Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, And You: An Analysis

The video referenced in this analysis

Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, & You is a TED talk given at the University of Mississippi last month by Patrick Woodyard, the Co-founder and CEO of Nisolo, a company which produces shoes, bags, and accessories ethically for both the environment and those manufacturing the products (without exorbitant pricing). Woodyard began his presentation with a look at the apparel industry today as compared to that of the past; where clothes are made, how they are made, from what materials they are made, and what happens to them in the long run. He discusses ethical and non-ethical labor practices, and touches on environmental degradation caused by the uses of textiles like polyester and of pesticides and chemicals used in the growth of materials such as cotton. The second part of the presentation focuses on the wellbeing of producers, and how Nisolo is run. Woodyard uses Nisolo as an example, and a sort of standard for ethical business in the fashion industry, explaining that prices can be made competitive, improving quality in the process, and explaining the importance to have transparency through the supply and manufacturing chain. Woodyard closes with a brief discussion about the importance of changing brand loyalty to brands which follow ethical practices, and to especially look for those at comparable prices to ‘fast fashion’ or ‘traditional’ fashion brands.

I found this presentation to be very informative, as well as eye-opening. One point Woodyard makes is that the consumption of clothing has increased about 500 percent since the 1990’s, which makes the value of clothes go down, leading to a decrease in quality of clothing, leading to the clothing falling apart quickly, leading to more clothing being purchased, creating a vicious cycle. This point is a very important topic to focus on because the cycle that is created and propagated here is at the root of the fast fashion industry we are faced with today. Corporations want to make more money, so they want to produce more clothes at low cost, sell them at low cost, and provide incentives to their customers to buy more clothes. Since the clothes are produced quickly, in bulk, and with low grade materials, they fall apart more quickly, and more clothes must be bought, and in turn thrown away. But on top of that, people are convinced to buy clothing and accessories that they don’t need, so these products are seldom used and often thrown or given away.

Another point Woodyard makes, which I find useful is that Polyester, a non-biodegradable, man-made, petroleum-based textile, is used for clothing four times more often than cotton in the modern apparel market, and that the average U.S. consumer throws away between 50 and 85 pounds of clothing a year. My point here is two-fold: Polyester never goes away. When it is washed, it breaks off into water streams, and pollutes the water system, and it doesn’t go away in landfills anywhere. Cotton, a natural textile, is biodegradable, but when it is grown heavily using pesticides and other chemicals, it is just as bad for the environment, for the people handling it to produce apparel, and for consumers which purchase the products. The average U.S. consumer throws away 50 to 85 pounds of clothing each year, which would statistically be four times more likely made from polyester than cotton, though most clothes are made with a mix of textiles. Wherever these clothes end up, they will never go away. The pesticides from the cotton do not disappear after the cotton has been made into a tee-shirt, and polyester will never leave. It is a common misconception that many U.S. citizens hold about this out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle: that once we throw the clothes away, they aren’t a problem anymore. But they are.

A third point from Woodyard’s presentation which I find to be important is his emphasis on apparel as an investment; an investment in what one wears, and investment into the environment, and an investment in the wellbeing of producers. This is arguably the most important singular point Woodyard makes in his presentation. The other points are important, but can be found often elsewhere. This argument is not unique (I am not well-read enough on this subject to make that assumption), but it is critical in an understanding of fashion and reimagining the apparel industry. It used to be understood, and Woodyard asserts this point, that fashion was an investment, and he argues that it is important to make that a common understanding again today. That consumers must once again pay a little more for their apparel, care a little more about where it comes from, and pay a little more attention to who is making it for them.

Woodyard, P. (2017). Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, & You | TEDxUniversityofMississippi. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPM9lhackHw

-CA

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