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Why I love pre-loved, unloved and recycled

Ethical Consumerism
Human Rights
Vintage clothes shop in London

Garry Knight under a Creative Commons Licence

The majority of 14-year-olds are more concerned with the style and price of fashion than its origins. Most of my friends buy their clothes from cheap shops like Primark. They would say the issue with ethical fashion is cost and choice. There is a lot of pressure on teenagers to have up-to-date fashion, which is why they buy cheap clothes that only last a season. However, to ensure environmental friendliness, fair wages and safe working conditions, clothes need to be a minimum price. Paying $7 for a top in 2016 is just not going to cover that.

I am 13 years old and buy most of my clothes from charity or vintage shops. Vintage is really cool, but it takes time and effort, which puts people off. I also buy some clothes from mid-range shops like Zara, which I think are paying for reasonable conditions for workers in places like Bangladesh, where my family are from.

I have travelled widely, including to Borneo, where I was devastated to see so much deforestation. I have been lucky to see fair-trade projects in Ghana, Kenya and Colombia for coffee, tea and cocoa where farmers get a fair price for their product, including a premium which is spent on things like local schools. Farmers have told me how being paid a fair price for their crops has changed their lives. Without fair trade, big companies often pay small farmers low, unprofitable prices. Cotton is grown in places like Egypt, Cameroon and India, and most of it is not fair trade. Although we are used to choosing fair-trade foods, very few insist on fair-trade cotton in clothing. That means that there is little pressure on clothes companies, who are sometimes paying farmers less than $1 a day, which is not enough to survive.

Cotton uses more chemicals than any other crop, which is why organic cotton grown without pesticides is better for the environment, for our skin, and for pollinating insects.  Companies like H&M, Zara, Nike, M&S and Walmart are using some, but all companies need to swap over to organic.

Another important issue is the deforestation of ancient and endangered forests in places like Indonesia, further endangering Orang-utans and Sun Bears.  

Trees are cut and processed in mills into dissolvable pulp, making 30 per cent of the rayon and viscose appearing in our shops. Only 30 per cent of the tree is used, so it is very wasteful; it also uses lots of chemicals. With deforestation also comes the violation of the rights of indigenous communities. Some 70 million trees are cut each year, with use increasing 10 per cent a year.

H&M, Zara, M&S and Levi’s have pledged to find an alternative to timber and are working with Canopy under their Fashion Loved by Forests campaign. Rainforest Action Network is running an Out of Fashion campaign to highlight dissolvable pulp.

Something I feel strongly about is cruelty to animals in the name of fashion. This includes fur, silk, angora and leather from wild animals. Say no!

Textiles shockingly make up five per cent of landfill sites. H&M’s recent campaign on YouTube encourages people to donate unwanted clothes for a voucher. We need more initiatives like this.

When I visited Bangladesh last year, my uncle talked to me about owning a garment factory. He told me that ‘compliance’ means that they will meet agreed levels of wages and working conditions. He said household names ensured ‘compliance’; it’s the first thing agreed, with companies like Zara and H&M being known to pay fairly.

He explained how he had accepted a contract from a British supermarket. They did not mention ‘compliance’ and paid so badly that making both profit and having ‘compliance’ would have been impossible. He took the contract, remained ‘compliant’ and made a loss; He feels that they are not interested in the welfare of workers, just price and quality.  That is why it was important that every company who had clothes in the Rana Plaza factories that collapsed three years ago, killing 1,134 people, paid compensation.

I think that campaigns work: like the Nike boycott, after which they took action and improved conditions for workers. If people stopped buying cheap clothes from Primark and the supermarkets, these shops would have to change.

Slow Fashion front cover

Cheap disposable clothing must end. Companies need to sell clothing made from fair-trade organic cotton, not using dissolvable pulp and made in factories that are safe and with workers who have fair pay and working conditions. As consumers, we have to end our love of low-cost, throwaway fashion. Start exchanging unloved for pre-loved and recycle.

Follow Mya-Rose on Twitter: @BirdGirlUK

For more on ethical and fair-trade fashion, read Slow Fashion: Aesthetics meets ethics by Safia Minney.

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