We started an ethical screen printing company, to make a difference in the world. Like most of you, we care about the environment, the future of the planet, and the ethical treatment of textile workers. But what we found as we built our business, sickened us. We’ve been “greenwashed”, have you?
Consumption & Production
As the movie “The True Cost” pointed out, the world consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. As new clothing comes into our lives, we also discard it at a shocking pace. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year. That adds up to more than 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone.
Large fashion brands and clothing manufacturers are forcing costs down, turning larger volumes, and increase their profits without honest regard for those affected by the manufacturing process. Companies like Old Navy, H&M, Nike, Ralph Lauren, and most others will tout themselves as being ethical manufacturers and fair to all workers. They don’t, however, truly trace their supply chain back to where it begins – the farmer. Most of them are only tracing their supply chain back two or three steps, when in fact there’s between 7-10 steps a garment must go through before it reaches the customer.
I won’t dive into the full cost breakdown in this article. Molly Zisk of The Register shares a flow chart which explains what’s really going on with fast fashion clothes, not made following Fair Trade standards. If you’d like to take a deeper look, I recently watched a mini-reality show series called Sweatshop. In five short episodes, you get an unedited view of three Norwegian youths meeting the people who sew our clothes. It’s heart wrenching to see the hands and hearts who are labouring for hours, but still can’t afford reasonable housing, food from the grocery store, or even to take care of their own children.
Fast Fashion vs. Fair Trade
Now, compare the two following graphics. On the top is a cost breakdown for a fast fashion shirt. On the bottom you have a shirt made with Fair Trade practices
What does this tell you? I see it showcasing disregard for the human life of those who’re being forced to work in sweatshops – or die. I also see the great value we can bring to the world when we rethink business models, business processes, cultivate alliances, and build future economies. Recently, I wrote a blog about “How Slow Fashion is Transforming Lives” through Fair Trade manufacturing practices, which reinforces the incredible power you have to change the way you spend, shift your thinking, and provide a reasonable living wage to those making your clothes. All you have to do is shift how and where you spend your money.
Another major concern in the branded apparel industry, are the inks and chemicals used in the printing and branding process. For years, plastisol inks have been the standard for screen printing. Now we have water based inks, soy based inks, dye inks, low temperature cure inks, and many others to choose from.
I won’t dive into every fact surrounding inks (follow our blog to learn more) in this article, but I’ll give you a hint. Water-based isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, soy inks still have some bad things in them, and finding screen printing companies that will give you a straight answer are few and far between.
I’m not suggesting WE have ALL the answers. I am suggesting that we’re leading the charge and are invested in how we can turn the clothing industry around. We’re working with smaller lifestyle brands and connecting them with ethical manufacturers who we’ve vetted. We]re always expanding the boundaries with new technologies and screen printing processes. We know how important it is for future generations to work together for the common goal of all humanity. We care!
Now it’s your turn. It’s your chance to make a choice. It’s your chance to do what’s right. Every decision we make has a consequence, whether it’s good or bad. I’m not here to tell you what’s right, only to give you the facts and let you decide. Next time you’re buying branded clothes for your business, how will you change the world?