the majority of the clothing industry now profits by way of volume rather than quality. Many companies can afford to sell astonishingly low-priced items because production is faster and cheaper than ever. Only 2% of the clothes in major American retail stores are made in the United States, and the rest are shipped here after being produced overseas.


It’s become much cheaper to outsource apparel manufacturing to developing countries like Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, India, Turkey, and China, and many of these manufacturing locations are classified as sweatshops. While the detrimental effects of sweatshops are numerous and complex, here’s an abbreviated list of how they operate (sources for each statistic below post):

1) A study showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8%, while consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop.

2) Sweatshops do not alleviate poverty. The people who are forced to work must spend the majority of their paycheck on food for their families to survive.

3) Child labor is especially common in agriculture (98 million, or 59% of child laborers work in agriculture), followed by services (54 million) and industry (12 million).

4) The majority of child laborers are found in Asia and the Pacific. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence, with one in five children in child labor.

5) According to one survey, more than 2/3 of US workers experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week. Assuming a full-time, full-year work schedule, workers lose an average of $2,634 annually due to violations.

6) A study showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8%, while consumers would be willing to pay 15% more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop.

7) Sweatshops do not alleviate poverty. The people who are forced to work must spend the majority of their paycheck on food for their families to survive.

8) Child labor is especially common in agriculture (98 million, or 59% of child laborers work in agriculture), followed by services (54 million) and industry (12 million).

9) The majority of child laborers are found in Asia and the Pacific. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence, with one in five children in child labor.

10) According to one survey, more than 2/3 of US workers experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week. Assuming a full-time, full-year work schedule, workers lose an average of $2,634 annually due to violations.

11) Because women make up 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers, some employers force them to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing appropriate health benefits.
In addition to supporting sweatshops, buying cheap clothes and cycling through them quickly produces a significant fraction of the landfill contents produced by the U.S. Many clothes made from synthetic fibers aren't sustainable and don't easily break down once they become waste.

So, how can you stop the perpetuation of this unsustainable system?



Buying clothing second hand tends to have a negative reputation due to worries regarding cleanliness and fashion trends, but there are dozens of reputable shops that provide unique and high-quality clothing to people of all income levels. Plus, since the recent spike in popularity of vintage style, it's easier than ever to salvage special clothing you might not find anywhere else. Buying lightly used clothing ensures that your money goes solely to the shop owner, and plays no part in perpetuating unsustainable manufacturing behaviors by brand name corporations.



If you're in the position to upgrade your wardrobe and are looking to get rid of clothes you don't need, there are many programs you can donate to. Programs like Goodwill, Dress for Success, and local shelters near you will not only to provide necessary clothing to homeless and low-income individuals, but also help keep your wearable garments out of landfills. By buying used clothing and donating items you no longer wear, you give each item a chance to live longer and avoid becoming trash.

Even torn or damaged clothing can be donated to art stores like Scrap. When you throw an old piece of clothing in the trash, you guarantee the end of it's lifecycle. When you drop it off at a recycling center or creative reuse organization, however, you're giving your old garments the chance to be converted into something useful or decorative by artists and homemakers.

Flannel pillows sewn from second-hand Menswear
Custom upholstery made from salvaged XL jeans.

Next time you're buying clothing, take a moment to consider how long you're likely to own that item. Are you buying the T-shirt because it's a valuable addition to your wardrobe, or merely because it's on sale? Consider whether or not it might be wiser to hold off and invest your money in a nicer shirt; one that could potentially have a longer life in your wardrobe, and go on to provide comfort for someone else when you're finished with it. Even if you gravitate towards used and sustainable clothing choices half the time, you're likely to save tons of money down the road.

Sources

1: United States General Accounting Office. "Sweatshops in the U.S: Opinions on Their Extent and Possible Enforcement Options." GAO, 1988. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

2: United States General Accounting Office. "Sweatshops in the U.S: Opinions on Their Extent and Possible Enforcement Options." GAO, 1988. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

3: International Labor Organization. "Global Estimates on Child Labour." International Labour Conference, 2013. Web Accessed March 2, 2014.

4: Bernhardt, Annette, Ruth Milkman, Nik Theodore et al. "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities." National Employment Law Project, 2009. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

5: Bureau of International Labor Affairs. "List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor." US Department of Labor, 2014. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

6: Robert Pollin, Justine Burns, and James Heintz. "Global apparel production and sweatshop labour: can raising retail prices finance living wages?" Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2004. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

7: Elliott, Kimberly Ann and Richard B. Freeman. "White Hats or Don Quixotes? Human Rights Vigilantes in the Global Economy." National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

8: Miller, John. "Why economists are wrong about sweatshops and the antisweatshop movement." Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, 2003. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

9: International Labor Organization. "Global Estimates on Child Labour." International Labour Conference, 2013. Web Accessed March 2, 2014.

10: Bernhardt, Annette, Ruth Milkman, Nik Theodore et al. "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities." National Employment Law Project, 2009. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

11: Clarren, Rebecca. "Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists." Ms. Magazine, 2006. Web Accessed February 19, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. There's a chance you're eligible to receive a Apple iPhone 7.

    ReplyDelete