Do you ever feel like you’re running around in a frantic attempt to stay ahead of the latest fashion styles and consumer trends? Every season brings a new look, the latest colors, changes in heel height, and varying sizes of handbags. One year it’s large and brightly colored, the next it’s petite and muted.
Most of us do not realize that this fashion treadmill–the one that constantly keeps us focused on our next purchase–is actually an invention of the American economic system. It’s hard to break free from the spinning treadmill for sure, but if you truly want to adopt a lifestyle that takes sustainability seriously, you’ll need to hear the shocking truth about the true cost of the clothing industry and the economic system that keeps you running from one trend to another.
It’s a tale that’ll take us down a dark road, via a trail of worker inequity, and environmental exploitation. But after exploring this world of the clothing industry, you’ll be better equipped to put your consumer dollars to work–for the planet, for your fellow humans, and for a better world.
Our consumer culture–that wacky treadmill of life we’re on–hasn’t been around forever. In fact, just over half a century ago bartering, trade and living within our means was a staple of every community. Individuals in these communities arranged their lives around tightly-knit main streets where locals would bring their specialized goods to sell and exchange with their neighbors–products that had been created using the resources close at hand–a system of quality products that kept profits in the pockets of the producers. People were valued for what they could bring to the community; they were known as farmers, bakers, blacksmiths, seamstresses, ranchers, and cooks.
That’s a far cry from how things are today. In our current market economy, we as individuals are no longer valued as productive members of society–mothers and soap makers and druggists. Instead, our greatest value is as consumers. But how did this come to be? It all started shortly after WWII. Corporations were desperate to boost the economy and their own profits. So they put their heads together and determined that the solution was to turn the average North American into a consumer–keep individuals buying and buying and buying.Their plan was to keep prices low so that the consumers would continue to move inventory, and quickly. The bottom line in this system is just that–the bottom line.
Unlike producers of old who prided themselves in creating quality products that would benefit the community, corporations, which control more of the world’s economies than our governments, are now concerned primarily with maintaining profits by keeping the treadmill of the consumer system churning. This is accomplished by stimulating the constant need (yes, need!) for people to chuck what they have in favor of something new and "better". And the system is working very well … for the corporations at least.Consider these facts from CorpWatch:
– Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; only 49 are countries (based on a comparison of corporate sales and country GDPs),
– The Top 200 corporations’ sales are growing at a faster rate than overall global economic activity. Between 1983 and 1999, their combined sales grew from the equivalent of 25.0 percent to 27.5 percent of World GDP,
– The Top 200 corporations’ combined sales are bigger than the combined economies of all countries minus the biggest 10,
– The Top 200s’ combined sales are 18 times the size of the combined annual income of the 1.2 billion people (24 percent of the total world population) living in ”severe” poverty,
– While the sales of the Top 200 are the equivalent of 27.5 percent of world economic activity, they employ only 0.78 percent of the world’s workforce,
– Between 1983 and 1999, the profits of the Top 200 firms grew 362.4 percent, while the number of people they employ grew by only 14.4 percent.
Whether you know it or not, your consumer choices, not least of which are your clothes buying habits, are feeding into this system–the system that makes a very few people very rich while impoverishing our planet and many of the humans inhabiting it. The more we buy, the more they create, and on and on the cycle goes.Only by switching our focus from a buy and throw away mentality to one of conservation, recycling and sustainable consumerism can we disconnect ourselves from this current, destructive path.
Recycling and reusing should always be the first choice but when buying textiles does become absolutely necessary then choosing organic clothing and organic bedding will help rebalance this currently unsustainable industry.