Thereʼs a scene in a movie about Coco Chanel where Coco drapes an old white nylon curtain around a young girl in a little black dress and the effect is stunning, classic fashion. It was a subtle and dramatic statement: style is not the latest expensive designer. In fact it is the opposite, new fashion is quite tasteless and disgusting, ask a professional fashion designer.
I learned to sew before I was five years old and apprenticed with a fashion manufacturer for high-end designer labels in Australia. Iʼve worked as a costumer for theater and television around the world, and had my own small eco couture fashion label in San Francisco. Iʼm also an ecologist, which is why Iʼm writing this piece, to let you in on fashionʼs big dirty secret.
Fashion is the number one pollution creator in the world. Not cars, not airplanes, not nuclear power plants (except Fukushima). Between cotton farming and pesticides, synthetic cloth from fossil oils, bleaching, dying, printing, acid wash, cutting and off cuts, ￼￼when you follow the process from start to finish fashion is a very filthy and toxic industry. Whole river systems have been dead or drained and farming land polluted for centuries just to make or dye cloth. Most fashion labels waving “Planet Friendly” marketing slogans are in an ongoing ecological nightmares already happening.
A yard of cloth is packaged, transported, unpackaged and processed and repackaged and transported eight or more times, from its beginning as fiber, to its being a piece of clothing on your body. There is also the production of thread, buttons, beads, zips, studs, and their transport and manufacturersʼ packaging. Then there is the retail and wholesale transportation and more packaging, as well as individual disposable hangers and disposable protective garment bags. But thatʼs not the end of the packaging and transport pollution for a single yard of cloth.
Shed a Little Light
None of us consider the tattered clothing, worn cleaning rags, and old bedsheets and bath towels we throw in the garbage. On average each US citizen throws away over 240 pounds of fiber every year. Yes, each person every year. In India that fiber would be collected and recycled back into spun thread, painstakingly by hand, to create new cloth. In the USA, it is repackaged and re-transported to go into landfill, and more pollution created to make new fiber to replace that fiber.
Your waste fashion kills local fashion industries and jobs. The clothes, shoes, and accessories and other items we give to thrift stores. The vast majority of fashion that goes to thrift stores doesnʼt sell, so is repackaged in huge bales and reshipped to third world countries. But too many of the USAʼs castoffs are given freely by well-meaning foolish organizations to countries they think are lesser than themselves.
Local hand made fashion industries, in these so called “lucky” countries receiving the bales of fashion, are put out of business and unique local designs and skills are lost forever. Look again at the photos of so-called starving children from Africa and notice the Nike logos. Those free t-shirts from compulsive shopping Americans put his whole village of cloth weavers out of work, which is why his family are starving.
It is against the law to go naked in public in most countries and all countries have clothed government officials, and industrial and business workers. Uniforms and work wear are usually changed at least once a year. Every country must buy millions and hundreds of millions and billions of sets of clothes every year. This all continues the massive cultural erosion from cast offs, as well as ecological destruction and climate change from chemical pollution, clean water waste, and transportation.
Your expensive designer dress is a fake, even if it has the official label. A big fashion secret is that designer labels made in China really are knock offs licensed by the designer. Fashion sold by overstock outlets really are not the real thing, just poor quality copies. If there are 20 of them in all different sizes and colors on the rack, they are not couture or bespoke couture.
￼If the label says made in China, or not the same country as the designer, it is not the real thing. Genuine Chanel and Christian Dior are made in Paris, genuine Ralph Lauren and Levi jeans are made in the USA. If they were made anywhere else weʼd know the items to be fakes. It is the mass made cheap fakes that create most of the pollution.
Until the 1960sʼ mass produced clothing was mostly still a novelty. Most cloths, including uniforms, were sewn at home by a relative, or a professional custom seamstress or taylor. If we look at happy snaps from the 1970ʼs and before, everybodyʼs clothes fitted beautifully and looked like good quality. That is because every stitch was custom made and tailored to their bodies, usually by their skilled mom or aunt or grandma.
To see up close the real work that goes into a piece of clothing can make a person appreciate that piece of clothing, so they wear it for many years. This saves a whole lot of yearly created pollution, shopping time, and transport having to get that piece new every year or every season.
To take an out of fashion piece and reconstruct it into a fashionable piece also saves a lot of pollution causing climate change. Most new fashions today are poor quality fabrics and tailoring, while good quality fabrics and tailoring are way over most peopleʼs fashion budget. Preloved and thrift stores close this gap. Great quality older and overstock fashion that with alteration or reconstruction can be transformed into expensive looking couture and bespoke.
All countries once had their own handmade garment and accessories industries providing local jobs. By paying more for a local handmade garment and cloth we create jobs and save transport pollution. We can also save money locally by reconstructing thrift and preloved fashion and reduce pollution and transport tenfold.
If fashion means nothing to you, then wear one well made piece you donʼt have to keep replacing. If fashion means a lot to you, then wear a good quality no name reconstructed original, rather than a cheaply made fake. Either way you save money, reduce your carbon footprint, look good, create local jobs, and help ease climate change.
– Deborah Paulino Nee Hodgson Eco Couture and Bespoke https://www.facebook.com/rfdecouture
Images: Steampunk corset and Goth skirt by Deborah made from 100% recycled vintage fabrics quilted together. Steampunk Pilotʼs Coat made from recycled trench coat with military buttons and leather trim. ￼