Graphic by Joaquín Kunkel

Waking Up to What we Wear

Should we and can we care about the origins of our threads?

Oct 1, 2016

Starting a conversation about clothes is easy. We ask questions about brands, colors and design. And we should, too: it's an essential part of our image. Our clothing is what we choose to show the world about ourselves. Clothes are for comfort, for utility and even to impress. When was the last time someone went to an Etihad Towers dinner dressed in a T-shirt and jeans? No matter how it's viewed, clothes are an essential part of living in the 21st century.
Now take a step back and ask yourselves: where did your clothes come from? No, not which shop they came from, but more along the lines of how they were made. Was it a factory, did your grandmother make them, did it take 1000 litres of water? Did an animal die in the process, or did a human die to make them?
We cannot ignore the fact that the clothing industry doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to animal and human rights violations. Cheap clothing companies such as H&M and Primark face allegations and proven verdicts of labor abuse almost every year. Millions of animals are killed every year to feed the desire for leather belts, fur coats and woolen sweaters. It takes more than 20,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of cotton. That’s the equivalent of a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
There are three major issues with the fashion industry: labor abuse, animal cruelty and environmental damage. These issues affect us both from an ethical standpoint as well as a practical one.
####Should We Care?
Three years ago, a sweatshop factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 352 workers inside. Companies such as Primark, Mango and Matalan used floors of this building for their production. Look at the clothes you're wearing now. Would you still want to wear them if more than 300 people died in their production?
The truth of the matter is that we aren't aware of the overall harm until things like the collapse of a factory flash all over our screens. I’d argue that we really do care, that it's just a simple matter of being informed and making the right choices. We need to stop turning a blind eye to these sorts of things and acknowledge what's really going on.
####Can We Care?
Thinking about something is very different from doing it. We can all become strong opponents of the crimes of the fashion industry, but can we actually do anything about it? Eco-friendly and cruelty-free clothing is more expensive, that's a fact. It takes more time and effort, economies of scale are compromised — Fair Trade is Fair Trade. Companies need to be able to dole out an actual living wage for their workers.
Although it is more expensive to go green and happy, this might be just another time we’re looking at the surface of an issue. For a multifaceted problem of this nature, there must be a multifaceted solution.
Here are some concrete steps each of us can take to make sure our clothing choices are ethical. Support smaller companies: explore cities to find interesting shops, always know where your clothes come from. Enjoy the rewarding feeling of knowing you're helping out the little guy. Eco-clothing tends to be of better quality. The clothes that are manufactured with closer attention are more durable. Invest in good shoes: they can be repaired easily, and spending more on a good pair of shoes means that they will last much longer. Donate: donating clothes is probably one of the best things you can do for the environment and your fellow human beings. Think about it: for every T-shirt that gets used twice, an enormous amount of water is being saved. Never buy animal skin products. I could go into a whole speech about the ethics of buying animal products but I’m quite certain this video made by PETA will be enough. Viewer discretion is advised, but trust me — one viewing of that and you will never consider animal products again.
Due to the complexity of this problem, it was hard for me to address everything without writing a capstone-length paper. I hope this serves as a starting point for readers to think about and actually implement some changes to their choices when shopping for clothes.
Taj Chapman is a staff writer. Email him at
gazelle logo