Fast Fashion 101

The most recent post over here at karabemisyoga.com was a short, introductory, factual write up about the often overlooked dark truth of how our clothing is produced in our modern, globalized world. A remembrance of a day in April when over a thousand people lost their lives stitching together pieces of fabric to be shipped all over the developed world and sold with no mention of the countless people whose hands assembled the clothing, other than a tag that is rarely checked labeled “Made in Bangladesh.”

The anti-industry name associated with this type of fashion is “Fast Fashion,” and it’s become the norm these days. I say anti-industry for lack of a better descriptor, and what I mean by this is that once you learn the ins-and-outs (that often go un-publicized) of the Fast Fashion industry – the labor conditions, pollution, waste, product quality, etc. – you’ll quickly turn against it and search for alternatives.

To understand the term Fast Fashion a little better,  think of Fast Fashion the same way you probably think of fast food – yes, eating at McDonalds is quick and easy, tastes “good,” and gives an instant satisfaction, but after you go home your belly might hurt and after you read up on what those “chicken” nuggets are really made of, you probably won’t go back for a while. Similar to walking into the golden arches, you may at first have a feeling of satisfaction, the pastel-floral-pink racerback is cute enough and at that price how could you resist? But when you get home and try it on again the fit turns out to be just a little bit off and the feel of the polyester on your skin isn’t that nice, so you might wear it out once or twice, but it quickly makes it’s way to the bottom of the drawer, so undervalued that you don’t even bother to fold it, it’s just wadded up lost to the world forever.

Or lets say that you love this top and wear it multiple times in one season, that’s great – to give a product a full life instead of losing it in your wardrobe or dumping it in the trash, but the cheap material (polyester/acrylic/etc.) doesn’t last through many wash cycles. Soon enough the seams start to come out, but it’s not worth any upkeep or care, no one would ever bother to have a low quality item dry cleaned for example (and the skill of mending has no value when you can just go out and buy a replacement for a few bucks.) Instead the falling-apart top gets taken to the thrift store where it won’t even get put on the over-crowded racks because it has no value, it winds up in the trash in the end after only a few months.

Look into the pink top’s production and you’ll find environmental pollution and lax labor laws in developing nations where the industry has been outsourced for the past few decades. Rivers run rainbow colors in China, synthetic material is often oil based, using up non-renewable resources, and all of the international shipping from seed to fabric to T-shirt damage the environment. Of course the reason why production has been shifted to other countries is cheap labor, low taxes, and nearly nonexistent environmental protection laws.

A shirt made in Bangladesh is made for a fraction of the costs it could be made in the U.S. or other developed nations, but that cheap price tag has hidden costs, i.e. Rana Plaza. These extremely low wages paid abroad are often not even at a living wage standard; meaning workers might make their country’s minimum wage, but still they struggle to get by day to day.

As if remembering the human toll and struggle that goes into the production of our cheap clothing wasn’t enough to sway you to shop differently and more ethically when possible, then consider as well the price that the environment pays (which was only skimmed here.) And ask yourself if that $5 pink-pastel top is really worth it.

There are alternatives to Fast Fashion, some you can read about on this site and some that maybe you can share with me. May you happily shift into well informed, ethical, well made shopping and away from Fast Fashion.

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Rana Plaza Remembered

Rana Plaza, located just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh was an eight story building that collapsed due to poor construction and lack of maintenance on April 24, 2013. Thousands of workers were housed within the walls of Rana Plaza and were forced to go to work although there was knowledge of a large crack in a column of the structure that eventually led to the collapse. One thousand-three hundred-thirty four people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand people were injured.

One thousand-three hundred- thirty four (1,134) people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand (2,000) people were injured.

 

The thousands of laborers worked for very low wages for big-name western companies such as Joe Fresh (Canada,) Carrefour (France,) Primark (UK,) J.C. Penney (U.S.,) and Zara (Spain.) As of this 2014 Forbes article some companies had paid  financial compensation to the families of the deceased, and some had not. Other large companies like Walmart and the Children’s Place (both U.S.) had paid compensation even though they did not house workers in the building at the time of the collapse, but had  at some point in the past. On top of financial compensation, those found responsible for the collapse were charged with murder back in 2015.

