This is a story about clothing. What we wear. The people who make them. The impact the fashion industry is having on us and on our planet.
Known as the Oriental Pearl with a twist of British influence in the culture. It has Chinese roots with Western influence. It was considered the New York of the East. A hub of finance, tech, manufacturing, design and trade, it has been a magnet for the world’s elite. But since the return of sovereignty to China (1997), Asia has undergone dramatic changes and the Chinese mainland, in particular, has transformed into a global powerhouse.
As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains a separate political and economic system apart from mainland China. It's tertiary sector dominated economy is characterized by competitive simple taxation. Although the city boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, it suffers from severe income inequality.
Air pollution in Hong Kong is considered a serious problem due to a high population density and industrial pollution from mainland China.
Typhoons normally occur during the months of May to November, and are particularly prevalent during July to September. As a coastal city, it is pretty vulnerable to climate change. Researchers warn that global warming will heat the oceans in the region leading to even more intense giant storms. Extreme weather will be the “new normal of warming world”. Storm surges will increase, hot days, heavy rains will become more frequent. By rise of the mean sea level coastal flooding also will be very likely.
As a result, the city faces huge changes and adaptation must become a strategic priority for both government and the private sector.
It is a unique major tourism destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from diverse places and proudly proclaims itself to be Asia's World City. But in fact, many tourists visit Hong Kong only for shopping. You can find malls, shopping streets, markets all over the territory. Specializing for everything you could possibly imagine, kinda capital of consumerism.
Hong Kong has had a long history with textiles. In the 1950s, was one of Asia’s biggest textile exporters, and in the 1960s and 1970s, a large portion of the city’s population was employed by the garment manufacturing industry. Rising land and labour costs, combined with growing competition in the region, saw the city lose its edge, with many factories moving to China where costs were considerably lower.
The clothing industry is still a major manufacturing sector of Hong Kong. Along with rising labour costs and stricter environmental regulations on the Chinese mainland, an increasing number of Hong Kong and mainland clothing manufacturers have relocated their production of lower-end and mass products to Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Their manufacturing operations on the mainland are now focused on more sophisticated and higher value-added items or urgent orders.
The country remains still one of the world’s largest textile producer and exporter. This industry is still a key player in the national economy.
When the country became a world factory and produced so many items for so many brands, the “Made in China” label has become synonymous with low-cost and low-quality. This reflects a combination of consumer experience and influence of media coverage related to these products.
We need clothes to cover our bodies, but it is also a way of a personal communication, who we are. A chosen skin. I usually make my choices based on quality. I always prefer to invest in something that would last a long time without a compromise on style and comfort. I still remember, my very first big garment boycott. I discovered in stores that same brand, same item, same fabric, one was very durable one not. Difference: one was made in China, one was made in other country. That was just the beginning...
My journey uncovering the truths of my allergies transformed the way I live. It was a catalyst for more awareness on all areas of my life and make me more conscious all around. When I started to reject all of the pesticides from my household, I had begun expose more and more truths behind global fashion industry too.
The true cost of clothing that goes far beyond the price tag.
Most people in the western countries live in their own prison. Prison of un-satisfaction. Searching happiness in material goods. Either have no knowledge of or don’t take into consideration when purchasing a garment, our choices have inevitable serious consequences. While we are trying to feel better, good about ourselves and improve our confidence in the short term, fashion disempowering people elsewhere.
We want to buy clothes, but a lot, on a cheap price. We also want fair wages for ourselves, preferably for not much work. We want more free time too of course, because we want to shop from Monday to Sunday. We want always friendly and happy shop assistants. We want always new clothes in 52 season in a year. Where does it end?
At this point I need to ask, what do you think how is it possible? Our behavior is far more selfish than we might like to believe. Our choices make many other people’s life a slavery, and not only in developing countries. Many of them are underpaid and unrespected human beings without escape. Have you ever thought about that? Who really pays the price for our cheap clothing? Where is it coming from? Who made your clothes (what you might wear only once)?
These people have no guarantee on their safety or not even essential human rights. Meanwhile, an estimated £30bn worth of our clothing hangs about gathering dust because we simply don't have time to wear it all or don't really like what we're buying.
