Each week, an estimated 15 million second-hand clothing items from North America, Europe and Australia arrive in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. These are unwanted clothes donated by well-meaning Westerners for reuse or resale, bombarding countries like Ghana with clothing waste.
The small country of 30 million people is expected to receive, publish and dispose of billions of clothes annually that are not theirs to begin with. Items in poor condition that arrive in Accra are immediately dumped in landfills, while the rest is left to sellers to promote in the hope of making a profit. But as the quality of clothing has declined thanks to fast fashion, the ability of distributors to earn a living has also declined. The city’s waste manager told ABC News in August that Accra had “become a textile waste dump.” local water systems were polluted; Landfills have become fuel for catastrophic fires.
However, no company or country has been eager to take responsibility for the waste crisis in Ghana. It exists seemingly out of sight and out of mind. in a Consumer: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and ConsumerismAja Barber, journalist and fashion activist, urges Western fashion companies and sustainability advocates to consider the workers and people of the Global South, who produce our clothes and deal with our waste. The pace of how fashion is produced, sold, and bought in the West has a direct bearing in developing nations, as Barber argues in the book: “This [fast fashion] A cycle that harms not only everyone within the supply chain, but also those at the end of the supply chain.”
consumer Not just a sustainability guide. It’s a much-needed history lesson, and a warning about how forces like colonialism and capitalism have entered our consumer society, right down to the clothes we choose to wear and keep.
“It is not the point of being the perfect moral consumer,” Barber wrote. “Thinking of your consumption is.” I recently spoke to Barber about her book and her mission to help people regain the agency they believe they have lost in a highly consumerist society. The text of our conversation follows, edited and shortened for length and clarity.
You are drawing a direct line between colonialism – or, as you put it, the “plundering” of other cultures and nations – of the modern fashion system. Why did you decide to take the lead in this topic?
When countries in the Global North closed their doors due to Covid-19, we saw how big fashion brands can be detrimental to overseas apparel workers. Since these brands outsource their work, they can refuse to pay for orders placed months ahead of schedule. Much of the work done in factories is non-binding, which means that brands have all the power. If a retailer chooses not to pay for an order worth millions of dollars, it can do so, even if workers in those factories complete that order.
When major retailers do this, it sends parts of the world that depend on this business into deeper economic conflict. We’ve seen mass layoffs and factory closures in some of these industrialized countries. This means that garment workers have to look for other forms of work to earn a living.
The Western idea of ”sustainability” has always sounded too white, yet the garment-making process is largely dependent on non-white people. They are non-white people who work in those sweatshops and have the resources taken from their land. Our fashion system hurts the countries we outsourced to, and they are tasked with dumping global clothing “donations” into their backyard. This is really a cross issue, I hope to consumer It is to make readers understand that there is no such thing as a harmless purchase.
In August, you Posted on Instagram about how journalism works And the media we consume has a role in facilitating reckless consumption. With the growth of affiliate links and branding goods, it seems like every digital outlet (Vox included) could be involved. How can people get over the mixed messages they are exposed to, not only from the press but also from advertisers and social media?
Consumerism fuels us from the moment we begin to understand how money works. We don’t question it because shopping is a part of our lives, like a trusted family member. Any cult classic film geared towards young adults, from ignorant to Beautiful Woman to the The devil wears Prada, has a transforming scene. Our culture pushes this idea that if you change your wardrobe, you can completely change who you are. This is the message we internalize even as adults, so it’s no wonder we look to consumerism to cure all our problems.
In an exploitative consumer market, the answer is not to buy more. She buys less. We cannot buy our way into a moral world. We can choose to support the most ethical business, but when the apparel industry produces nearly 14 times the number of clothes that humans produce on the planet, we have to acknowledge the real problem. We need to buy less polyester and new clothes.
We need to make sure that our purchases will last. If not, we must leave this item on the shelf. It requires people to be willful and committed to buying fewer things they want. Hopefully, this will mean less profits for the millionaire and billionaire stakeholders of multinational fashion companies. People need to realize that they can take some power away from the goliath of the fashion industry.
Some shoppers have defended the affordability of fast fashion and claimed that the sustainability movement is a classic in its exclusion of low-income people. I am interested in the chapter nuances you identify in your book, particularly as it addresses the middle class and working people and their role in our consumer society.
It’s not the low-income people who maintain fast fashion brands. When it comes to discussing how exploitative the fashion industry is, economically privileged people always claim that criticizing the system is class. It is very strange. Why do middle to upper class people claim poverty when they don’t want to investigate or think critically about what they are involved in?
People with money need to realize that there is no way workers will get fair wages for a $10 dress. I first realized it with Forever 21. I thought it was too cheap, and the clothes felt worthless. I realized that if I spent a little money on something better quality, I could go and put it on the resale market if it didn’t work out, or if I got tired of it, or if I grew old because our bodies changed. As we rush into the climate emergency and people begin to realize just how dire the risks are, I wonder how many of us will try to buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of clothes.
Most sustainable corporate reforms are minimal, often as a result of consumer pressure. What do you think of individual responsibility versus corporate responsibility? Is it frustrating how individual actions, when compared to the decisions of major corporations, can only do so much for the planet, in terms of their carbon footprint?
We are rapidly approaching the limits of the planet, and this bigger problem than the climate emergency will require lawmakers to do their job. We will need stricter regulations. That will be difficult.
It is important to realize that people have power in the consumer market. We have the ability to stop buying from the company or change our actions. People should be skeptical of major retailers and realize that companies do not consider downsizing or seasons to make more impactful and long-lasting clothing unless they are forced to. Corporations have no incentive to change if we shrug our shoulders and keep giving them our money. Yes, regulation should happen first and foremost. But there is a relationship between consumer interest and the momentum we get from elected politicians.