Even though such large North American and European clothing manufacturers are overdressedassociated with the collapse at Rana Plaza (and countless other collapses and tragedies,) consumers often fall deaf to such news. Personally, I first learned of Rana Plaza a few months after the tragedy via an NPR interview by Terry Gross with author Elizabeth Cline speaking about her highly recommended book on the Fast Fashion industry, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.”

My shopping habits have changed drastically since hearing that interview and reading the book (I haven’t shopped at or even entered a large clothing chain since summer 2014.) You can read about my lifestyle changes in previous blog posts which outline hosting clothing swaps, a great alternative to supporting Fast Fashion.

Swap in full Swing

 

I don’t write this post to be self-righteous or to encourage readers to shift their shopping habits as drastically as I have, but rather to inform consumers, because we are all consumers, of a tragedy that they may not be aware of. The collapse at Rana Plaza happened just three years ago,but I’d bet that many shoppers have never heard of it. You can dig and dig and dig and find many other similar stories of ill-treated, cheaply hired labor in developing countries. Laborers whose stories are not shared enough and who may even sacrifice their lives in poor working conditions for a cheap price tag in a department store. Bangladeshi workers work for a fraction of the cost of other laborers elsewhere and are often forced to work 12 hour days in unsafe conditions. The lives of laborers are the hidden costs of cheap clothing that we blindly consume.

It’s never fun to be the bearer of bad news, and I often feel that I’m a “Debbie Downer” because I share tragic news with friends and readers, but if we never know the truth then we’ll never change our ways, and if we, the consumers never change our spending habits then we’ll never shift the way of production. Whether you decide to go to a second hand shop this weekend instead of a mall or department store, or share this link or story with a friend, every little bit helps and adds up eventually. But we have a lot of sharing and changing to do to defeat the Fast Fashion industry.

Sustainably Fill Your Closet – 6 Tips

In my last post I outlined the many negative effects of the fashion industry and how learning of them altered my shopping habits. In the past I used to shop somewhat regularly. It wasn’t often a matter of desperately needing an item, instead it was just something to do in my down time. I would check out sales and feel really excited and happy when I found what I thought was a good deal. Sometimes I would even buy something without even having any need for it, and maybe not even liking it much, therefore it might have found its way to the back of the closet, and then much later, to the thrift store.

Now I give so much more consideration to my shopping, and here’s how.

  1. Just get by: If you saw me out and about and paid attention to what I was wearing, then you would notice that my clothes are on heavy rotation. I have a relatively small amount of clothing that gets worn again and again. Specific to me, being a kindergarten ESL teacher and a yoga teacher, I am able to get away with going very casual, for example jeans and a baggy sweater. You might not have this sort of lifestyle and may find yourself requiring more variety in your wardrobe, if that’s the case, then there are ways to obtain them sustainably.
  2. Second-hand shopping: There’s still a way to have a shopping hobby, but without supporting the fashion industry, and that is to shop second-hand. Of course, second-hand shopping is more like finding a needle in a haystack at times, but when you do find that needle it feels like it’s the shiniest needle in all of the world since it probably took some time and luck to come across it. Here in Korea there are second-hand shops in most neighborhoods. This is my favorite one- The Beautiful Store. Another option would be consignment stores, which are costlier but guarantee less digging.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

  3. Swap clothes with friends (and strangers): It’s common to lose interest in things that were bought long ago or that were not quite right but got purchased anyway. Instead of tossing thes things in a landfill, host or attend a clothing swap. That way you can feel satisfied with a cleaned out closet and then quickly fill it up with some fun new things.
  4. Read labels: Imagine if people read clothing tags the same way that they read nutrition labels and avoided toxic fabrics as much as they avoid GMO foods. It’s become a new habit of mine to check out where things are made and what they’re made of. Shop around and choose the more sustainable option of what you’re buying. Recently I have done this when shopping for headphones and yoga pants and feel prouder of my things even if nobody knows that they’re a bit more sustainable. Choosing something that’s better for you and for the environment can give a small sense of pride.
  5. Shop locally: If possible buy items made in your area, or at least country. That’s not very common
    in the US anymore, but can be done, American Apparel comes to mind. You could also shop on Etsy for up-cycled clothes. Here in Korea it’s much easier to do, a lot of small shops sell Made in Korea.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

  6. Buy Natural Materials: Choosing a wool knit over acrylic will definitely cost more, unless found at a thrift store, but you get what you pay for. Spending more on high quality will mean that it will actually feel nicer to the touch (and you will be wearing it on your skin,) it will look nicer, and last longer. Other natural materials to keep an eye out for are organic cottons, silk, hemp, leather and suede.

