I was once also oblivious to the sustainable textile industry and gave no thought to where my clothes came from, how they were made and who or what was affected in the process. I had of course heard of sweatshops, but didn’t know much about them and really just thought that was the minority or it wasn’t that bad. Turns out I was extremely mistaken.
My journey of enlightenment started with a new job and a visit to a chicken farm. It was my first day on the job working for a gas company. Although I would be working in the office, it was part of my training to spend a day out on the road with the drivers and check out how they delivered the gas. Everything was going along smoothly until we pulled up at a property with rows of huge tin sheds.
Curiously, I asked the driver what exactly happens on this farm. He replied by explaining to me that chickens are grown here and when they are six weeks old, they are killed and, without going into the gory details, packaged up nicely, all ready for us to eat.
I actually couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was a big meat eater and of course knew that meat came from animals, but had never questioned it any further. That night (and every night for the following months) I jumped straight on the internet and started researching. These internet searches led to countless videos and documentaries being watched and books being read. I wanted to know everything. This opened me up to the wide world of factory farming and I became vegetarian then and there.
The food industry and the fashion industry have a lot in common- everything is produced as cheap and as fast as possible with no regard to the workers (or animals) or the environment. The whole process is hidden away and the result appears in our shops.
So finally the link between chickens and the textile industry…
After this horrifying discovery, I started questioning where everything in my possession came from. The fashion industry was the next logical choice for me to investigate, as I had studied fashion design and knew that I wanted to work in the industry. At this time, I was still really into shopping and buying more stuff, just for the fun of it and the cheaper the better. I would come home and proudly show my family what I bargains I had managed to snap up that day. Of course, I was also one of those people with a huge collection of clothing who never had anything to wear. I lived by the motto ‘You can never have too many pairs of jeans.’
But again, the research process of reading and video watching opened my eyes and I didn’t like what I saw. My life wouldn’t be the same again. I had to give up shopping as my favourite pastime. I re-assessed my wardrobe and cut it down to what I actually needed and found new homes for the rest. I started shopping only when I actually needed something- researching the company before making the purchase. These changes weren’t as big or as challenging as they seemed at the start. It also gave me a new direction for my life and a new passion to focus on. This time of change also lead me to new career ambitions in the sustainable fashion sector, an ambition which I babbled on about constantly to my friends and family.
Therefore, I was delighted to hear from my best friend one day, declaring she would like to watch a movie called ‘The True Cost’. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a documentary that explores the fashion industry and the journey of our clothing from manufacture to the catwalk and shops. It gives a fantastic overview of every facet of the industry and is especially worth a look if all of this is new to you.
As was the case with my best friend. After watching the film, she was shocked by what she had seen. She commented that she had read news about garment factories and the horrible things that go on there but had never actually seen any photos or video footage, and that made it all the more real for her.
Although she hasn’t taken this new found information to the extremes that I have by completely changing her life and her shopping habits (she still likes to visit the odd fast fashion store), I must say that I am still content with the fact that she was willing to learn more and now she is more aware and better informed. I can feel proud of the fact that my obsession with sustainable fashion has rubbed off on someone in some way!
This life changing experience happened about four years ago and my passion for the ethical and sustainable textile industry has only increased since then. Over this time, I have been studying and have done a million (give or take a few) internships in the industry, in order to soak up as much knowledge as possible. I have already seen glimmers of hope that the industry can be revolutionised. Although the changes are coming through very slowly and there are still a lot of challenges, I like to focus on the many positives. The ethical and sustainable bandwagon is one that most businesses are starting to realise they need to jump on, if they are going to continue to be successful in the future.
And I am very excited to be involved in the saving of the world (or at least the fashion industry) and hopefully I can inspire some other people to change their shopping habits in some way.