Written by Mellisa Harrison Tuesday, 14 April 2009 00:00
Features - Features from FreeqLike most ladies, I love clothes and I love to shop. From window shopping when I have no money and trying those expensive shoes on that I could never afford, to the frenzy of the summer sales and that naughty but ever so guilty feeling you get when you purchase another item of clothing that you don't really need and definitely can't afford. I get an unhealthy buzz from buying clothes... and I am sure there are many of you out there (boys and girls alike) that enjoy spoiling yourselves every now and again. And why not? It's harmless... or is it? When you buy a piece of clothing, do you stop and wonder where it was made and by who and under what conditions?
The Fashion Industry is one of the most lucrative in the world (the UK market alone was worth £44.45 billion in 2005) and with the majority of garment manufacture concentrated in some of the poorest parts of the world, the fashion industry has the perfect opportunity to lift communities out of poverty and create sustainable livelihoods. However, allegations of unsafe working conditions, poverty wages and child labour, continue to be raised against the third world factories under pressure to deliver cheap goods to the UK's biggest clothing retailers.
In addition, the industry also has an enormous impact on the environment with the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides polluting and depleting water supplies and inefficient processes and waste.
As a child, I remember my mother checking for the 100 per cent cotton label before she purchased my school shirts. I inherited this ritual when I started buying clothes for myself and like many others, I have been blissfully ignorant to the facts and under the illusion that cotton is the natural environmentally sound fabric of choice... how wrong I was.
Cotton provides nearly half of the worlds textile needs and it is often seen as a natural or environmentally friendly product. In fact cotton uses almost a quarter of the worlds insecticides on 2.5 per cent of agricultural land (Pesticide Action Network UK).
The chemicals used in cotton production don't end with cultivation. Herbicides are used as an aid to harvesting in addition to even more harmful substances in the process of bleaching, dying, sizing, and fireproofing. Chemicals often used for finishing can include formaldehyde, sulphuric acid, caustic soda and the list goes on.
These by-products pollute the soil and the rivers of the surrounding environments where cotton is farmed and are toxic to the farmers and pickers working in cultivation causing brain and foetal damage, impotence and sterility.
There are alternatives. Sustainable Alternatives Network (SAnet) support and assist businesses to switch to cleaner technologies. With the support of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) they have developed projects in India that use no chemicals at all. Instead they have created their own technology, using organic fertilizers and resorting to natural pest control methods.
Organic agriculture maintains the long-term fertility of soils, which are the farmers' only asset and main source of income. Harmful chemicals no longer threaten farmers' health. In addition, farmers escape the debt cycle, since they do not need credits to buy expensive chemicals anymore. In this project, the farmers are connected with the textile industry and enjoy a purchase guarantee and wide-ranging extension services (training, crop monitoring, personal advice and EU compliance). The project's staff are all local people; it sounds so simple.
There are many people out there (myself included) who would never wear fur, so why are we fleecing our own kind for the sake of fashion?
Some companies are beginning to take steps to look after our planet and their employees, but sadly they are still in the minority.
I am not suggesting you throw out all your glad rags and don a hemp potato sack but maybe we should all think about the way we shop and increase the demand for ethical fashion and maybe, just maybe, the fashion industry can be as beautifully fabulous on the inside as it is on the outside.
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