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April 23, 2019
Fair Fashion Week: Nature & Labour
In order to devote ourselves into this topic, we have to dig deeply into the value chain of the textile industry:
For all fibrous materials from which fabrics will later be made,the raw materials must be extracted or grown. A distinction is made between natural (grown) fibers, chemical and mineral ( we’ll leave out the latter, since they are of little importance). The natural fibers are animal (wool, silk) and vegetable (cotton, linen) fibers. Viscose and all brand names (e.g., modal) can be seen as a hybrid fiber because the starting material is cellulose vegetable, but the whole process of fiber formation is similar to that of chemical fibers. In the case of chemical fibers, the starting materials, like plastic, are oil. In the case of natural fibers, extraction is already very labor-intensive and ecologically questionable. Here we already have the first problems with pesticides, working conditions and water consumption. In the chemical fibers, the oil industry is not necessarily known as a true popular figure in environmental protection. The subsequent processes of fiber spinning out of fibers and cleaning and spinning of natural fibers is mostly machine-based and is RELATIVELY neutral, because it requires a very professional work environment and knowledge, and current machines have circulatory systems for chemicals and wastewater. After we have won single fibers, these are then processed into yarn and later woven or knitted. By today, everything is fully automatic and the impact on the environment and work is low. It becomes problematic as soon as hand craft comes into play. While there is also much automation in the cutting process, the assembly of the individual parts into a finished garment for example, is mainly done by hand. Although there are now an incredible number of machines and machines that automate many steps, garments must still be sewn by hand, as simple as they may be. Because each step is sewn separately in modern sewing factories, the requirements for seamstresses are very low and to be carried out by virtually every person. Unfortunately, the low educational requirement for this work often leads to exploitation. We did not even talk about dying, because it can take place in the yarn, in the fabric or after the garment. Dyeing is unfortunately a big environmental influence: "By the color of the rivers in Bangladesh you can see the fashion color of the next season" is a not entirely untrue statement. What’s often forgotten: The impact of clothing on our environment and working conditions does not end with the completion of a garment. Packaging, transportation and cleaning make up a large part of what a garment produces over its lifetime of CO₂ emissions. Working conditions at low-cost chains and discounters in the western world are also often far from fair - the low price leads to a very short service life. After this short lifetime, also due to inferior quality, a large part of the clothing is disposed. Recycling is hardly possible or too expensive in contrast to the new production. Now we have a little idea of how manufacturing of clothing works. Environmental influences could be minimized by higher volumes and technical progress. This is a bit more complex in terms of working conditions. In addition to educational offers, functioning trade unions and collective agreements, occupational safety in the producing countries must also be improved. When you realize the implications, it's obvious that the real problem is the far too low price that consumers are used to. Devastating accidents like the one in Rana Plaza have raised much attention to the conditions under which our clothing is made. Although we are now aware of that, it is still difficult to change the prevailing conditions. But how can you yourself be active? We’ll write something about that tomorrow!
In the meantime, I’d recommend a movie that is hard to bear, but which truly represents the circumstances. "The True Cost" gives us a glimpse into the lives of seamstresses and what sacrifices they provide under humiliating conditions for so little use of disposable clothing. If you want to know exactly what the situation in Bangladesh and co looks like, it's definitely worth taking a look!