April 6, 2020
The High Cost of Our Cheap Fashion | Maxine Bédat | TEDxPiscataquaRiver

The High Cost of Our Cheap Fashion | Maxine Bédat | TEDxPiscataquaRiver


Translator: Louise-Marie Six
Reviewer: Viviane P. So, scientists have been warning us
that we’re wreaking havoc on our planet. We’re told about how our soil
is getting deteriorated and our fresh water supply,
as we just heard, is getting polluted. We’re told about all of these problems, and we’re told how
it’s going to impact us. It’s not just our polar ice caps
that are going to be melting, but it’s going to impact
our coastal cities. We’re told about all of this, but then we’re not really
given many options on what we might be able to do about it. We’re told to recycle,
use fuel-efficient cars, maybe turn the lights off
when we’re leaving the room. We feel powerless against this issue. And it also seems as if it’s the responsibility
of government to take care of. And yet we know
that government is in gridlock. So now, what are we left to do? Well, what if I told you
that we actually do hold the power? And that power is what we wear every day. It’s our clothing. Because what people haven’t told you is under the radar, the apparel industry has actually become the second most polluting
industry in the world. So, I’d like to talk today
about how we got to this place and how we can take back control
and use our power to both answer the question,
“What am I going to wear today?” and the world’s more pressing problems. So, it’s the leadership of Ikea
that recently said that we have reached peak stuff. And that is certainly true
when it comes to our clothing. You see here, in the 1960s, the average American invested
in 25 new pieces of clothing every year. A generation later, today, and we purchase three times as much clothing
as we did in the 60s. So how did this come about? Did we just decide one day, “Oh yes, I want to purchase
a lot more clothes of less quality. Sign me up for that”? It didn’t happen that way. It started as trade barriers
actually came down, which created financial incentives for brands to move
their production overseas. And this generally created a trend
for cheaper and cheaper clothing using cheaper materials and cheap labor. Meanwhile, these fast-fashion companies – and that’s what this industry is called – these fast-fashion companies
had huge marketing budgets to try to convince all of us that their cheap clothing
was somehow covetable. So we bought more and more. But more isn’t always more. You see, in the 1960s, when we were investing
in 25 pieces of clothing – and they really were investments
because at that time, we spent over 10% of our salary
on clothing every year – 95% of American clothing, what we wore,
was American-made. Today, it is less than 2%. And that drop actually
represents an 80% drop in apparel-manufacturing
jobs in this country. So, I’m sure we all have
our own experiences of dealing with fast fashion
and experiencing fast fashion. I have my own. Having come from Minnesota, I remember
going to New York when H&M first opened. And I was so excited, I have to admit. I loved the size of the store
and the lights, and the smell was kind of crazy, and there was this blasting music, and I just ate it up. And I bought clothes by the bagful. And I didn’t really think that I –
maybe knew what I wanted, but it didn’t really seem to matter,
because the prices were just so cheap. I mean, a jumpsuit for less than $20! But what I ultimately found out
is that all of that cheap clothing has huge consequences both for the environment
and for the people making our clothing. So let’s take a look at why that is. So, it turns out
that the fast-fashion industry is fuelled by a new type
of fiber: polyester. You can see there, there is a line: H&M opens in New York in 2001 –
that’s when I was visiting – and you can see, at that stage,
that was when cotton was no longer king. And just take a look
at the rise of polyester as fast fashion has come onto the scene. Polyester, for those that don’t know, is a polluting plastic
made from fossil fuels. And it’s now in over half of our clothing. Let’s talk about why
that might be an issue. There are four primary things
that we need to think about when we think about
this rise in polyester. First of all, it’s non-biodegradable. Consider this: every piece of polyester
that has ever been produced is still on the planet today. So, when you think about the fact that there are 150 billion
new pieces of clothing being added onto the planet every year, that’s a lot of plastic
that’s not going away. Second: these polyester fabrics,
when you wash them, thousands of these
microplastics are shedding, and they’re entering our water systems
and ultimately our oceans. And what’s happening is that the fish
are consuming these microplastics and we are consuming the fish. There was a recent study in California, and they went to the fish
markets in California. And they found out that actually one in four of the fish
that are sold at the markets contain these microplastics. And researchers are saying
that while the big plastics you can see, the greatest pollution
