The Labor Behind the Label
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Today I wanted to get into a little bit more about the social impact of fashion – the labor behind the label if you will. Last week we talked with Pala Eyewear about how fashion can positively impact communities and reduce its impact on the environment. There are so many other companies that are doing great things like this.
Here are a few brands I’ve been keeping my eyes on:
- For Days is a company I love that’s clothes use sustainable materials and are 100% recyclable. They offer ‘Take Back Bags’ so that if you have any clothing you don’t want anymore (any brand, any condition), they will take it back and make sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill. They also give back proceeds to support social and environmental non-profits.
- Able is a company I have loved for a few years now. They not only have beautiful clothes and jewelry, but they empower women by providing job opportunities and further support to those who might lack the opportunity. They are entirely transparent about their wages and vendors and use sustainable materials.
- Plant Faced is a company that produces fair trade vegan sustainable streetwear with messages that start a conversation and subtly encourage the ethical, conscious fashion movement.
The list of awesome companies like this goes on. But here is the part where many people tune out – when we talk about the industry’s current state. We love hearing about the brands that do good, but without really grounding the importance of ethical fashion to our values – will we make the right decision when it comes time?
Our clothes Say something
To shop ethical and sustainable fashion sounds good but isn’t mainstream. It takes time, effort, and discipline. Mass marketing makes us believe we need new clothes every week to fit in, be loved, and love ourselves. We know that comes from inside – not from the clothes on our backs.
Our clothes should communicate so much more than “I’m trendy” but that you wear your values. By choosing ethical clothing, you’re saying that you care about people and the planet.
I won’t lecture you in this podcast. In fact, it’s going to be short and to the point.
We think of the fashion industry as beautiful and desirable, but it can be really ugly.
There are an estimated 40 million garment workers globally, and the non-profit Remake reports that “80 percent of apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24. It takes a garment worker 18 months to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes on their lunch break. A majority of them earn less than $3 per day.” And that was after massive protests to raise the wage. And if you’re wondering – yes, less than $3 a day is not enough to provide a decent life with necessities, especially for workers in Bangladesh. According to the Borgen Project, “Bangladesh is the second-largest producer in the garment industry after China and is home to more than 8,000 garment factories. The clothing produced makes up 83% of the country’s total exports.”
But something truly doesn’t add up here. Fast Fashion brands that keep these cycles going continue to make gains while their workers remain in poverty. The garment industry has doubled in the last 15 years, and the e-commerce fashion industry sat at a comfy $759.5 billion in 2021, with expectations to hit 1 trillion by 2025. Fast Fashion CEOs are raking it in while their workers are suffering, like Zara’s CEO Amancio Ortega, whose net worth ranks at around $68.5 billion and is one of the richest men in the world. However, Zara’s factory workers and many others went largely unpaid for clothes already manufactured during the pandemic.
So what’s the excuse? Many say this cycle of poverty is necessary because it provides jobs where there wouldn’t be otherwise. But does that feel right to you? It doesn’t to me. Providing workers with jobs doesn’t justify unlivable wages. We can (and should) do better.
Then we see the issue of unsafe working conditions. “A 2018 U.S. Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam, and other countries.” – World Resources Institute. About 79 Million Children are working in unethical child labor. Child labor is at every level of the fashion industry – especially in cotton production.
Health and safety hazards
And you’ve heard about the health and safety hazards in these factories – most notably in Rana Plaza when a structural failure communicated to management by the workers went unheard – killing and injuring thousands.
But these risks aren’t always so far from home. A study found that even in California, most of these workplaces were brimming with dust and excessive heat – making it hard to breathe, doors and exits were blocked, and the facilities weren’t maintained.
Green America reports that “Over 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into clothing. Workers come in direct contact with these chemicals—often without adequate safety protections—and are at risk of contracting deadly diseases.”
So, what do we do?
The easiest way is to spread awareness. In comes the movement #whomademyclothes. Berkeley reports that “The #WhoMadeMyClothes movement was created to inspire consumers to make a change in the fashion industry by holding companies accountable and increasing supply chain transparency. It aligns with people’s current attitudes towards a sustainable future and increased individual activism. By getting consumers to ask the question of where their clothes are produced, it encourages people to take part in the movement and spend a little more time thinking about their own choices in the fashion industry. ”
Fashion Revolution created this movement, a global non-profit movement with teams in over 100 countries worldwide campaigning for transparency and change in the fashion industry.
This hashtag has seen over 156 million impressions. There are also hashtags like #sustainablefashion, #wearyourvalues, and more. Hashtags like these not only remind us to look at the labor behind the label but spread awareness so that others can learn more and come together for a greater good.
But besides using hashtags, you can also tell your friends and family about the impacts of the fashion industry so that they are equipped to make better choices.
Choose Sustainable, Ethical Fashion
And like I said, our clothes communicate something to others. If you choose sustainable, ethical brands, you’re spreading awareness and increasing demand for these types of companies, which will help them become more visible worldwide.
Along with choosing sustainable fabrics (check out the episode Sustainable Fabrics 101), you can also look for Fair Trade Certification when purchasing clothes. This ensures rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards for safe working conditions, Environmental protection, Sustainable livelihoods and provides Community Development Funds.
Something to grow on
For this week’s something to grow on, I want to read you a poem by Hollie McNish for Fashion Revolution.
If the girl who made your skirt’s not paid
you cannot say it’s beautiful
if the pay is less than living wage
you cannot say it’s beautiful
if the coloured dyes now lie in rivers
poisoned fish, polluted waters
if there’s no sick pay, no toilet breaks
if the factories are in decay
no matter what your mirror says
or how stylish you might look today
you cannot claim it’s beautiful
— Hollie McNish (Hollie Poetry)
It’s more important than ever that we know the human stories behind our clothes and how our spending habits are affecting them. So I ask you to choose what’s truly beautiful – fashion that makes you look and feel good, benefits the environment, and that helps provide a beautiful life for those who labored behind the label.
Thanks for joining me, neighbor. I’ll see you next week.
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