We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our clothing as 97% of items are now made overseas. There are roughly 40 million garment workers in the world today; many of whom do not share the same rights or protections that many people in the West do. They are some of the lowest paid workers in the world and roughly 85% of all garment workers are women. The human factor of the garment industry is too big to ignore; as we consistently see the exploitation of cheap labor and the violation of workers’, women’s, and human rights in many developing countries across the world.
Many multinational companies sourcing from Asian countries because they are getting the production at a cheap rate. They are also putting continuously pressure on local factory owners to decrease their prices. Through the workers everyone is making profits, opening new factories built with these people blood and sweat.
Global fashion brands are bigger than ever before and with annual revenues in the billions, they are now part of an almost 3 trillion dollar a year industry. These brands are continuing to hugely profit from their use of cheaper labor in foreign countries.
It shouldn’t be like that. Ignoring other people’s life. Everybody should take responsibility. I wish people would buy clothes with conscience and companies would be more transparent about their sourcing. Consumerism throwaway culture is having a long-term impact on the society and environment. Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now abundantly available we are beginning to see the things we wear as disposable. The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago.
It is easy to find out the fashion industry has some major sustainability problems too. Negative impacts, like water pollution, using of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste.
Since the 20th century, clothing has increasingly been considered as disposable, and the industry has become highly globalized, with garments often designed in one country, manufactured in another and sold worldwide at an ever-increasing pace. This trend has been further accentuated over the past 15 years by rising demand from a growing middle class across the globe with higher disposable income, and the emergence of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon, leading to a doubling in production over the same period. It is estimated that more than half of fast fashion production is disposed of in under a year, and one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burnt every second. This factor combined with a very low rate of recycling - less than 1% of material used - leads to an ever-expanding pressure on resources. This ‘take-make-dispose’ system is not only extremely wasteful, but also very polluting. The use of substances of concern in textile production has an important impact on farmers’ and factory workers’ health as well as on the surrounding environment. During use, it has been recently estimated that, half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres shed during washing ends up in the ocean and ultimately enters the food chain. In other words, we may end up eating our own clothes.
So fashion comes mostly at a huge cost to the environment. The industry footprint is extraordinary, making it one of the top (?) most polluting ones on earth. By 2030, it is predicted that the industry’s water consumption will grow by 50 % to 118 billion cubic metres, its carbon footprint will increase to 2,791m tonnes and the amount of waste it creates will hit 148m tonnes. Brands should aim instead to use new technology and business models to design products that can be recycled or re-engineered into new styles with minimal use of virgin materials, water, energy and chemicals.
Even if the industry is reducing the environmental footprint of its products, consumption side need a change to.
Through reading, asking questions and learning, I was able to start to make more conscious and ethical purchasing decisions. That encouraged me to shift and change the way I consume. I keep my eyes always open to find companies \ brands who are doing their best and purchase their products. I try to buy all the necessary items locally. Sometimes I need to wait for an unavoidable travel trip to purchase a specific new item what I really need in a way I think the most sustainable. It happened and can happen that I don’t buy anything for a year, but this never means I have to compromise on my own style and appearance. There are still pros and cons to my shopping behavior and sometimes it is not easy to navigate. I constantly do my best to find new informations, practices to change for the better.
If you think about it, fashion consumption is quite irrational. Purchase decisions are more likely to be driven by desires linked to pleasure and excitement. Fashion is a social activity for setting our status but it is also an activity that is driven by emotional desires such as the fantasy, excitement and aspirations of living a better, more fulfilling life. Our unsustainable addiction to fast fashion usually gives us only short-term satisfaction and it has become a threat to our long-term environmental survival. People buy more clothes and don’t keep them as long as they used to. Textile waste is an unintended consequence of this.
Love your clothes and keep wearing them for longer. It only starts with smarter buying. Keep in mind that every purchase you make is a chance to vote with your money. Use your wallet as weapon to fight for a better and more sustainable world.
“Buy less, choose well, make it last” - Vivienne Westwood.
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