Fast-fashion and imagining a circular textile industry

Today I spent about 5 minutes staring at an old pair of shorts I found while cleaning out my closer as I imagined the entirety of its life before it ended up at the bottom of my dresser.

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I imagined the genetically modified cotton Monsanto seeds sold to an indebted farmer, who then had to buy cancer-causing pesticides and insecticides so that the cotton will grow correctly.

I imagined factory workers creating polyester out of coal and petroleum (yup…).

I imagined these materials flown and shipped across the world; spun into thread, woven into fabric, dyed with toxic chemicals and sewn in a sweatshop.

I imagined the (mostly female) laborers working long hours in poor conditions to sew the fabric into clothing, walking away with an average of $3 a day (in Bangladesh this year).

I imagined Forever 21 and other “fast-fashion” brands justify these sweatshops as the results of the “free market” and “costs of development”, while taking no responsibility for the conditions.

I imagined these shorts then shipped to Los Angeles where they are tagged and processed by a underpaid worker in a whole different type of sweatshop.

I imagined these shorts then stacked on a shelf by a minimum wage employee, now accustomed to the fast-changing styles and ever-new collections.

I imagined an excited teenager throwing the shorts into their shopping cart, along with 4 other pairs, because they can afford 5 pairs of $10 shorts with their monthly allowance.

I imagined this person wearing the shorts for all but 3 weeks and then deciding the shorts actually make them look fat. I imagined them deciding to do the “right thing” and give the shorts away to charity instead of the landfill (pretty good, considering only 15% of textiles are donated or recycled).

Finally, I imagined me at Goodwill, finding a cheap pair of second-hand shorts that, even though they fit well, ended up sitting in my drawer for 3+ years. And I imagined how every time I wash them, the synthetic polyester breaks down a little bit more, releasing microplastics into the laundry machine and, eventually, the ocean.

Then, I imagined the whole story was different.

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I imagined these shorts were not grown from genetically modified seeds and sprayed with a ridiculous amount pesticides, endangering the lives of our farm workers.

I imagined they were woven into denim and designed with the input and creative expertise of the people actually sewing the shorts.

I imagined these workers were paid a fair wage and wouldn’t have to fear for their health and safety.

I imagined that, ideally, these shorts were made locally and sold locally.

I imagined that the shorts were good quality and actually expensive, to compensate the workers for their labor and to encourage people to only buy new when truly necessary.

I imagined that when the shorts were no longer wearable, I would upcycle them into a cool jean purse.

I imagined that instead of profiting from cheap labor & fossil fuels, global fashion brands were profiting from regeneration & respect.

I imagined that, instead of an industry that sends sends 70 pounds of completely reusalbe textiles to landfill every year per person in America; instead of an industry that is the second most polluting industry after oil; an industry that releases millions of tons of microplastics into the oceans every year; an industry where workers all along the supply chain are exposed to harmful chemicals and dangerous working conditions…. I imagined a different way.

Learn more about the negative effects of polyester by watching the Story of Stuff’s video on microplastics.