is actually these microfibers. Third: have you noticed that recently,
you have been sweating more? This is not just a coincidence, because polyester, it turns out,
is non-breathable, unlike the natural fibers. So, what that means is that heat
is trapped into your body and you sweat more. Finally, polyester is extremely
energy-intensive to create. Just how energy-intensive? Take a look at this graph. This is showing the relative
energy-intensiveness to create each type of material. This linen sweater that I am wearing requires just [one eighth]
of the amount of energy it does to create polyester. So, now we have a tripling of the amount
of clothing that we buy, this clothing is no longer made
from natural materials but incredibly energy-intensive polyester, and now we have to think about
where this clothing is being made. Take a look at this graph. This graph shows the total apparel imports
into the US by volume. You will see here that China is actually
our biggest trading partner on this – a little more than 40% of our clothing
is coming from China. Remember this graph, and as I show you this one, take a look at this map. This is a map of the energy-intensiveness
of the power grids of where we’re getting our clothing from. Consider this: in China, 3/4 of the energy supply
is coming from coal. So when we are churning away
all of that clothing, it’s coming from
the dirtiest form of energy, which is coal. Even in the United States, which itself
is not the cleanest power grid, it’s not 77% as in China,
it is about 33%. So, now we know
we’re making too much clothing, it’s being made of
a very high-intensity product in a place that is taking up
a lot of energy. And all of this is adding up
to the fact that the apparel industry is responsible for 10%
of the total carbon output for the entire world. To put that into some perspective, that is five times more carbon output than all airline travel combined. But that’s just the environmental impact. Now we have to consider
who is making our clothes and what is happening to them. If you remember
where our clothing is coming from, now we’re going to look
at the Department of Labor and where they are finding
forced labor and child labor. And you’re going to see
that they match up almost exactly. It is believed that one in six people
around the world work in some part of the apparel industry. So, it employs a lot of people. About 80% of those people are women. And 98% of them
are not receiving a living wage. What that means is they are getting
locked into a channel of poverty. So, that’s the bad stuff. But it seems, in all of this, that no one is really winning. Nobody in the supply chain,
no one in the value chain is really winning, except for maybe two CEOs
of fast-fashion companies. And perhaps nobody is winning –
even us, the citizen consumer. Because if you take
the interest in tidying up and the best-seller Marie Kondo’s
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you see this explosive growth in interest
in cleaning all of that up. And I share that personal interest. After living over a decade
with my fast-fashion habit, I was so tired of shopping all the time
and never having anything to wear, my closet in New York
bursting open with clothes, always trying to struggle
with what I’m going to wear every day. So, one day I decided I had had enough. And I wanted to understand: What exactly in my closet
did I enjoy wearing? And why did I enjoy wearing it? So, I was digging through things
and looking at tags and I started to google. Really aggressively. And what I found out is that I am
actually not alone in this pursuit. If you type in “is linen” in Google,
it actually autocompletes to “is linen cotton?” I asked that question myself. And now I know that linen is not cotton. Linen – the sweater
that I am wearing today – comes from flax –
that’s the plant on the left – and cotton is that thing on the right. So, I’m googling away, and it really started for me
with a personal desire to buy better. So, I started to search for ethical
and sustainable clothing. But what I ended up finding,
after doing further research, is that those words
are really unregulated. So, companies can say they are ethical, and they can show
a picture of their factory, but the picture is hiding a lot of things. First of all, the picture doesn’t say
anything about transparency. Transparency is when a brand
is willing to name the factories that they are working with, allowing third parties –
customers, the media – to actually research
whether what the brand is claiming is actually what is taking place. Second, the pictures do not show
wages or healthcare coverage. And when you think back
about how 98% of the apparel industry is not receiving a living wage, that’s an incredibly important statistic
if you’re wanting to shop ethically. A picture also doesn’t show
shadow factories. Shadow factories is a situation
that is happening in the apparel industry as we have been really going
on this race to the bottom when a brand will meet with
what is called a “five-star factory” and they might be taking pictures
