Last week I attended the first-ever World Ethical Apparel Roundtable (#WEAR2014) held in Toronto. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world and industry that I know little about, although I certainly learned a lot after two days of lectures and panel discussions.
Because the conference was so industry-oriented, I was left thinking about how to apply the information to everyday consumers -- people like you and me who don’t manage garment factories or work as clothing retailers, and may feel as if we don’t have as much influence as those who are active within the industry. And yet, we, as consumers, are ultimately the reason for the existence of these companies, which gives us tremendous power over which direction the garment industry will take in future years.
As the Toronto-based non-profit organization Fashion Takes Action states on its website, “We believe it is important for consumers to understand the Buy It To Vote mentality, and the power that they hold within their wallets. The more consumers demand and pay for ethical, sustainable fashion, the quicker we can get to where we want to be.”
I left the conference ultimately with a great sense of hope. We can do this. We can make the changes necessary to transform an industry that is, in many cases, dangerous to garment workers and hazardous to both consumers and the environment. Alternatives do exist, some of which are based on shopping decisions, but many rely on simple adjustments to the way in which consumers treat their clothes on a daily basis. Here are some ideas for where to start.
Clothes can last a very long time, if cared for properly. It’s important to remember that “cold is the new hot” – washing in cold water is just as effective as hot and far more environmentally friendly. It’s also gentler on fabrics, as is hanging out clothes to dry, instead of stuffing them in the dryer. Learning how to mend can salvage many garments and increase their lifespan.
H&M recently launched its Clevercare label initiative, which educates consumers about how to get clean, dry, wrinkle-free clothes in an eco-friendly way.