A fashion nightmare | Columnist

HOW MANY pairs of shoes do you actually need at any given time? How many outfits? It depends on how you see yourself, right? The image we project is really a kind of self-validation: this is how I want the world to see me.

Flamboyant, chic, eccentric, risque, conservative, rich: we dressed ourselves with concepts of identity. It seems a fairly harmless method of expression. What’s wrong with dressing up to show off? A few days ago, I came across a news service on the BBC that was amazing. It was an appeal to the United Kingdom by the incoming Minister of the Environment of Chile, Maisa Rojas. Your concern? The illegal dumping of thousands of tons of clothes from Europe and the United States into the Atacama Desert, the driest non-polar desert in the world.

The video footage showed mountains of clothing, stretching as far as the eye could see. Women were rummaging through them, trying to save what they could, to sell or for personal use. The gigantic piles towered over them. It was an amazing sight.

Over the years, I have seen reports warning that Western concern for fast fashion was creating a chain of pernicious consequences for the job market and the environment. Somehow, they didn’t seem so threatening; irritating yes, but they didn’t flinch like that.

A report earlier this week by Jack Wright in the Daily Mail online linked the rise of fast fashion to social media and influencer culture. “When a celebrity posts a photo wearing a new outfit that their followers like, ‘fast fashion’ brands are quick to provide it first.” The goal is to produce cheap imitations as quickly as possible and of course that means lower wages for workers.

Wright identified overproduction in China and Bangladesh (and the exploitation of child labor) and said they are being shipped to Western Europe and North America. But because these items have a very short shelf life – pure fashion appeal – demand is short and surpluses are common. Most of these clothes are thrown away by fashionable consumers after just a couple of uses. The unsold garments are then sold to textile traders in countries like Chile and Uganda, the kind of third world landfill we know all too well. About 60,000 tons of clothes arrive in a Chilean port each year, he wrote, and at least 39,000 tons end up in landfills in the desert. “Without legal means of disposal, the huge piles of textiles that spoil the landscape are burned, releasing toxic fumes and polluting the soil.”

The numbers could help bring some scale to our mind. Each year, the water used in this sector can meet the needs of five million people and 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by the treatment of fabrics and dyeing processes.

Environmentalists estimate that the sector is responsible for ten percent of total global carbon emissions. Wright cited a 2019 UN report that estimated global apparel production doubled from 2000 to 2014 and that industry was responsible for 20% of global water waste. It’s not just the water running down the drain. “Garments, synthetic or chemically treated, can take 200 years to biodegrade and is as toxic as discarded rubber or plastic,” he wrote.

It might be easy to ignore it, dismiss it as irrelevant to our part of the world. Yes, we know we are a trendy people, but are we really contributing to environmental pollution every time we go shopping? It is not an easy link to make. We see, we like, we want, we get. No further considerations are necessary.

I know of a family who made two or three trips to the United States a year, specifically to buy clothes and accessories. Every vacation was a shopping trip, no matter the destination. The pandemic has changed him, but it hasn’t repressed the passion for fashion. Online shopping has simply replaced shopping malls.

Perhaps we could pause for a while and reflect on these unexpected consequences of our actions. How many pairs of shoes do you really need at any given time? How many outfits? What do you do with them when they no longer attract you? Do you donate them? Do you leave them to dry out in your closets? If we could think about the afterlife – what happens after many of the things we happily buy – would we at least reconsider how much we buy and how we discard them?

The fashion industry is huge and covers a wide range of interests. It is the depressing reality faced by the incoming minister of Chile, Maisa Rojas. He admitted it looks like a lost cause.

“Business people must do their part and stop importing waste, but developed countries must take responsibility too. What is happening here in Chile has environmental consequences for the entire planet, ”he said. It’s an echo that has been echoing for decades to countries that have been the landfill for the wealthy and trendy.

It may seem insurmountable, but it’s all fueled by a culture of consumerism, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the public’s insatiable appetite for more and more driving it. We don’t have to go naked, but we can think twice about what it means to dress up.

Email: vaneisabaksh@gmail.com


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