Human activity, especially the fashion industry hasn’t been all that great or helpful for the planet. In fact, it hasn’t been helpful for fellow human beings either. Victoria’s little secret, isn’t all that pretty to look at. Sweat shops, child labour, the slavery like conditions that employees are put through by manufacturers who evade the law by establishing factories in third world countries, where the law is more likely to look away for a quick buck, all adds up to a lot of dirt coming in that factory fresh clothing that we love to pick up from our favourite brands.
As a destination for such manufacturing, Sri Lanka also falls under this category. Even though our standards are thankfully a lot better than other countries, it still doesn’t excuse the exploitative acts taken by manufacturers on their employees, squeezing out soul-crushing levels of productivity for ‘chump change.’
People have woken up to many of these issues, including the impact that the global fashion industry, one of the most wasteful and polluting industries has on the world, responsible for the destruction of many river ecosystems around the world, especially on what is called the global south, the developing nations. As a result, major fashion brands needed a new set of smoke and mirrors to divert attention in order to maintain good business, and the concept of ‘responsible fashion’ was born.
This concept has been in operation for quite some time, but has it truly been able to make a lasting impact on communities, economies and especially the environment, enough to justify our purchasing of these products?
I assure you, most of the actions taken by brands to be sustainable, are made only to project a positive brand image. You are what you wear and who would want to wear the clothes of a brand guilty of child labour and destruction to the environment. Manufacturers and brands have become very capable of doing the bare minimum, while projecting a massive potential benefit to the world. Sometimes these actions have a small positive impact, other times they make barely any difference, and occasionally, they may be unnecessary actions that do more harm than good.
A good example for this from the tech world would be Apple not providing users with a charging adapter with each new iPhone purchase. Ultimately it saves Apple more money than ever before, while indirectly increasing everyone else’s carbon footprint except theirs. It looks like Apple is saving the planet, but it’s all just good branding and marketing.
Knowing all this, you might be wondering what can be done? How can something good be achieved when everyone is playing dirty?
Money matters, and remember that you vote with your wallet in the world of fashion. The best choice you could ever make is to choose where you want to put your money. Instead of brands that rely on mass production, choose for artisan clothing brands from small to medium scale industries. A number of them exist in Sri Lanka, including a few brands who have expanded into becoming notable global exporters. Doing so will put money into economies that will actually benefit from, helping to build wealth in communities that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, strengthening economies away from the big city.
Stop chasing clothing for the brand and for the recent trend. If you do want to have a selection of in-style clothing, make sure to buy sparingly, and ones that you will continue to use. And don’t throw away what you don’t use. Donate, upcycle or sell to a pre-loved clothing brand. Make sure what you do buy, will be used frequently and will continue to be used for a long time.
Does this mean you have to take away the fun out of fashion? Absolutely not. Fashion is fun, and that is how it’s supposed to be. All we have to do is direct the fun we have to experiences that may be new, but are rewarding to not only our dopamine receptors.
What you wear sends out a message to everyone around you. It’s an extension of yourself, a way to express who you are. Choose your message wisely.
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage