Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fashion...and its victims

Last Saturday i went shopping for a new pair of jeans. I don't particularly enjoy shopping, but when my last pair of jeans fell apart after ten years, i knew i had no choice but to replace them.
I tend to get emotionally attached to my clothes - each item is the equivalent of a Proustian madeleine that triggers rich memories - that's why i am so reluctant to throw them away. The idea that clothes are disposable and should be replaced before the end of their natural life never crossed my mind. I seem to love my clothes more than fashion trends.

Well, replacing my beloved and trusted jeans proved more difficult than I thought. And i am not talking about the grieving process.
Shops that sell casual wear are stocked with overpriced "designer" jeans that look worse than my old ones: worn-out, rotten, thread-bare or dirty.

If this is what we are supposed to be wearing this season, why would anybody pay
HK$ 2,000 to buy a pair of jeans that have been stone-washed, sand-blasted, bleached, stained, ripped and...branded? They are already falling apart, and look as if they won't last more than one season, that is, if they don't go out of fashion before (wait a couple of months and some fashion "guru" will inform us that they are "so last year" and that we are supposed to chuck them in the bin before we are arrested and stoned to death for committing such a crime against fashion)

If wearing dirty jeans with holes makes you feel and look better, that's fine. I am not an arbiter of taste. But i know that the look can be easily reproduced by wearing your jeans for a few seasons, owning only one pair, or shopping in a second-hand store.

Now the question is:

Why can't these fashion designers buy second-hand jeans and restyle them for the fashion victims instead of using chemicals to make new denim look old? Just imagine how much energy and resources would be saved if they re-stitched old denim.

Unfortunately "sustainable clothing" is still an oxymoron in a world where fashions change every few months and consumers spend more than $1 trillion a year on clothing and textiles, an estimated one-third of that in Western Europe, another third in North America, and about a quarter in Asia. In many places, cheap, readily disposable clothes have displaced durable, good quality clothes that used to last for years.

The environmental impact of fast-food is well known, but only a few critics have dared to talk about the impact of fast-clothes: cheap, fashionable, low-quality rags that last only for a few months...they are not meant to last, as fashion trends change every season.

The environmental impact of this madness is huge. The victims of fashion are not only the shopaholics that go into debt to buy the latest fashion "must-have" (i have little sympathy for them) but the rest of us who see landfills encroach on parks, factories discharge chemicals in our rivers, cotton fields destroy eco-systems, etc. The production, packaging and transportation of the clothes adds to the huge carbon footprint of the fast-fashion industry.

Cheap clothes also mean sweatshop conditions for millions of workers in developing countries. Behind all the hype that surrounds fashion, the reality is very grim. Behind the label is an exploited worker, out of sight, out of mind.

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