Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Fashion Industry's Supply Chain: Globalism's Race to the Bottom

Let's face it. Unless you're extremely involved in activism and journalism regarding sustainable and ethical clothing like those who run the Ethical Fashion Forum and MySource, an enormous database and intelligence host, you probably aren't aware of the minutia of details which amalgamate to create the many-headed hydra of the fashion industry. If the imagery of a hydra seems hyperbolic, perhaps it won't after reading this post.

The industry, as it stands, is not a monolithic institution. But it does produce more pollution than nearly every other industry, besides the granddaddy of them all, big oil. Popular high-end retailer Eileen Fisher brought the issue to the public spotlight late last year, prompting mainstream criticism of the supply chain behind the textile industry, one which cares little for the planet, its own workers' quality of life or health, or the resources consumed in its processes.

The second-largest polluter in the world has ravaged ecosystems and destroyed societies in its incessant demand to fill our closets with runway fashion, at the cheapest price possible. The price of extremely cheap goods often has a less overt price - that of human lives, annihilated local cultures and imploded trade systems favoring nations which have little or no worker protection laws.

Bangladesh exports chartIn 2013, the collapse of an eight-story commercial textile factory killed over 1,100 people and maimed or injured 2,500 more. The catastrophe occurred in Dhaka District's Savar, in Bangladesh. While those who worked in the building's banks and retail shops were told to evacuate after the discovery of cracks, greedy textile bosses ordered their factory workers back to work the following day, upon which the building collapsed. This is merely one example of the many consequences of global neoliberal trade policies which favor low-cost mass-production of primary goods like textiles.

Would you die for a pair of jeans?

Cotton & Dyes

Cotton is an inefficient and greedy crop, which unfortunately constitutes nearly half of the world's clothing. Reliance on an extremely disproportionate amount of water has led the crop to serve as a catalyst for environmental degradation across the globe. As water becomes an increasingly valuable resource, it is unbelievable and inexcusable that the market should continue its obsession with this unsustainable crop. The Aral Sea, whose sources of water were diverted to help irrigate a growing Asian cotton economy, is now virtually nonexistent. The overuse of pesticides in the production of cotton has also left an obviously devastating mark on the environment.

Chemicals used in the dying of unsustainable textiles poison rivers and devastate aquatic ecosystems across the world. Half a trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year, reports AlterNet in its citation of research done by Yale's Environment 360. The same research also states that China is responsible for nearly 40% of these chemical discharges.

Professor Ake Bergman of both Stockholm University and Tongji University in Shanghai calls the degradation of Chinese river pollution "breathtaking," with his team monitoring discharges in the immensely critical Yangtze river, which also receives discharge from chemical plants, petroleum refineries, nuclear fuel processing plants and metal smelters. While these industries are definitely separate from the fashion industry, they are complicit in their mutual apathy towards the world we all share.

It may seem nearly impossible to shop sustainably and ethically.

It's a bleak outlook, to be certain. But there are simple steps we can take in our day to day life to do our part:

1. Spread the news and provide alternatives
 Instead of sitting atop an ecological pedestal (one still filled with holes, surely) and judging others for their purchasing habits, seek to provide them with positive alternatives and an open discourse. Yelling at your friends for shopping at Walmart isn't going to make them stop, but showing them how shopping locally and purchasing ethically and sustainably sourced goods can help the Earth may better influence them.

2. Become a master of slow fashion
Sustainable fashion is still FASHION. You can be the artistic diva you really are while refusing to contribute to a supply chain which butchers the planet - by thinking intelligently about outfits and purchasing fashion staples that can be worn more often, you can greatly reduce your environmental footprint.

3. Contribute to local businesses
Find a local boutique or business you enjoy shopping at which sources their goods in a ethical manner and shop until you drop! While the small-end of this point is merely seeking out such businesses, the more influential distance this point can be taken to involves encouraging communication between green-friendly shops and even cooperation. If a council of eco-friendly boutiques can be established, businesses would much rather hold themselves to similar standards and regulations than have a distant technocratic institution reach its invisible hand down to squish them, often while ignoring the larger grievances of mega-corporations who they actually subsidize.

At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do. But that doesn't diminish what you can do, so get out there, spread the word and continue to fight the good fight.

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