The Price of Fashion: Part I

During my junior year of college, I took a course called “Survey of International Relations.” My professor, Dr. Swan, is one of the most brilliant professors I had the privilege of learning from at Gonzaga University. Dr. Swan demanded we think critically about the impact our actions make on society. One class, he showed us this documentary about a young girl working in a clothing factory in China. She earned 8 cents an hour and forced to work 14 hours a day. The jeans she sewed were folded into Walmart boxes and sent to the United States and Europe for consumption by people like us. I stopped shopping at Walmart after that.

Now, three years later as I embark on my year-long quest to shop only secondhand, I have decided to investigate the clothing industry further. In order to report my findings, this will be a multi-part post because there are a wide array of ethical issues involving the clothing industry that could not be easily tackled in one post. For Part I, the particular topic I would like to discuss is cotton.

I know you are probably thinking, “What!? This girl wants me to listen to her rant about cotton? I better click that  X at the top of my screen before I’m bored to death.”

But, please, don’t hit that X yet. I promise cotton is much more interesting than it sounds.

Cotton makes up 40% of clothing. Clothes made of cotton tend to be the cheapest so, in general, the lower you are on the economic scale the more cotton you wear. This didn’t seem like a big deal to me at first. In the beginning of my research, I was like, “Why does it matter to me if I wear cotton? Material is material, right?”

clothing industryWrong.

Cotton is heavily sprayed with pesticides. More so than almost any other crop because it has become increasingly resistant to pesticides over time. Now add to that, one of the only pesticides that works effectively used is something called Aldicarb. The Environmental Protection Agency calls it “one of the most acutely toxic pesticides registered.” It must be labeled as extremely toxic and is strictly regulated. We are wearing the cotton sprayed with these toxic chemicals on our backs. 

We worry so much about what we put inside of our bodies: buying organic food, going to the local butcher for meat, buying gluten-free muffins. But have we ever stopped to think about what we are putting on the outside of our bodies? I know that I haven’t.

I guess Thomas Gray was right when he said, “Ignorance is bliss.”

What Now?

So you might be thinking to yourself, “All the t-shirts that I love are cotton. What am I supposed to do now?” Well, I have a few suggestions.

  • DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR CLOTHES. You already own them and have worn them a million times. You will probably be fine. The waste produced from clothing is already exponential. We don’t need to increase it.
  • Start to buy clothing made with organic cotton. Currently, only 1% of cotton growth is organic. If there is an increased demand then there will be an increased supply.
  • Be willing to invest money into clothing that isn’t made with cotton. It will certainly be more expensive but, considering the environmental and health effects, it will be the right choice.
  • Try buying secondhand. What we need to worry about are the clothes that will be made in the future, not the ones that already exist. If we all choose to shop secondhand a little more  then maybe the demand for pesticide infested cotton will decrease.

If you have any other suggestions or striking comments, please leave them below. To get regular updates and tips for secondhand style, make sure to subscribe by entering your email below.


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