Yesterday's vid post touched on the ethics of attire glancingly, and since then I've been thinking about it a good deal. We tend to keep our thoughts away from the vast inequities of our life, particularly those of us who are more advantaged than others. But it really is important, if we are going to have an honest discussion of apparel and its effects, to look at the cost to others, and to the world in general.
The first thing that comes to my mind is that textile manufacture is the single largest producer of water borne pollution on earth, untellable tons of formaldehyde and chemical dyes get dumped into our waters every year. As yet there is no regulation on cloth manufacturing to stem this, or encourage different, less toxic options. In addition, there is no requirement under law to make textile businesses reveal what processes they use to dye, stabilize and finish their cloth to consumers.
Secondly, the industry produces far more fabric than is ever made up into clothing, or anything whatever, actually. So is there enough fabric out there to clothe the world? There surely is.
The production of clothing is rife with abuses of every sort. Workers are made to labor under the most foul conditions, and worked insane hours for sub standard wages, so that we, at the other end of the production pipeline, can get a shirt at Target that costs 9 dollars. Now think this through. If a shirt retails at 9 dollars, it could be costing the store that bought it to sell 4.50. If so, and the actual manufacturer is not gouging, then the garment cost 2.25 to make. So that 9 dollar shirt has fabric and notions in it that could not cost more than a dollar total. Quality? Not in the least.
And at the high end of garment manufacture pricing is inflated far beyond a reasonable level, simply because the expectation exists that designer clothes will have high price tags. There is in fact a point of diminishing returns. I recall being in a high end store looking at a knit shirt from a very well known avant garde designer. The shirt had nothing whatever to recommend it beyond its name brand to justify the 480 dollar price tag attached to it. Yep, 480 clams for a long sleeved tee shirt that had a small bit of detail to it. There was nothing about the textile quality, or the garment's construction to justify this price. Heinous, really.
Could any of us choose to edit our wardrobes down significantly to be less burdensome environmentally, be more socially conscious, and also focus on better quality garments? Of course we could.
What makes this all far more complex an issue and decision, is that an appreciable percentage of the world work force relies on textile, garment, and accessory production for their living. So consumers making a group choice to stop purchasing at the level they do would have catastrophic effects on people all over the world. It would effect people all along the production and sales process.
You must see my own conundrum. On the one hand there is this
massive production machine designed to get us to consume at all costs,
regardless of the wisdom of it, that should be made to work along more ethical lines. On the other hand, there is such
potential for communication, learning more about ourselves, and the
sharing of beauty that I find I cannot turn away.
So what do we do? None of us, surely, wishes to drive someone out of work by our decision to purchase less, especially when so many of those people make so little already. Do I have a wise and far-reaching answer for this? No, I don't. Should we begin, at least, with demanding that clothing manufacturers be held accountable for the pollution they produce and the way their workers are treated? Yes we should.
Whatever we do is surely going to have significant negative impact somewhere, but putting ethics to work in an industry that has rarely paid any attention to them is a good thing indeed.