But what do you really know about your clothes (other than they are devilishly stylish and you look awesome in them)?
This post is dedicated to three of the dearest things to my heart: agriculture, human rights and fashion. Odd combo, I know, but a wholesome combination of my education, academic research and professional life.
In Western countries we feel good about ourselves because we've abolished child labor, cracked down on pesticide application methods and created parameters around working conditions. What we often fail to recognize, or choose to ignore, is that the majority of physical things we enjoy- particularly fashion- were constructed in conditions we have outlawed.
As we've seen a purchasing shift to organic, fair-trade and sustainably produced foods, we also must apply these concerns to clothing because realize it or not, our clothing also comes from soil, plants and farmers. Not For Sale analyzed the Apparel Industry Trends from 2012 by grading 300 apparel brands according to their use of child labor, minimum wages, watchdog efforts implemented for workers, training and the traceability of their materials from farm to fashion. Using Free2Work data, grades indicate to what extent companies have traced their materials and established management systems throughout supply chains.
The results are sobering. I won't break down every detail, but here are some high level brands that fall at the top and bottom of the pack.
|Photo from Not For Sale|
Good & Fair
The Ugly: D's and F's
Abercrombie & Fitch
Fruit of the Loom
By and large, the most non-compliance, or bad effort, is located in the traceability, monitoring and worker rights regarding raw materials. This means farmers. And from my research experience with small-scare farmers, I know this likely points to unprotected application of poisonous pesticides, extreme working conditions and minimal compensation. In conditions such as these poisoning is rampant, and often left untreated due to hospital accessibility. Birth defects increase generation to generation as the land and methods become more corrupted and corrosive.
|Some of the amazing farmers I worked with in Ecuador|
I'm not trying to give a massive guilt trip- I am guilty of these things too. But rather than being ignorant about how our clothes are made, its time to get informed. Let's make decisions knowing that in the interconnected world we live in, each swatch of fabric and spool of thread has a history, lifecycle and implication that will come around full circle in the environment and humanity.
I think Leila Brillson of Refinery 29 put it best by saying "In 2012, with child labor so exposed and derided, it's both tragic and unsurprising that companies and producers are even a part of this discussion". There is nothing sexy about turning a blind eye to conditions in which we wouldn't allow our family and friends to work.