92 million tons. That is how much clothes related waste we discard every year. It’s enough to fill 1 and half Empire State Buildings every day.

Words by Lucy Dover, Comment Print Sub-Editor

When Melania Trump wore her infamous Zara jacket in 2018, all eyes were on the graffiti writing on its back: “I really don’t care. Do u?”. The garment sent shockwaves through the nation as Journalists scrambled together to create political think pieces on the dystopian message, but the jacket is much more than that: it is a stark reflection on how we live now. Inditex, Zara’s parent company, is estimated to bring in a revenue of over $33 billion this year. Meanwhile, Zara’s use of the fabric viscose has been linked to water contamination from untreated waste in India and is the cause of pollution three times the permitted level in nearby residential communities in China. There have been some attempts to combat their impact. In 2019, they launched their eco-conscious Join Life collection, and they claim that all of their collections will be made of 100% sustainable cottons and linens, and 100% recycled polyester by 2025. But it’s not good enough. The company has failed to take into account the local pollution in developing countries and tons of clothing that will still end up in Landfill. The owner of Zara has a net worth of $45 billion, making him the third-wealthiest person in Europe. Yet the workers in Tunisia are timed to the minute to ensure they hit the 150 pieces in an hour target, an almost impossible task.  Melania Trump’s $39 jacket seems a fitting metaphor for Zara’s ethos: “I really don’t care. Do u?”

Of course, Zara is not the only brand having a detrimental effect on the environment. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has calculated that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, a devastating statistic, and this is without even touching on microplastics, pollution, wage theft and chemical waste. Fast fashion- cheap, trendy clothing designed to be cast aside- is destroying the planet.

Gen Z favourite, Shein, is at the heart of this problem. Channel 4 has uncovered horrifying details on its treatment of workers. In one factory, they found that workers receive a base salary of roughly $556 per month to make 500 pieces of clothing per day and that their first month’s pay is withheld from them. Workers are also expected to work 18 hours a day and are penalised two-thirds of their daily wage if they made a mistake on a clothing item. This comes after a shocking discovery, by professor Diamond, an environmental chemist and professor at the University of Toronto, that a jacket designed for toddlers contained nearly 20 times the amount of lead that Health Canada says is safe for children.

But what can be done? A lot of ethically made clothing is still expensive, so it can be difficult for young people, especially students, to purchase it. Charity shops can be a good alternative, but they offer limited clothing, and often don’t cater to plus sized bodies. The 30 wears test is perhaps the most effective. Will you wear that piece more than 30 times? If not, don’t buy it. This reduces waste, and minimises the damage so called ‘microtrends’ are having on the environment. Timeless trans-seasonal clothing is much more sustainable. It’s also important to change your attitude to shopping: it’s hard to deny the thrill that comes from wearing a new item but renting a piece for a special occasion is equally as exciting.“I really don’t care. Do u?” is a stark reminder that the fast fashion giants will not be the change we need, unless they have to be. It is up to us to care for the planet, and they will follow.

Featured Image Courtesy of Lucy Dover

Categories: Comment Opinion

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