A Sustainable Lifestyle Starts With Getting Dressed: Spending Power & The Call For Transparency In The Fashion Industry

A Sustainable Lifestyle Starts With Getting Dressed: Spending Power & The Call For Transparency In The Fashion Industry

January 15, 2020

It’s a new decade for Fashion, and for all of us.  It is within these next 10 years that the United Nations has targeted to accomplish its Sustainability Development Goals, SDG. (I have given you the link at the end, so please stay right here). These Sustainable Development Goals aim to eradicate poverty and inequality, gain control over climate change and environmental degradation, while promoting peace and justice. With 193 countries signed onto these goals and commitment, it bears repeating, your small part and ours matters a whole lot. Kudos to all of you for being a part of a giant force for good in working to live sustainably. 

In the last decade, we all experienced an awakening to sustainability as an important cause for us all to take on in our lives. The call requiring sustainable consideration of corporations and politicians alike became very audible and visible with a 16 year old, Greta Thunberg, leading the way.  The planet is literally burning as we speak, more evidence of climate change, and do-nothing leaders (not only politicians) ignoring the science of global warming in favor of consumption & profit. Not only do we have a direct part in enabling this, we also have the power to disable it. 

The power we posses is in our power to choose. How we choose to spend our money is powerful. In every transaction, exchange of money, we are being powerful and voting with our money. Not only are we individually powerful, collectively we are truly a super power—herein lies why every brand is vying for our attention! Individually and collectively the global supply chain depends on each and everyone of us to fuel it with our purchasing power. Our purchases give businesses their financial power along with our vote of confidence.

 

By means of our financial transaction, we are inadvertently saying, “this choice is for me! And I’m ok with the entire back-story that has been built into my purchase. And with this exchange of my money for the product and/or services, I give you my power, my vote, my endorsement, to continue doing as you do.” Money is power. A transaction is our vote of confidence, an endorsement. 

So let’s get personal: do you really know the entire back-story to your favorite brands? Do you really know enough to be ok with giving them your valuable endorsement to carry on with business as usual? Let’s bring this back to simple things that involve us everyday as practical choices: food and clothes. 

When we go grocery shopping for food, transparency throughout the food chain is part of the criteria we have come to expect to enable us in our food choices. We like to know, and we expect to be given information about the origin of our produce, its methods of cultivation (conventional or organic). We expect transparency in the animal husbandry of caring for livestock, whether it has been farm raised (and under what environmental conditions and with what kind of feed), and/or if it’s free ranging  and grass fed, etc.  This level of transparency not only enables us to choose sustainably, it gives value to our food choices and the decisions we take regarding them. 

By comparison, still today, there is little transparency given about the clothing we wear. What’s more, fashion marketing projects a glamorized images of itself. It is this idea of itself that sits in front of the entire fashion back-story. What’s behind those images? 60 million people labor in fashion related jobs around the world; 80% of them are women. Fashion is the second highest user of water worldwide, producing 20% of global water waste, and emitting 10% of global carbon emissions. And with a little investigation, in being curious, you will be surprised about all that you discover. With its vast global penetration, Fashion is inextricably linked to the UN SDG on multiple plains involving the environment, climate change, labor, gender, equality, and poverty to name a few key points of interest.

 We should want to have a higher expectations of Fashion Brands when it comes to being more sustainably responsible: Fashion is a $2.5 trillion dollar industry. In truth, our interaction and relationship with fashion has been very superficial. We become distracted by its superficial marketing from asking important questions about who makes our clothes, and the absence of transparency throughout the industry.

So how can we all individually help to get started in opening up the world of fashion to increase transparency and to influence it to behave more sustainably? It becomes our opportunity to lead with our values as educated and interested consumers and not give our power away so easily.   Expect more from your favorite brands: engage them as they engage us. There is actually a lot of valuable information sewn into your garments. With the world of information at our fingertips, it is easy to know more about the clothing we choose to wear every day. The future of sustainability in fashion, and by association other industries, is in the palm of our hands. 

If we really want to expect transparency in fashion, it’s going to take some activism on our part; otherwise it will continue to be business as unusual, at the expense of the environment and humanity. My refrain here is “be curious.”. So here are some pointers and leads to discovering more about the sustainability best practices of your favorite brands; be curious. 

