Recently I was fortunate enough to attend the Textile Society of America’s 2014 Symposium in Los Angeles where I gave a presentation related to my research of the position of traditional textile artisans in contemporary India. Many of the TSA Symposium participants shared my concerns about the current global situation of those working within the fashion and textile industries. In his keynote address Peter Sellars, opera, theatre and festival director, discussed the phenomenon of ‘fast fashion’ in the industrialized world. That is, low cost clothing collections that are quickly produced mimicking current luxury fashion trends soon after they have been shown on the catwalk.
While many consumers in the West yearn after these fashion designs little consideration is given to those workers in the textile industry making the products. The pressure of unrealistic supply deadlines and reduced production costs results in poor working conditions and low wages in countries where the garments are manufactured like Bangladesh, India, China and Cambodia. The stress on manpower and materials is unsustainable.
However the demand goes on in developed countries often from customers who claim to support ethical design and sustainability. They are detached from the reality of the production process. Consumer behavior of impulse buying and over supply from fast fashion stores is leading to excessive amounts of clothing going into landfill. According to a Cambridge University study in 2006 women had four times as many clothes in their wardrobes as in 1980. Women are getting rid of similar amounts each year. Statistics suggest that on average UK consumers send 30kg of clothing and textiles per capita to landfill each year. While in North America 2 million tons of textile waste is generated each year.
Many fashion and textile companies have now addressed this situation and have incorporated a social and ethical responsibility towards their product manufacturing addressing the choice of materials used and the conditions of the people creating them. As I have discussed before it is important to us at Tradition Textiles that we have a transparent supply chain and that we are involved in all stages of the production of our range of clothing and home furnishings. We work collaboratively with the skilled textile artisans in India who assist us with our production. Their technical and design input is valued, in turn we share with them the aesthetics favored by our customer base and the eventual use of the end products.
This transparency is continued with our customers. We encourage them to know the story behind each product, to ask questions about the materials used and the skills of the artisans who made it. Consumer knowledge and awareness of the advantages of ethically sourced good quality fashion items over low cost fast fashion purchases is growing. Hopefully this trend will lead to a rejection of fast fashion resulting in more sustainable work practices for those working in the textile industry and less waste in already overflowing landfills.