“ I believe a change in our behavior as consumers can change the world, or at least make it possible for life, as we know it, to continue.” -Bruno Pieters, founder of Honest by
When it comes to the subject of our clothes, it seems that either buying, wearing or selling them are activities that often don’t involve accessing or understanding information about them. Sure, you could tell someone which shop you bought a dress or shirt at, how long you’d had it and what you liked to wear it with. Sometimes you might even know what material it was made out of. But if asked where the material for that garment was grown, whether that material was completely naturally grown, if your piece was handmade, where it was made, what kind of person might have made it and by what means it actually ended up in your hands, you might start feeling like a teenager in high school caught doodling in your notebook when the teacher asked you a question related to a microbiology lesson.
But do you care? You may not have cared about the cell structure of a caterpillar as a 17-year old thinking about what to wear for that weekend’s party, but surely you care about the materials that you are spending most of your life in? To borrow a bit from what you probably learned in science class (but may have forgotten), your skin is the largest organ on your body. It is your first barrier to any kind of harm from your outside environment, and your skin cells interact with the cells that perform vital functions within your body. When you wear clothes, the cellular composition of the materials those clothes are made from are in constant contact with your skin cells, and thus with the functioning of your body.
Take your run of the mill, cotton t-shirt, a version of which is owned by nearly every single North American. Most major retailers that sell cotton t-shirts manufacture them from conventional cotton, one of the most pesticide-dependant crops and accounting for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the US alone. Since most of these retailers source their cotton from abroad, where pressure on cotton growers is intense and legislation often requires the use of pesticides, you can be sure that your t-shirt may very likely have been marinated in some cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin (to name a few). To boot, a lot of t-shirts aren’t made by people who have fantastic careers putting together beautiful clothes, but severely underpaid factory workers who are spending up to 18 hours a day sitting at the sewing machine in poorly maintained factories, just to make ends meet. Have you started caring yet?
With a whole new era of consumers growing up in and being born into middle-class families that have a large amount of disposable income to use on products that they believe enhance the quality of their lives, the stories behind these products are becoming increasingly more important for the well-being of this Earth, and consequentially, all our human lives. Fashion, which includes anything and everything related to items worn on our bodies, presents a cross-roads when it comes to choosing between lots of stuff but complete oblivion to the impact of that stuff, and actively seeking information for a satisfying and munificent outcome. Fashion has become the ultimate tool of a corporate network that creates huge profits for a small amount of the world’s population. It mainly does this by making people think they need and want the things it is producing en masse. It therefore should certainly have the ability to work against this destructive consumerism, but how? By sharing the information that can break down the structures that have bred ignorance and resorting to supposed convenience, and in turn creating enriching experiences that weave a network of human interaction and true appreciation of life. Studies have shown that our ‘developed’ world has gone beyond any recognizable point of economic growth, because having more material things is definitely no longer a marker for quality of life. It is up to us now to create real connections to the people around us, and find deep solace and new ideas in the sharing of information and experience, before the ability to understand that information is lost forever.
Image courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.