Virus Outbreak Bangladesh

Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, in August. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory, the company’s 15,000 workers turn heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world.

It’s midnight in Bangladesh, and a garment worker is finishing a 16-hour shift. The working conditions she leaves are dangerous to say the least. The garment factory’s environment is likely suffocating, with intense heat and lack of ventilation to let out the toxic substances the workers handle.

The doors and windows may be barred to prevent theft, placing workers at risk of chemical poisoning and death in the event of an emergency like a warehouse fire, according to garment workers rights nonprofit Labor Behind the Label.

The structure of the factory she leaves is extremely unstable, its age and condition too fragile to house the industrial machinery needed for mass-produced garments. Even though she has spent grueling hours over fabrics, cutting, stitching, pressing and finishing the latest trends, she will return home to her family with one-fifth of the living wage necessary to feed, clothe and educate them.

This lifestyle is extremely common in the places listed on the labels attached to our clothes, according to The Clean Clothes Campaign, an initiative with the intent of improving working conditions and empowering global workers. In China, Indonesia, India and countless other locations, both adults and children are subject to these conditions, fueled by the intense demand for cheap, trendy clothing in more developed countries, thanks to the fast-fashion industry.

The industry once abided by the four seasons, putting out a collection every winter, spring, summer and fall. Big-name retailers spent months predicting future trends, but distributors and manufacturers recently become far more receptive to the immediate response of customers.

Whereas seasons used to last for months, they now span mere weeks, according to Parcast’s podcast The Dark Side Of. This forces garment workers to ramp up production at incredible rates to keep up with the demand of big companies, as high-fashion designs are brought from the catwalk to the sales racks of department stores almost instantly.

These quickly made pieces are inevitably accompanied by cheap, easily disposable quality. Modern culture normalizes needing a wide array of clothes and the idea that “an outfit can never be worn more than once,” but this works in concert with the fact that cheaply made clothes are rendered unwearable or untrendy very quickly. Online firm Rent the Runway estimated each American bought 68 new garments in 2018. To add to this consumption, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s, each new garment is only worn seven times on average.

The results are jarring. Climate and culture magazine Atmos found Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste per year. These discarded articles of clothing can end up in one of four places: 10 million tons go to the landfill, 3 million tons are incinerated, 2.5 million tons are recycled and 700,000 tons are sent overseas. As clothes decompose in landfills and are incinerated, they release greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane into the air.

Donating unwanted clothing to a secondhand store instead of throwing it away might seem conscience-appeasing, but many donated articles of clothing go unsold and are relocated.

Planet Aid, a nonprofit organization focused on reselling and recycling used clothing, describes its process of gathering together 1,000-pound collections of used clothing, dividing them into categories for gender and size, and shipping them overseas. They claim there is “a high demand for used clothing in developing countries and relatively low demand for used textiles in the U.S.,” so trying to sell it here is far less profitable.

These new influxes of shipped clothes are then sold in foreign countries, negatively impacting the incomes of local businesses and the countries’ economies. Incoming garments are sold at 5 percent of the price of a new garment made in the country they are being sold in, according to nonprofit Green American, giving local vendors no chance of competing and making ends meet. Unsold clothes are still sentenced to landfill deterioration or incineration in the countries they are shipped to.

All of the environmental impacts described only encompass those transpiring after the garments have been released to customers. Even before that, the creation of fast-fashion pieces uses an excessive amount of water — roughly 3,000 liters of water for a single cotton shirt, according to research from Princeton University. To put that into perspective, that’s enough water to properly hydrate 1,000 people for one day.

Similarly, because the garments sell for such a low price, it is impossible for them to be made out of quality fabrics. Most are made out of disguised plastic, synthetic dyes and harmful chemicals. According to Forbes, the dyeing process releases harmful chemicals into communities and the environment. These chemicals are dumped and runoff from factories into rivers near villages, rendering the water toxic, undrinkable and full of carcinogens for people living nearby.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what you can do as an average consumer to try to make your shopping habits more sustainable and ethical. Atmos proposes a few options: Shoppers can start by buying less, repairing damaged clothing instead of throwing it away and buying secondhand clothes instead of new ones.

Josette Gurulé is a senior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics. Contact her at gurule.josette@gmail.com.

(1) comment

Khal Spencer

Excellent. I've noticed one or two of these junk clothing stores in Santa Fe. I prefer to shop at the second hand stores that support animal causes or buy quality stuff built to last. The stuff I do have lasts until it falls apart and becomes reinvented first as pajama and then as cleaning cloths. I'm still wearing a sweater I bought at Eastern Mountain Sports in the mid-1980's.

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