Go to their website.A Sustainable Mission should be front & center. If it’s not, go deeper into About the Brand. Go to the Site Map, and look for the words, Sustainable & Fair Trade. Be in communication with the brand and make your interests and concerns known. Make transparency and sustainability a criteria for your continued loyalty.  Share your interests and concerns with others. 

Impact Report: Simple: Wikipedia tells us that “Impact Reporting means communicating the difference a company made to the people it is trying to help, or the issues they are trying to improve.” It is a state of the business report to funders and investors.  Breaking news: Do count yourself amongst the important member of this group. Without your continued loyalty, their is no business. In the world of sustainable activism, collectively we are a super power and it all begins with believing that we each do contribute to the greater whole.  And it will help a lot to make sustainability social, share how you are being being active in learning more about sustainable fashion, and show what you are learning. 

Look for the company’s Impact Report, which might be embedded in their Annual Report. Don’t be deterred by the financials and graphs, search for the section that details the difference they are making in the world they commercially engage. 

Country of Origin, and Labor: Did you know that it’s the law for Country of Origin to be visible in the back neck or hem of any garment? As with food shopping, know about where your clothes come from. Be curious. 

With a global labor force of over 80% women,  good question to ask of your go to most search engine: What are Women’s Rights In [Name Country] Apparel Industry?

In apparel manufacturing which is notions for not paying a living wage, women are often paid half of what men earn, and are often subject to gender cultural discrimination as a norm respective to local norms. Fashion has a role to play here to lead equality. Very often it turns a blind eye, accepting the lowest wage which inevitably involves women.  

Another search lead for you is this: Human Rights in [Country Of Origin]?

Care/Content Label that is sewn into you garment has more information than washing instructions. Dig Deeper, Be Curious. 

The first thing we do when we see a garment is to touch it. If it’s on line there is a description about how it feels, drape, and comfort. This is all begins with fibers. The care content label in your garment gives you the fiber composition of the item. 

I’m just scratching surface, Wikipedia tells us that Sustainable clothing refers to fabrics derived from eco friendly resources, such as sustainably grown fiber crops or recycled materials. It also refers to how these fabrics are made.” For example, by now it is common knowledge that polyester is a plastic, and that polyester dress will be sitting in landfill 200 years from now, and that plastic micro fibers wash into our oceans with each laundering.  Herein lies the importance of knowing and caring and saying so. 

Here are some points and questions to ask about fiber. What is the origin of the fibers? Are they grown in the designated country of origin that is shown in your garment? Be curious: Ask: Does [Country of Origin] grow [designated fiber]? Does [Country of Origin] manufacture [designated fiber]? We are not talking about garment assembly; we are asking about the physical origin of the fibers used in the fabric that the garment is made from. 

When the country of origin does not produce the fiber, then the fiber/fabric is being made elsewhere, transported, and imported. The more the parts are moving, the more carbon emissions there are, the more people and sources there are involved, and the more difficult it becomes for brands truly to manage sustainability throughout all the moving parts. Yes, it is possible to manage all these moving parts successfully, and that’s for you to know!       This is why transparency is essential throughout the fashion industry involving all of our favorite brands. How else are we truly to act within our integrity to make an informed decision about our clothing which will involve giving your valuable vote of confidence, your money, and brand loyalty? 

Try hard not to be stopped by the expanding complexity of fashion in your activism and investigative work. Fashion is a complex and multidimensional industry, and by association, so is sustainability. In the same way that fashion brands engage us, engage them back.  Go beyond the glamor of the runway and ask about their sustainable mission, their best practices, and the sustainable impact they are making. Transparency is key, and if they’re not, be curious. 

A sustainable lifestyle starts by getting dressed. What do you know about the clothes and brands in your wardrobe? As we journey together into this new decade, it is up to each of us individually, and collectively, to care as much about the clothes we wear as we do about the food we eat. In the same way that the fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry on the planet, with our involvement, fashion can become the largest force for good around the globe. 

For more information about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the 193 countries that have signed on.

Recommended Movie on the subject matter of country of origin, and which was Featured At The Palm Springs International Film Festival 2020, Made In Bangladesh by Rubaiyat Hossain & Philippe Barriere: