We are half way in telling the life story of clothes. So far you have read how the production process and the choice of materials and resources can have an impact on people and planet. In this blogpost I will discuss the distribution and retail of clothes. There are many topics involved in this part. However, I will only discuss a few since I do not want you to feel overwhelmed by all the information and text. We want to keep it fun, remember? Don’t worry! I won’t keep any important information behind which we believe you could benefit from. The topics that I will discuss in this post are working conditions, waste during transportation, packaging and CO2 emissions.
As I mentioned in the previous part, working conditions in garment factories are often questionable. Factory workers are underpaid and have to work in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Now most people often think that bad working conditions only occur in foreign and poor countries. However, news items of the last weeks prove otherwise. An UK based documentary series called Dispatches, has used undercover reporters to investigate British garment factories and the results were surprising. Reportedly, brands such as River Island and New Look have used suppliers that paid less than half the minimum wage. One of the reporters that went undercover, only received around £3 an hour. Furthermore, there was a high risk of fire due to smoking near flammable materials. A boss at Fashion Square Ltd, a textiles firm that supplies River Island, claimed that competition from China and Bangladesh is the reason that staff do not receive the national living wage of £7.20 an hour.
In the Netherlands, Irish fashion brand Primark has come into bad light lately. Several local news channels have shared multiple stories of former Primark employees in which they spill the nasty beans. Apparently, the working atmosphere at the Dutch Primark shops is so bad that screaming managers, chaos and degradation towards employees and even customers is common. In order for Primark to offer such cheap clothing, everything must run as fast as possible. Even bathroom breaks are being limited, a former Primark employee claims. Also, others share that calling in sick is made extremely difficult. One woman sickness was not taken seriously as she was forced to come to work anyways where she continued to throw up while working behind the counter.
CO2 emissions and waste
Just like the production part, the distribution and retail of clothes have a large impact on our environment. Let’s take online shopping as an example. Buying clothes and other products online has become a regular activity in our lives. I, for example, barely buy things in regular stores anymore while I live in a city! Nowadays, every single thing on the world can be found and ordered online. It often saves us time and money. Last minute gift shopping? Under 10 euros? Need it in 12 hours? Free shipping? No problem! So why wouldn’t you buy online? As mentioned many times before, everything costs a price and not necessarily money. You need a blanket and have found one for a good price online which is way cheaper than the ones you saw at the local stores. It has to come all the way from China, but you don’t mind because the shipping is cheap! After a week or so it has arrived but the blanket looks nothing like the one on the pictures. The quality is not like you expected and even the colour looks different. So you decide to send it back. What did this cost eventually (besides the shipping and return fee)? Let’s say you live in Amsterdam. A return flight from China to Amsterdam flies a total distance of around 12.000 KM. If we translate this to CO2, the return flight produces 2.2 tons CO2. The total amount of CO2 a EU citizen produces per year on average is 9.1 tons CO2. In order to halt climate change, the maximum amount of CO2 a EU citizen should produce per year on average is 2.0 tons CO2. You see where I am going?
Before we move on, we must not forget about the waste of clothes and packaging materials. I think we can all be honest witch each other if we confess to have ordered clothing online but never wear it because it eventually turned out to not to fit and did not send it back. Due to restrictions, time limits or just negligence. Those items we give away or sell, but unfortunately most often, end up on a landfill. If you have ever ordered something from ASOS, you probably know about the amount of plastic they use for your package. I am talking about plastic bags in a plastic bag. Am I the only one that does not understand why every single clothing piece must be packaged in plastic? It is just unnecessary.
How can I help?
As always, we do not want to leave you motivated to change, but helpless because you do not know how. Here are some simple tips in what you can do to make a difference:
- This will always be our number one tip: buy less. Period.
- When you buy online, be sure to read the reviews and make sure it fits! Do not order the same pair of jeans in three different sizes but invest some time in making sure you order the right size. For the lazy ones amongst us that do not want to measure themselves (talking about myself), some online stores like ASOS have a genius feature where you can determine your size by comparing it to other people with the same size. This is how it works. (By the way, I am not promoting you to buy from ASOS, only giving you an example.)
- Last but not least, shop local! This way you are reducing your carbon footprint and boycotting big brands and their inhumane practices. But most importantly, because of this…