Many times I have been asked where my organic and eco friendly clothing is made. When my answer includes places like China, Bangladesh and, India, the response I often get is negative and I can certainly understand.
Most people involved in the environmental movement prefer to “buy local” either to reduce the impacts resulting from transport or avoid supporting countries with less then ideal human rights records.
However, it is my opinion that this view, although based on a desire to create positive change, is not the path we should choose and following are my reasons:
Firstly, the apparel industry is buyer driven with demand for cheap, throw away fashion being the core of that demand. To meet this consumer demand, big corporations went overseas where labour laws are slack and wages are cheap. Through this long association, the apparel industry is now fully entrenched in countries like China, India, Bangladesh, etc with close to 70% of all apparel imports valued at over 30 billion, coming into the US from the third world.
By demanding cheap, throw away fashions, we created this situation of exploitation in the third world. So, by turning our back on this industry through “buy local” are we not choosing to abandon already impoverished individuals who now rely on the apparel industry as a sole source of income?
Instead of abandoning these third world workers, we must support them. We must use our buying power to say no to child labor, no to wage exploitation, no to unsafe working conditions and yes to environmental sustainability.
By choosing to buy organic, fair trade clothing, we give these workers the environment they need to pull themselves out of the endless cycle of abject poverty, we give them and their children hope for the future. This is why I support and fully endorse working actively with companies and individuals in the third world who are trying to clean up the apparel industry through adoption of organic and fair trade practices.
But what about the environmental cost of shipping these products overseas? There have been many LCA (life cycle analysis) done regarding the environmental impact of clothing manufacture and the reality is that less then 3% of the energy consumption of a typical piece of clothing can be attributed to transport.
So, have our efforts made a difference? Absolutely. A prime example would be Sri Lanka which is very much leading the way in the process of adopting organic, fair trade manufacturing. Over 300,000 persons work in the Sri Lankan apparel industry, 90 per cent of whom are women. Every small gain made in countries like Sri Lanka have a huge impact on these individuals.
So the question should not be – where is it made? The question should be – is it organic and fair trade?