or doing audits of that factory, but it turns out actually
that to get the prices that the brand is requiring or the speed in which
they need that product, they’re outsourcing that production
to another factory. It’s called the “shadow factories,” which is where really
the production is taking place. And oftentimes, these shadow factories have much lower
labor and living standards. And finally, a picture is not showing
material sustainability. It’s not showing
whether it’s organic cotton, and that turns out to be
incredibly important because cotton is the fourth largest
pesticide-consuming crop. That’s why we’re having a hard time
with the nutrition of our soil. And it’s not showing
whether the dye stuff is actually being handled appropriately. So, it turns out that
not only is the apparel industry responsible for 10% of carbon output, it’s also the second greatest
polluter of fresh water globally. And that’s because dye houses
in the developing world, 90% of them dye their products and then release those effluents,
release that dye stuff directly into local freshwater supplies. So, as I was doing all of this research, my research entered a Google document and I just became really frustrated
by the whole thing. I became frustrated because I saw
while we had this interest in food and we now had organic food options and we had farm-to-table restaurants, there really wasn’t a resource that was
putting all of this stuff together. And as I was putting
these pieces together, I just saw how huge the problem was. And so, it was really that frustration that became the impetus to create Zady. I wanted a place
that distilled that information and provided an alternative. So, along with a researcher, we translated that disparate
information on the Google doc to a plan on how we can actually create
sustainable clothing. Because there isn’t an organic standard
in the apparel industry. There aren’t the equivalent
of LEED-certified factories, so we really had to
do it all from scratch. And this is what we came up with. It’s called the “new standard.” First of all, we think about
user-centered design. A common theme in this fast fashion is
that it’s all about what can be sold to us and the marketing that can be done to us, but unlike technology, it’s really not designed for us at all. And so, that’s the most important thing: that we’re thinking about what is somebody doing in their day,
where are they going, and what is the cut and material
that is going to fit them best. And then we use natural materials
and we work directly with our suppliers from the farm all the way
through the supply chain. And that’s important,
because 90% of brands actually don’t know
where their material is coming from. Finally, we have an open-door policy
with our manufacturers, and we do all of our
production domestically. In that way, we can see
whether our production is actually taking place
in the place that we’ve contracted with. So, our idea with the “new standard”
and creating the Zady collection was to show an alternative, that we really can love our clothes again. And that brings me back to us. The citizen consumer. Because what I have
realized in all of this is that we hold the power. And if we see ourselves
as citizen consumers, and if we vote with our dollars, we can change the industry because they’re just
following what we’re doing. And so, as a citizen consumer, these are some of the things
that you can do. First, just check the tags;
that’s where it started with me. Understand where
your clothing is coming from and what it is made out of. That already can advance things a lot. Second, check the seams of the clothing. In a lot of fast fashion,
if you turn it inside out, even in the dressing room
before you have even left the store, those seams are already coming apart. So you can really see whether this is something
that’s going to last a long time. Third and most importantly, love what you buy. There’s so much marketing dollars being used to convince us
that we like something that we don’t really get
to focus on what is our style, what do we really like,
what do we really enjoy. If we focus on loving what we buy, we’re going to end up buying less
and enjoying it better. And finally, as a citizen consumer, you have the power to ask questions. You have the right to ask questions. Ask if the material is organic. Ask what the names of the factories are. Ask if the mills are certified – are they dealing with
their dye and water appropriately? And think of your purchases
in terms of cost per wear. Think of it like an accountant
would think of these things. In that way, you’re not stuck
just on the price tag, but you can see your clothing
as an investment in the long term. Because this chaotic
and polluting and unjust system is really entirely
within our hands to control. And what we as consumer citizens
choose to purchase dictates what direction the industry goes. If we use our dollars
to support that effort, to support slow fashion, we might find that
we feel better in our clothes, and we’ll be using our power
to clean up the planet. Thanks. (Applause)

