What is the Real Cost of That Dress?

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The Truth About Where You are Putting Your Money

Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes. —Vivienne Westwood

We are becoming increasingly aware of what we eat, and what we put on our body in terms of cosmetics and other personal care products. It is becoming more common for people to be mindful of the social and environmental impacts or benefits of their consumer choices. This awareness is filtering into parts of the clothing industry and fashion world.

It seems the fashion industry is spearing down several paths and some companies are increasingly compelled to utilise transparency and ethical practice as part of their sales pitch, but how authentic are their claims? The bulk of it is clothing with very short life spans. I’m definitely not a fashionista. I source lots of my clothes from op shops, pieces that are hand sewn (not by me, I lack the sewing knack) or made by local designers.

But, I still have pieces in my wardrobe with questionable supply chains – those bits and pieces that were cheap or convenient for me to buy. What’s the real cost of my choices?

Following the Trends

At this point in time, we are buying 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago. Fashion carries with it the connotations of seasons, style, capitalism and four fashion shows a year telling you what to wear. People buy the watered down versions from affordable sources as part of fast fashion, which churns out 52 micro-seasons a year.

From fair working conditions to questioning the integrity of supply chains, the conversation is growing, particularly since the shift to fast fashion has seen the move from natural materials to synthetic petrochemical based fibres.

What’s the solution? Should we all just give up and become nudists?

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The Destructive Impacts

The gender footprint is also considerable. Fashion is the largest employer of women across the world, but only 2% of these workers are receiving a living wage. Now that I know a bit more about where my wardrobe was sourced, I’ll be thinking differently next time I make a new addition.

It takes 2700 litres of water and a third of a pound of chemicals to create a cotton t-shirt, with 20% of global industrial water used for dyeing textiles, which impacts on the water supply and quality for both the people and environment in which the dyeing takes place. The bulk of mass manufactured clothing are created from synthetic fibres (many with hazardous chemicals on them) that are cheaply made and sold.

A study in 2014 found 85% of man-made materials found on shorelines were microfibers, which derive from the synthetic materials used in clothing. The average American sends 68 pounds of textiles to landfill every year and because they’re petroleum based synthetic fibres, they aren’t great for decomposing. The residual chemicals on clothing include lead, pesticides, insecticides and flame-retardants and other known carcinogens, which dwell on our largest organ, the skin. What’s the solution? Should we all just give up and become nudists?

Support Innovation

If we vote with our money and actions for the world we want to see, then how can we be more aware of what we’re supporting or saying “no thanks”, to? Funnily enough, the approach to being more mindful with our clothes is similar to our food – ethical, natural, local.

Funnily enough, the approach to being more mindful with our clothes is similar to our food – ethical, natural, local.


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