Photo courtesy of echoforsberg via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.
New clothes can be great gifts – for our own wardrobes and those of our loved ones. Here’s a look at the questionable aspects of clothes manufacturing, and some ethical alternatives.
In 2012, the average American spent $1,736 on clothes and accessories, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a lot of clothes consumption, some of which goes toward apparel produced under less than ethical circumstances.
While consumers are well aware that the things they are buying aren’t materializing out of thin air (and possibly out of the callused fingers of child workers), there are underlying factors of products’ backstories that merit consideration.
While you may not want to give up your favorite brands or stores for this reason, it’s good to be able to make informed decisions on the matter. You wouldn’t set your friend up with a nice guy without digging up the bones in his closet first, so why treat the gift you’re giving her any differently?
Fur: Animal cruelty and cat coats
Fur coats can look glamorous, but the reality is lackluster to say the least. An average of 40 animals go into a single fur coat, according to Born Free USA, and every year about 36 million animals are raised in cages within “fur farms” to be killed and used for that reason.
But it’s not only minx and foxes, if that matters to you – it’s also man’s best friends. About 2 million cats and dogs are bred and killed in China, which is basically the Cruella de Vil of nations. Though countries like the U.S. ban such imports, Ethical.org says they are frequently mislabled as fox, rabbit, or minx.
Alternatives: There is no such thing as green fur, as the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) makes clear, though several websites do claim otherwise. Though faux fur isn’t entirely harm-free, studies show it is better for the environment.
Denim: Distressed jeans distressing lungs
Sure, jeans are wardrobe essentials – but the story behind that comfort is not always as cozy as our kick-around pants. Most modern denim is finished using “sandblasting” for a worn out look, a practice that is the job of many young oversea factory workers that sometimes consequentially suffer from silicosis, an incurable lung disease, the BBC details.
Sandblasting first came to light when many Turkish workers contracted the disease, and though the practice was banned in Turkey, it has since moved to countries such as Bangladesh and China. Despite being banned by brands, sandblasting continues behind closed doors, as detailed by this report.
Alternatives: While many retailers such as Levis, Target, and Gap have banned sandblasting, not much has changed, as factories hide and even set up fake factories to continue it.
Luckily, there are smaller and more ethical jean-makers. While they may not be “distressed” in the way you’re used to, innovative brands such as Monkee Genes, Nudie Jeans, Howies, Huit, and more can cure your denim fix without the added guilt of bad labour practices.
Leather: Killing cows, workers, and your water
As for leather, if you thought fur was bad and were still eyeing up those boots, consider that the number of animals abused and slaughtered for skins is over one billion per year. Skins are often tanned using toxic chemicals such as chrome, the waste of which is hazardous to human health (especially tannery workers) when it contaminates groundwater.
According to PETA, species hunted and killed specifically for their skins include zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes.
Alternatives: While most companies selling faux-leather do so mostly because it is more cost efficient, and not for ethical purposes, purchasing synthetic leather will over real leather is certainly a more eco-friendly choice. As is the case with fur, leather isn’t great for the environment due to the chemical tanning process – meaning fake leather wins from start to finish.
Do you have anymore tips on shopping ethically? Tweet us @curiousmatic.