From Labor Camps to Landfills

A story of consumerism

Have you ever thought about what happens when you are done with your clothing? Has the price tag on your garments ever elicited questioning where it came from? If your answering yes - hands clapping. You are definitely ahead of the game. If your answering no, you're not alone. In fact, to be completely honest, it wasn't until a few years ago that I was right there, alongside you. My primary criteria for shopping looks fell into two categories of what looked good on and what I could afford. However, in the time since I have learned so much and knowing really is half the battle.

One of the biggest issues we need to overcome is consumption. Fast fashion is more than just a catch hashtag, it's a disease that is rotting our minds, our world and humankind. Not only can companies not keep up with demands, but due to high demands on goods, they have also subcontracted to prison labor, simply to keep up with our desire to shop, shop and shop a little bit more.

The second biggest issue to jump over lies within waste. According to recent research, 60% of all clothing produces ends up in a landfill within one year. When I first read this statistic, it seems hard to believe. But there is more. The average woman in the United States, (which if you didn't know continues to carry the largest carbon footprint), throws away 37 pairs of denim away annually. That's right - annually!! How is this possible? It seems unfathomable, but it's happening.

From consumption to waste - fashion has become a revolving door without any thought to the why, where and how.

Labor camps, mostly filled with religious/spiritual persons who have been falsely accused of crimes, are making our clothing. Free labor creates the best margins. In 2013, the camps alone brought in an annual dollar amount equal to 32% of the world's overall retail profit.

What can we do about it? In 1997, according to "Made in China", an audit discovered that Nike was involved in child labor and sweatshops. Initially dismissing these charges, consumerism changed their minds. Or rather, non-consumerism. It was organizers/activists from 40 universities nation-wide, who rallied people to stop consuming with Nike until changes were made. Guess what happened?

Although Nike is only one company, this example demonstrates that the power of change lies within us. However, apart from companies like Nike, most are making more clothes than ever before. With supply-chain optimization, the ability to turn around demand, increases, companies simply cannot keep up without "cutting corners", using labor camps and continuing to cheat people of liveable wages.

When the words, 'more' and 'less' guide our buying decisions, labor camps will continue to not only exist, but also grow. Testimonies from prisoners who have eventually been released, or escaped (which is rare), share on the torture, the filth, the de-humanization of it all. Most of who would rather die while inside, but forced to continue to work, to make our clothes.

On the flipside, what happens when our clothes are thrown out? A varied form of dehumanization occurs when we dump our clothing onto another people group. Mountains of clothing can be seen in countries like Chile, Ghana and several more underdeveloped countries . They call it ' the great fashion garbage patch'. Microplastics and various other harmful chemicals, found within the clothing, expose the air an water and become yet another way we are harming people through shopping.

What can we do to end this cycle of labor camps to landfills? It's a lot to take in, so let's take it slow. Every little bit you do is better than the nothing you don't do.

The first thing we can all do is ask the where and the what? Where are my clothes coming from? What happens when I am done wearing them?

The second thing is download the app: Good on you. Every brand and company is rated for fair trade, environmental quality and animal rights.

The third thing to do is stop shopping the "dirty dozen", listed below, and switch to thrift. A great app to use for gently thrifted items, along with those local shops, is ThredUp - download it today.






Old Navy




Victoria Secret


The Children's Place


You may be reading this and feel overwhelmed. If this is you, just take it in. When you are ready, try to do one step at a time. Remember, similar to the Nike activists, you can make a difference. You can change the world. Let's do it together.


Jenny W.


Sustainable + Fair

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