12 April 2015

The Magazine That Made My Brain Explode

I flew on a plane the other day. I know, I know; I should have taken a train or other ground transport. It was a short-haul flight -- an hour and a half over the mountains from Luton to Basel, with a train journey on one end and a bus on the other, and took nine hours from end to end. We could have taken the train in thirteen hours, but something about the ways train and plane travel are subsidized (or not) meant that the cost would have been several times higher. Multiply that by three travellers, and it's tough to take the environmental option.

At any rate, in the airport, waiting for the delayed flight, I found a fashion magazine lying around, and leafed through it with a curiosity drifting between anthropological and outraged. An actress was photographed in a dress that took 27 people 900-plus hours to make.

I haven't been able to find out where the 80,000 sequins were sewn on the dress, and what the seamstresses made per hour. Or how much a dress like that costs. Or how much Karl Lagerfeld, who designed the dress, makes, though The Google throws back numbers between $108 million and $58 billion.

You could do a heck of a lot of good with the money that flows into high fashion. What if you shaved off the top and bottom ends? What would it take to get rid of the fast fashion that underpaid Bangladeshi seamstresses churn out in death-trap factories, and simultaneously to get Oscar winners to show up in dresses costing, say, a maximum of $500? Who really needs shoes that cost $500? Or $10,000?

The other thing that made me nuts about the fashion magazines: it appears that white is the color of the season. What's wrong with white? It looks nice and crisp, it's cool on a hot summer day.

But you know what I've noticed? My black t-shirts last practically forever. Other dark colors, same story. It takes years and years of regular wear before they get stained or faded or holy. But white clothes? one fumbled glass of wine or coffee, and it's toast. Maybe you're better than I am at stain removal, or maybe you're not as clumsy as I am.

But I've just about stopped buying whites, because they just don't last. Even light colors do better.

There was nothing, NOTHING, in any of these magazines to suggest that maybe, MAYBE, the products they were implicitly -- and very explicitly -- hawking are terrible for the environment and terrible for the people who produce them.

While I'm on the subject of fashion? Making one pair of jeans, from growing the cotton to stone-washing the finished product so it looks ten years old, takes something like 10,000 liters of water. It also dumps massive amounts of toxic dyes into the environment and causing high levels of cancer and other illnesses in the communities where factories are located. Growing the cotton in the first place takes a huge amount of water as well as massive amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

So what do you do, besides swallow the guilt and keep moving? Buy jeans that don't look ancient, and wear them until they do. Or buy organic cotton with natural dyes. Or products made out of hemp or bamboo, which take far less water to grow. Most importantly, save up to buy the most durable clothing you can afford, and then keep it around until it falls apart.