Conscious consumerism takes more time and effort, but after practice it will develop into unconscious-concious consumerism, if that makes any sense. You will begin to be more aware of the things that you bring home with you and where and how they came to be. It really is similar to watching the breath in yoga, at first it’s not easy to give the breath full attention, but after hours and years of practice, it just begins to be the new normal. Likewise, choosing to shop more sustainably can soon become your new normal, too.
A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

Yoga off the Mat – A Mindful Closet

Yoga is much more than a physical practice. The mindfulness that is practiced during yoga starts to happen in day-to-day situations such as more healthful eating, calming the mind in times of stress, and even in the way we consume. A few years ago I became more aware of the fashion industry and have since then drastically changed my consuming habits.

We don’t often think that long about a purchase anymore. In terms of clothes, if it’s on sale, fits, and looks cute, then in the cart it goes. It could be useful at some point, right? But often times that $5.00 top gets tossed into an overcroweded closet never to be seen again. This is a common happening for a lot of (especially) women in our culture. Advertisements, Hollywood, and popular culture throw messages at us all over the place to buy more, more, more. But where are all of these clothes coming from? 

The line of production of a piece of clothing is a lot longer than we think. First, the fabric starts out as a raw material. Let’s look at that $5.00 top and assume that it’s a T-shirt. If it’s cotton then it would have started out as a seed. According to the research done by Planet Money of NPR, who followed a T-shirt throughout its entire life-cycle, 90% of all cotton seeds are GMO. Then there’s the resources needed to grow that little seed. A lot of water is needed for cotton and that water sprays off the pesticides and fertilizers that are used on the cotton, seeping into the water basin (buying organic cotton is an idea.) So already when we take a closer look at just the cotton that will eventually become a cheap T-shirt, there are quite a lot of negative effects. This is assuming that the T-shirt is 100% cotton, what if it was a blend, say made with 5% spandex to give it to some stretch. Spandex is a synthetic fabric made using more (chemical) resources in production. I attempted to do basic research into this and was scared off by all of the chemical jargon that I couldn’t even pronounce (macroglycol and diisocyanate to name just two.) Test your patience with this read.

After the cotton is harvested it gets shipped to another location, most likely in another country, to be turned into fabric. This process might include such steps as washing the cotton, spinning it into yarn, turning that yarn into fabric and dying it. The dyes are not often natural anymore and run into the local bodies of water. You can google images of rivers running all colors of the rainbow in manufacturing countries. Then the fabric gets cut and sewn into T-shirts. Most of this production no longer happens in the developed world. Thanks to globalization and outsourcing the job gets done by populations in poverty who will do it for much less.

Most clothing tags read: Vietnam, Turkey, China, or Bangladesh, just to name a few. In these countries the laborers can be paid much less and the working and environmental standards are much lower or non-existent. Chemicals and pollutants can be harmful to their health and do damage to the local environment, too. Again, according to the work done by Planet Money, some workers in Bangladesh work six days a week and make about $68/month. Here’s a link to a video series about the process made by the podcast.

Wages may be a low cost to the producers, but the long-term and often unthought-of cost of pollution and dangers to health is often overlooked. In April of 2013 there was a massive and devastating building collapse in a Bangladeshi factory. The multi-story building housed hundreds of employees put to work to produce clothing items for around 30 big names in the industry. The building was not well maintained which probably caused the collapse and took the lives of around 1,000 people. All working to produce cheap fashion for us in developed nations. When given thought, it makes that $5.00 T-shirt seem a little more expensive in terms of hidden costs- some even in human lives.

Possibly made in a similar factory as that which collapsed.

Possibly made in a similar factory as that which collapsed.

That tragic incident was the turning point for me. The event was framed by author Elizabeth Cline, in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. In the interview the author details the problems in the industry that she discovered through intense field research in countries like Bangladesh. 

