Environmental Racism and Fast Fashion: 100 Days of Changing My Habits with Lamis Captan

Do you currently have a clean water source you can drink from? Are you currently breathing clean air? Have you been exposed to toxic pollutants today? Yes, Yes, and No? I hope those are your answers. Unfortunately those entangled in the fast fashion industry may give you opposite answers. 

Welcome back to the third instalment of 100 Days of Changing My Habits: Fast Fashion (FF) with Lamis Captan. For the last 10 days I have been examining how individuals are being environmentally discriminated against through the FF industry, whilst on my 100-day journey attempting to break the habit of FF consumption. The environmental racism garment workers are experiencing involves the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on POC rather than white people. Communities of colour face environmental hazards when they are exposed to toxic fumes, inhale fabric dust, consume contaminated water and more. 

During the dyeing process of garments, excess chemical dyes contaminate water sources communities of colour need to fish and live from. Specifically, in China, “70% of rivers and lakes are contaminated by 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater from the textile and dye industry.” (Remake, 2018). In the documentary, River Blue, viewers see the effects of FF on major rivers in China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Zambia. These contaminated waters have been associated with a high incidence of cancer, gastric, and skin issues afflicting those who work in the industry or live nearby.

However, it isn’t just contamination which affects water consumption. It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. Which is enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years. One major manufacture of denim is India – however in India, 100 million people do not have access to drinking water. Eighty-five percent of the daily needs in water for the entire population would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country. How many pairs of jeans and cotton items do you own? How would you personally feel if your own family didn’t have clean drinking water as water resources were being prioritised to make cotton shirts for fast fashion brands? Questions that make me feel a bit ill.

Amongst water contamination, there are also other environmental hazards individuals face in garment production. For example the devastating impact of toxic chemical use in growing cotton is highlighted in a documentary called The True Cost. Viewers saw instances such as the death of a US cotton farmer from a pesticide-related brain tumour, and serious birth defects in Indian cotton farmers’ children. I can’t happily purchase a FF item knowing that generations are being affected for a fleeting ‘trend.’

How am I doing?

Twenty days into my challenge, and I am so happy with the information I have learnt, and shared with friends and family. I have not had a single urge to purchase fast fashion but do have a gift card query which will be discussed in the next segment… wish you all the best, and I am excited to see y’all next week. 

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