Green is the new black on the runway, but most of us can’t afford what we see within ten miles of a fashion show. There are cheap ways you can make your closet more eco-conscious, however, and here’s why you should.
Cotton Is Deadly
Over 60% of the clothes we buy are made of it, but 150g of pesticides and fertilizers goes into cultivating enough cotton for just one adult-sized t-shirt. More than 8,000 chemicals bleach and dye the cotton after cultivation before it hits stores. By the way, just one drop of the pesticides used in making this t-shirt in your blood stream would kill you.
It ends up killing lots of people, in fact—and not the buyers. Over 75% of our cotton is cultivated in developing countries where workers can’t afford safety equipment, which means 20,000 workers die annually from pesticides used in cotton production alone.
Sweatshops Are No Secrets
After cultivation, 20 million people (most of them underprivileged women and children who earn as little as 8 cents USD an hour) work to manufacture the cotton into clothing, towels, underwear, and the like. They have no access to education, they have a family to send money to, and they work in unhealthy and horrendous environments that frequently cause complications leading to death.
Reports were leaked in 2008 that Victoria’s Secret subcontracts a sweatshop in Jordan whose Bangledeshi workers were “slapped and beaten, not paid their full overtime pay and labored from 7 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m., seven days a week with one day off every three of four months.”
Sadly, Victoria’s Secret isn’t alone; almost everything sold in stores today are made in sweatshops with little better conditions. The average short-sleeve t-shirt from American Apparel, a company which manufactures its products in downtown L.A. by fairly paid workers, will generally set you back anywhere between $10 and $20. You can get three t-shirts from WalMart for that price. Add “organic cotton” to that fair trade t-shirt and you’re looking at a price between $15 and $30 per shirt. Small wonder why: safety and dignity cost money.
Consuming, Polluting, Wasting
With all the suffering that goes into one t-shirt, you’d think we’d treat our closet like gold. Both in 2009 and 2010, however, the average American spent over $1,000 on clothing. The average American also throws away about 70 lbs of clothing and textiles away annually.
The question, then, is this: how much suffering is your money worth?
Alternatively, how much would you pay to destroy the ecosystem? By throwing away 70 lbs of non-organic fabric clothing in landfills annually, we are polluting the soil and our water systems with the very same toxins that go into them during the manufacturing process.
But enough with the drama. Many people simply don’t know about the chemical processes of the clothing industry and that children not much older than our own are working day and night so they can eat. Others don’t care.
I was such a person up until this year (really). I used to shrug and say, “If not them, then who? Somebody’s got to do it.”
That changed when I heard not long after New Year’s 2010 that my underwear and clothing godsend Victoria’s Secret was responsible for the abuse of hundreds of underprivileged workers. This was around the same time that I watched the BBC series “Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts” on the Web. The two forces effectively K.O.-ed my spending habits. It dawned on me that my closet was full of biologically and ecologically harmful chemicals and the blood, sweat, and tears of disadvantaged people. I was a cog in the clothing industry’s machine, a useful tool in the perpetuation of profit and misery.
I was done. I am proud to say that I donated all clothes I would have otherwise thrown away and spent a total of $10 in 2010 on apparel (it was spent in a CVS of all places, when my two-year old pair of sandals finally broke and I was miles from home). Obviously, I can’t survive forever on the clothes I have now. I won’t be a size Small when I’m pregnant and I doubt I’ll be wearing sweater dresses and boots when I’m 80.
When I do get new clothes, however, I’ll be going down a different path this time.
- Buy from secondhand stores like your local PTA Thrift Shop (but don’t support Salvation Army; see previous post for more). There’s no shame in going secondhand—it keeps old clothes in circulation, which means less chemicals in our earth. Plus, vintage is always in.
- If you must buy new, buy organic and fair trade. Look for the fair trade logo, and don’t cheap out on organic cotton if you've got a newborn baby in the house. A baby’s skin is much more sensitive than ours.
- Recycle old clothes or swap them with friends to add variety to your wardrobe. You can try your hand at DIY to remodel old clothes into new things, like a pair of underwear made out of your favorite old t-shirt , a cute bag made out of Dad’s old ties, or a reusable shopping bag made out of your hubby’s shirt. Remember, reuse, upcycle, and recycle are still keywords when it comes to your closet!
Where Does the Frugal Part Come In?
- Remember that if you document the prices clothing you donate, you can write it off your taxes.
- Buying vintage often means buying cheap.
- Swapping, recycling, and upcycling are free! These combined will more than make up for the monetary cost of buying organic.
Bio: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go college, where recently she's been researching Nursing Scholarships and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and hogging her boyfriend’s PlayStation 3. To keep her sanity she enjoys practicing martial arts and bringing home abandon animals.
Did you like what you read here? Let me know, and I will pass it on to Lisa. If you have any other comments about clothing and it's effect on the world, please share them below. A huge thank you to Lisa for writing this very well-paced and well-informed piece.
Peace and serenity,