After listening to the interview I began to realize that there was really no need for me to shop as much anymore. My closet had been full, and bursting, for most of my adult life. Shopping to me was a hobby, a way to spend an afternoon. Yes, I got that rush when I scored a great deal and even bragged about it to my sister, but that little rush and hobby had to be altered out of respect for the negative effects it had in other parts of the world. And really it wasn’t that hard to do.

Escaping from the pull towards trends and fast fashion may not be easy at first, it requires a change of behavior as well as the mindset to be happy with what you have. There are certainly days when I see something in an ad and think to myself, how cute and nice it looks and wouldn’t it be great to have? But I quickly find my way back to the core thought that, on second thought- No, I don’t NEED it, I can happily do without.

Best of luck to you on this journey of lifestyle change for the better. More blog posts in the future on specific tips and experiences.

Don’t Shop, Swap!

Clothing swaps are great alternatives to shopping, and make for excuses to have a social gathering with old friends or new. They’re very easy to put together and require very little planning. Plus, everyone will hopefully go home with something new (to them) and exciting!

I first attended a clothing swap with my boyfriend’s mom where she lives in the south of France. On a fall afternoon a large group of women gathered in a friend’s home and laid out items that no longer got much use from them, to be shared and swapped with all in attendance. It was a lot of fun and a few years later I found myself hosting a swap in my expat community of Busan, South Korea. Here’s a quick how-to on hosting a clothing swap. Details are specific to an expat community, but a swap can be held anywhere.

Browsing items :)

Browsing items 🙂

  • Invites: Social media makes planning a breeze, with a few clicks and a nice photo you’re done! For my events I made the events public, open all in the community. For your friends you could make it more intimate by inviting them by phone or even send out some nice stationary, but doing things electronically saves paper and time.
  • Choose a Time: I have had a lot of success hosting swaps when the seasons are changing. People tend to pack up their shorts and tanks and pull out the sweaters in the fall, so that’s a great time to host an event, likewise spring is another great time. I encourage people to bring summer and winter clothes as people might be vacationing to warmer places, or can store the items for later.
  • Inform Your Guests:  Some people may not know what a clothing swap is, so let them know that it’s a chance to hand in unwanted clothes for others’ lightly used items. You can have your event be for ladies only, or extend it out to men or even make it a family event for children as well, as I’m sure a lot of families may have clothes that are getting too small and equally would be in need for someone else’s larger sizes! Be sure to plan the event a few weeks in the future to give people time to go through their closets. Decide if you want to include accessories and footwear and let everyone know. Be sure to tell guests that only lightly used items are appreciated.
  • People at Table Talk English Cafe, swapping away!Chose a Venue: As a very casual event you could host a swap in your living room, or on the porch in warmer months. You could make it more fun by incorporating a potluck. For a more public event, seek out a local cafe and encourage your guests to support the cafe by purchasing a drink or food. The chosen location might not even charge you rent if you let them know guests will be buying their fare.
  • Arrange Drop Off Times: Expat communities see people come and go routinely. Plan your swap to coincide with the waves of expats coming in and out. For example, here in Korea the school year begins in March, so people leave in February and newbies arrive in March- a great time to host a swap. In order to collect off of the people who are flying out, ask the cafe if you can collect a few weeks early and store there, if that’s not an option, consider storing and collecting at your place.
  • Donate the Extras: Storing all of the left overs might not be reasonable, so search your local area for a charity shop, orphanage, or women’s shelter to take the clothes that remain. Call ahead to make sure that they’ll accept what you’ll have to bring.

Hosting a swap does not require much at all and can be such a fun event. For my first swap, I held a talk at the beginning for those interested about the sustainable aspect of the swap, which might be a good idea if you want to give your event a deeper meaning.

Here is the Facebook Event link to my upcoming Swap in Busan on March 14th. The swap is open to the public. As the host I encourage anyone to come have a look through the clothes, whether you have anything to contribute or not. The reason for this is that by taking an item off of someone rather than buying it new in the shop, you save the item from the landfill and also don’t contribute to mass consumption… but that’s a whole other blog post!


 

Update, here a few photos from the Swap that was held in Busan on the 14th of March. It was a success I believe, with people walking away with mounds of clothes. I learned from this event and am hopeful that next season’s will be even more successful and run more smoothly. This past event I happened to become ill during the swap and was running a fever for most of it, thankfully some good friends stepped in and helped me out so much. Thanks ladies!