69 thoughts on “The High Cost of Our Cheap Fashion | Maxine Bédat | TEDxPiscataquaRiver

  1. Really appreciate the depth of this research and the steps that Zady is taking to change the fashion industry.

  2. Help us try and change this for good!!

    https://www.change.org/p/ceo-of-fast-fashion-brands-make-fast-fashion-brand-ceos-look-after-their-workers-in-bangladesh

  3. Great video should. I would also add the role that social media plays in this as well. Young people will take a picture in their outfit of the day(ootd) and will not where it again thus creating more waste because they don't want to be seen on social media in the same clothing.

  4. Shop secondhand!
    It keeps clothing out of the landfills, starts and new cycle, and thrift shops donate their profit to charity.

  5. It terrifies me how many people shop without thinking, that there are those who don't know what linen is. Thank goodness for the internet and the accessible education it offers. I am optimistic that more and more will become sensitive in the future.

  6. I am glad that I came across this talk, it surely have made me think and inculcate ethical values in my new apparel business for sure

  7. First of all I see this as an issue yes fast fashion is bad for the workers but for the people buying not so much. I do not want to go back to the 1960's where clothing was expensive. You can not say just buy American made because right now that is 2% of the clothing and it is super expensive. It is just not going to work. Unless the United States makes affordable great quality and inexpensive brands fast fashion will never go away. I do thrift store shop but normal people can not get everything from the thrift store. I get quite a few pieces of brand name and vintage clothing but not enough to make a whole wardrobe for every single season I have here in Ohio which is fall, winter, spring, and summer. I actually enjoy polyester because it does not shrink and if you are plus sized that is a great thing to know and wear. Cotton maybe environmentally friendly but it is not your friend, and wool while great for winter is not good for summer. There really is no solution to this. Fast fashion will keep going on and the brand Zady is selling single items anywhere from 165 to 300 dollars. No thank you, if you are going to put in the time and effort make it reasonable to the people that are buying fast fashion.

  8. I think Zady is the least brand that should talk about it, its clothes are absolutely unaffordable, for privilege class

  9. I've learned to sew, just to avoid all the polyester and viscose too. I hate H&M, I live in Sweden and unfortunely all of the clothing stores had followed H&M's lead. At least in the US, one can still find some cotton, wool and linen.

  10. buy from an American manufacture. yes you can still buy american made jeans. roundhouse, texas jeans, all american clothing company, and SOME carhartt just to name a few. i dont buy high designer BS brands.

  11. Two Words, for bringing a chain of production back to our Continent. Textile Hemp. From farming, to weaving textile material, to clothing design, to repurposing.

  12. Anyone who has worked in clothing retail since before 2000 have seen how the quality of clothing has changed. And what is so infuriating is how the well known lables have resorted to cheaper quality and still mark-up the clothing over 80%. Isn't it also interesting how the fashion industry tries to push this "layered style" while making all the clothing with polyester, which is just like the woman said "it doesn't breathe".

  13. I have only natural and good quality fibers which I get from secondhand. Secondhand shopping options all filled with gold 😀

  14. All little things add up – half of my closet is used; I own gently used shoes; I donate clothes and shoes. I think we should start clothing libraries where people can pay 10 bucks a month and rent clothes that are available! Sort of like the netflix of renting clothes and returning them!

  15. also take your old t shirts and use them as cleaning rags – it will save money on clothes AND give them a new purpose and you will save money on paper towels!

  16. and no offense women are the most wasteful creatures… we make up over 80 percent of the decision making when it comes to humans being consumers

  17. Where to buy responsibly made clothing then? My first instinct is go to more expensive one. But more expensive one doesn't always pay the labor fairly… If we ask SMEs that sells clothing handmade, we and the seller still doesn't know where did the fabric actually come from and how they were paid…

  18. When shops make Summer dresses with polyester i just wanna scream. It might look nice but nobody is going to wanna wear it for long because it makes you sweat

  19. Can anyone send some links or websites who caters unused clothes? I'm from Philippines and we recycled some clothes sometimes we got from our friends and relatives.
    We make it as rags, mops, and etc. as long as we can still use those textiles.

