Fashion and Sustainability – How a shopoholic can practice smart shopping
/December 6, 2017
The first time I heard about ‘fast-fashion,’ – the “phenomenon in the fashion industry whereby production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible”—was a few years ago in an Introduction to Sociology course during my days at University.
I was of course not surprised to hear that companies like H&M and Forever 21 were some of the biggest ‘culprits’ of fast fashion. As a self-proclaimed shopaholic, I had subconsciously taken note of the extremely fast turn-over speed in which new clothes hit the shelves each week, without thinking twice about the hands and faces that produced them.
It wasn’t until I visited Bangladesh in 2015 and again earlier this year—a country with more than 3.5 million garment factory workers (85% of whom are women)—that I realized just how much my desire to simply purchase new clothes and update my wardrobe, negatively affects other people’s lives.
I met women and young girls as young as 14-years-old who spent more than 12-hours each day working in over-crowded and underpaying garment factories, many of whom had experienced unsafe working conditions.
This month Conyat Create launched our Thuma The (She Is…) campaign on women empowerment where we highlighted five stories of everyday women here in Myanmar. One young woman’s story, 18-year-old Ma Myat Thae Su Aung, again, reminded me how important it is to remember the people whose lives are impacted by our oftentimes conscious-less decisions.
When Ma Myat was just ten-years-old, she was forced to stop going to school in order to take care of her family when her mother became sick. Two years ago, when her mother became healthy again, her family sent Ma Myat to work and live at a garment factory far away from home. Sometimes working for more than 10 hours each day, Ma Myat earns barely $3 each day.
“As women, we can only find jobs as garment workers with very limited salary,” Ma Myat explains, “but men can choose whatever type of jobs they want.”
Beyond the implications that fast fashion has had on millions of garment factory workers around the world, there are a host of other startling facts regarding the fashion industry and sustainability concerns.
According to a recent Forbes article, 12.8 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills in the US every year. This is a football field filled 14 ft deep with clothes. The fashion industry’s CO2 emissions are projected to increase by more than 60% to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by 2030.”
Although I still love to shop and have way too many clothes in my closet, I make much more conscious decisions now when it comes to buying clothes. It’s stories of women like Ma Myat here in Yangon and the young girls in Bangladesh, who spend their days being overworked and underpaid in oftentimes unsafe working environments, that continue to shape how I shop.
Practices such as buying and selling clothes at second-hand stores like Goodwill, the Salvation Army and Buffalo Exchange in the US has become routine for me. Hosting clothing swaps and up-cycling old t-shirts and turning them into hair accessories are also creative ways to shop less, save more and ultimately improve not only the quality of work and life for the millions of garment factory workers, but take steps towards improving our environment.
At Conyat Create, we are doing our best to raise awareness, provide a platform and make changes (big and small) when it comes to sustainability-related issues. We believe that we each have a role to play when it comes to protecting our planet, whether it’s starting a community garden, recycling or being a smart shopper.