Who Pays The Price For Our Clothes?

Who Pays The Price For Our Clothes?

Words by Jenna Elsetouhy. If you like her writing, find her blog at www.thescintillation.com  Photography from Man Repeller by Simon Chetrit.


In this day and age, most of us acknowledge our wrongdoing, and try to be better. Whether that be through our eating habits, the way we treat people, what we are doing to better the social environment we are living in, whatever. But have you ever taken a moment to think about your clothes, and make the connection between the clothing racks and where they come from?


We are taught that the least we can do is small things to “save” the environment. Shut the lights off when you leave the room, utilize public transport, and take 5 minute showers. Although these are good ideas, in retrospect, they have an extremely minimal effect. MSNBC states that, “10 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint comes from the fashion industry, and apparel is the second largest polluter of fresh water globally.” That 10 percent is 1/10th of the leading cause of global warming, which are carbon & greenhouse gas emissions in general. “15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The cause of this is none other than the recent boom of fast fashion.


What is fast fashion? As Merriam-Webster puts it, fast fashion is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers”. This tactic was first demonstrated on the racks of your favorite stores, such as H&M, Primark and Forever 21; the fashion cycle went from having 4 seasons a year, to 11 or 12 (Tasha Lewis, Cornell). Then, couture picked up on this fast output of clothing, and clothes were going straight from the runway to the closets of the wealthy, before the show was even over. While this does not seem too significant, we must not forget that although some basic clothing can be made by machines and robotic assistance, there are people behind our clothing hangers, and these people are the ones paying the price.


The movie “The True Cost” debuted a new perspective on the effects of the fashion industry, and the major adaptation to fast distribution of clothing. The film documents the everlasting but never before seen burden put upon the residents of “third world countries”, the one in which they produce a major portion of our resources, for the most minimal price. We willingly splurge on the $150 sweater or buy 12 of the same pair of $3.80 leggings, but the people behind these clothes make practical crumbs, while enduring the terrible consequences of laborful jobs. Whether it is a salary of 60 cents a week, or terrible treatment from the foreign management, these people do not deserve to be mistreated in this way, or any other.


You may be asking yourself, What can I do? Am I supposed to walk around naked? Well, even though that is the natural way, and seems like the ideal situation, you most likely cannot or would rather not. Here are some ways you can help.

  • Shop secondhand: One of the best things I have done in the past few years is started shopping secondhand. Goodwill, Depop and other sites where used clothing is sold have become my best friends, and have helped me develop my own sense of style.
  • Shop ethically: If you aren’t willing to buy clothing of people you don’t know, then buy ethically. There are many smaller, more “mom ‘n’ pop” if you will, clothing labels that have cute threads. And truthfully, almost all of the “trends” we see in major chains or on the runway are heavily influenced and dependent on these smaller labels. One of my personal favorites is Kids of Immigrants, which is a label created by & for the children of those who come here from other parts of the world, seeking a better life.
  • Shop friends & family: By this, I don’t mean go to the mall with your friends & family, but shop the closets of your friends & family. Go raid your grandpa’s closet, or host a clothing swap with your friends. I can guarantee you will find at least a few things you love, without contributing to the mass destruction of ethnic groups & the earth.


Stay restless.


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