  20. Out of sight out of ethics. Trusting lables is just not gonna do it for me. This ties into the major ecological problem called transport. Only getting our clothes, food and everything else we need from production in our communities that we can physically see from start to finish will make the cut.

  21. Capitalism is the problem. Money is just an extension of human greed. We NEED to build a moneyless shareocracy in which everyone gets their basic needs met through voluntary work. That would also solve the climate crisis by eradication of unnecessary economical competition. Money has no value and only creates inequality, it's outdated. AI will help us create a moneyless world because they will kill paid labor. Thst is what the wealthy and corrupt fear the most. That everyone realizes that money is worthless and people start living in communities without it. We don't need the wealthy and corrupt they need us, we are their slaves. Profit is the unpaid labor of the working class. Capitalism is holding Society back, we need lots of time to think, improve society and invent.

  22. Second hand is not always best. They still throw away clothes that aren’t good, and what do you think they do with clothes that don’t sell?

    Not always given to clothing charities… but send overseas and resold and potentially bad prices, which isn’t helping anyone.

  23. While I don't advocate wearing ragged clothing to work, I don't have a problem using clothing that shows some natural wear and tear. If they go past a certain point, they get rotated to the 'yard work clothing' drawer until there's enough holes in them my sun tan makes polka dots. Seriously, it's a work shirt, who cares? If your friends judge you on your clothing, trade them on some real friends. The ratio is about 10:1, but the one you get is a keeper. If someone is so bothered by the way you look, I can't be bothered to pay attention to them.

  24. We think the imbalance in the weather patterns are our only concerns. She started off different topics to become educated on. And China, you need to work harder in saving our planet 🌍

  25. This woman has just spent 20 minutes educating me on a subject I didn't know anything about. Thank you so much ma'am, that was thought-provoking and I'll definitely apply your suggestions as much as I can.

  26. I buy clothes mostly second hand or get them second hand from friends. I prefer that anyway. You can find some really cool stuff that wouldn't really be found in stores.

  27. This is why I ONLY buy second hand clothing as THAT is the most sustainable and LEAST costly/destructive option by FAR. I also ONLY buy high quality cotton clothes which I can wear for 10+yrs. Some of my clothes are ones I got when I was 16, or 16yrs ago.

  28. At 6:51 doesn''t she mean to say that her linen top takes 1/8th the amount of energy that is does to create polyester? not 8 times??

  29. Before 2000 closet lasted. I am 50 and I have 4 sweaters I bough in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. I buy a sweater now it does not last. By the way I had to get rid of 2 sweaters I bought in 1997 and 1998. Not bad they lasted 20 plus years.

    I had 4 Tee Shirts 20 plus years old. 2 are left and 2 had to go.

  30. Is China the worst country nowdays or what? animal abuse, pollution, exploitation, no free speech, all for money.!!!!

  31. I use biodegradable cleaning supplies, cruelty-free products, eat organic etc, but NEVER thought about my clothing. Thank you for this information. I appreciate your delivery, candor and call to action. It has certainly moved me to do further research, share this info with others and make better choices.

  32. In this flourishing fashion industry, who can stop "fast fashion" which is getting bigger and bigger all over there world. With a fact that development of technology in the fashion industry is even being accelerated, it seems that it is almost impossible to stop such huge companies.
    Have you seen people shopping in Primark? It is such a huge business out there. People carry a wheel-basket in the shop and just put clothes in the basket and some clothes are like literally thrown and laid down on the floor. This is insane. Most importantly, we can not deny that products produced by a big company like Primark are attractive enough because they are cheaper than you expect. Last but not least, from my point of view, any types of artists seeking sustainability need to be highlighted and paid attention from the public to solve the problem of clothing waste. Furthermore, It also needs to go with the idea that artists are responsible for producing a valuable outcome so that people will finally get into it.

  33. "Vorrei essere il padre di questa ragazza; vorrei fosse mia figlia per prenderla a schiaffi" -Vittorio Feltri su Grera Thunberg

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