It’s Spring! (Well, sort of) What to do? Hmmm.
Okay, go to mall. Buy two cute t-shirts at a chain store for $5 that were are manufactured in Bangladesh. Wear t-shirts all summer. Notice faded colours and worn spots come September. Throw out.
Sound familiar? Well, that’s Fast Fashion for you — and it’s everywhere.
Fast Fashion is the term used to describe cheap and affordable clothes which are the result of catwalk designs moving into stores in the fastest possible way to respond to the latest trends — at times introducing new products multiple times in a single week. It’s quick; it’s disposable; it’s mass produced globally in often unfavourable working conditions; and it’s bad for the environment.
The ultimate goal is more consumption, more sales and more profit.
But hold on. Louise Campbell of Peterborough, Ontario is one of an increasing number of designers and textile manufacturers who believes in something else — good quality clothing, with attention to design and fabric that will last. She cares about the environment and she wants to employ local people, ethically and sustainably.
It’s called Slow Fashion.
Campbell is setting her sights on establishing a home decor business using recycled blue jeans. She is one of six finalists in the local Bear’s Lair annual entrepreneurial competition April 18 in the Goods & Services stream at The Venue in Peterborough. She’ll be pitching her business — Indigo Green – to a panel of judges and the local community for a chance to win cash and prizes.
“People have been educated by the fast fashion industry that we need to consume a lot,” said Campbell, a long-time Peterborough businesswoman and clothing designer, in a recent interview. “It’s a massive waste, and every time you purchase it you are contributing to the hardship of the people who manufacture it.”
Campbell owned Ptamigan Kids’ Clothing, a children’s apparel, performance dance wear, sports wear and custom clothing business in Peterborough for 25 years, most recently in an East City store. She recently sold it, but it is still a division of her GoSport Designs business.
“We need to make repurposed textiles cool and trendy. We just can’t keep consuming the way we do.”
She said her awareness of Slow Fashion began three years ago when she was invited to a charity design challenge in Toronto. She and 24 other designers were given two weeks to repurpose denim into a haute couture item for the run-way, and she ended up with a two-piece knitted item. In the process, huge amounts of denim were saved from the garbage.
“I sat on that experience for a few years thinking I need to take this further,” she said.
The result is her new products — scatter mats for the home made from old denim jeans, and knitted together in different shades.
But the Toronto competition also made her research the manufacturing of textiles, “which enlightened me to the fact that the second worst polluting industry next to the oil industry is the fashion industry,” she said.
Pesticides are used in farming the cotton, and chemical dyes and bleaches are used to offer it in every shade and colour. Textile factories in China, Bangladesh and other developing countries, where most of the manufacturing is done, dump these pollutants into local waterways. Indigo blue is the dye used for blue jeans.
“The rivers are dead. They’re actually running indigo blue,” said Campbell.
And so, from indigo blue, Indigo Green was born, with the goal of “getting as much denim out of the landfill as possible.”
Campbell said she also learned about the “fashion deficit myth” — the idea that community members will benefit from our donated clothes, when, in reality, they end up in the landfill or are sold to ‘rag houses’ in developing countries.
Reusing and repurposing isn’t new to Campbell. She grew up on a farm near Brighton with five older sisters, before obtaining a diploma in home economics, with a major in fashion design, at Kemptville College in Kemptville, Ontario.
“I’ve done this my entire life. We valued everything we had. We saved buttons, zippers and rags. Now I buy my clothes in second-hand stores.”
When she had her store, she never threw out scraps. They were donated to Project Linus which made quilts for preemies, while left-over flannel from her pyjamas’ production was turned into blankets for African villagers.
Eventually, as well as the scatter rugs, she hopes to make cushions and other home decor, and embroidered denim shorts. Her dream is to employ local people to knit and weave the products.
“I have this vision of a textile centre where we can create this product and manufacture other products,” Campbell said. “There’s a whole community that could be worked around this. It’s more than just creating a product and selling it. It’s creating environmentally-friendly, ethical, sustainable goods for the community.”
“That’s how we need to start looking at products now. We need to make repurposed textiles cool and trendy. We just can’t keep consuming the way we do.”
What Can You Do?
- Stop consuming so much. Purchase less, and invest in classic, well-made pieces where style and quality will stand up to the test of time.
- Buy second-hand, repurposed items from local businesses
- Take your clothing and other items which need repairing to Peterborough’s Repair Cafe (Next one is April 21, Peterborough Public Library, 1 to 4 p.m.)
- Organize a clothing swap with friends where you “trade up” recycled and free fashions with friends
- In North America today, consumers purchase five times as much clothing as in the 1980s. According to second-hand retailer Value Village, 85% of garments purchased end up in landfill each year – that’s 10.5 million tons of clothing. Retailers are unveiling new lines of clothing at unprecedented rates, with shipments of new styles arriving at stores daily. Some chains have gone from releasing the typical “four seasons” of clothing, to more than 50, creating very high demand for the newest trends. (https://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/news-story/8206913–fast-fashion-has-an-impact-on-environment)
- EcoWatch reports that it takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just one T-shirt and pair of jeans due to the watering and processing of cotton. In the shortcut to fast fashion, slavery exists. Uzbekistan is one country notorious for its use of forced labor during the cotton harvest season. The Uzbek government drafts over one million citizens during harvest to pick cotton, unpaid. Slavery in the sewing process is also prevalent, with factories contracting tasks (such as clipping threads or hand sewing detail) to sub-contractors, who then find, and exploit, desperate workers. Too often, debt bondage is the result, as laborers can’t keep up with the “required” pace of work. Cutting labor cost is key for fast fashion companies, and thus far, big brands have been chasing down the cheapest labor markets in the world to keep prices low. The Rana Plaza collapse in April, 2013, which left 1,129 people—mostly garment workers—dead, is a tragic reminder of the true cost of Fast Fashion. Aside from low pay, workers often toil under poor and unsafe working conditions, for long hours with few breaks. (http://www.themadeinamericamovement.com/sustainability/6-things-you-didnt-know-about-fast-fashion)
By Melodie McCullough