A Dying Industry & Hidden Costs in America
There’s a lot of history behind why there is hardly any textiles being produced in America anymore. In a nutshell, with trade agreements etc. through the 80’s and 90’s all of our textile production move to China. And I am not OK with that. The Chinese do not have the same standards of environmental safety that we do and plus just knowing how far a pair of jeans would have to go to get to me not to mention the people making slave wages (and conditions) to produce those jeans. And not to mention the toxic chemistry that China is OK with that I don’t want to participate in…
So yeah long story short on that part, textile production and even wool production in America has been, well, hanging on by a thread. Pun intended. There is only one remaining mill in in the US (in South Carolina) that scours, cleans and cards wool. And the last large denim fabric manufacturer (Cone) closed it’s doors last Fall. Honestly exporting all of a certain kind of goods manufacturing is just…dangerous. It leaves us open to manipulation, price gouging, etc. Not to mention putting more and more Americans out of work.
What we don’t see is that much of the cost, the true cost of manufacturing something has been exported, has been hidden from us. Most Americans do not understand this. But let me just suffice by saying when I was 15 years old, in 1976, if I walked into a shop and bought a cute little fashion top it would’ve cost me about $20. Today, I can go into pretty much the only clothing store in my town, Walmart, and buy a top for $7- $10.
What the hell?
How is it possible when a candy bar was $.10 and is now $1.50, when bread was a dollar and is now four dollars, how is it possible that a shirt is half the price?
The answer to that is hidden costs.
We see cheap goods but what we don’t see is the toxic waste from dyeing (it’s a NASTY process) or product manufacturing in China. What we don’t see is slave wages, literally people trapped into working in factories 20 hours a day. That’s why and how goods are so cheap now. But only certain goods not all of them.
In 1966 my father bought a Ford Mustang for something like $6,000. That was the same year that my parents took out a mortgage on their house for $66,000. A similar car today would be 40,000 and a similar house would be probably $300,000. So all I can say to that is “wake the hell up people” there’s a problem there. And the people who buy the most “fashion“ clothes nowadays are 15 to 20 years old. A: They don’t care about externalized costs. And B: They have no idea how cheap things were 50 years ago, or what the true cost of that cheap pair of spandex jeans really is.
I’ll step off my soapbox now, because I could talk about things like the toxic chemicals used in the cotton industry for hours. That is not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is that in the last few weeks since I’ve found Fibershed, and been reading everything I can get my hands on about this concept, I’m starting to see how I need to change. I’m starting to make those changes, and I’m starting to see how much synthetic fiber (which is really not good for our planet) has crept into my life. So that’s what this blog is about.
And the Fibershed movement is not just in California. There are groups/affiliates popping up all over the place. Check out the map to see if there’s a group near you.
This blog is to chronicle my awakening. This blog is to chronicle as I make the changes from consuming cheap goods and wearing cheap clothes to respecting my planet, my community, and other peoples health enough to choose fewer quality clothes over lots of easily accessible, cheap, synthetic ones. I’m choosing to support my fibershed and my local economy. While simultaneously doing what I can to not add to the problem of synthetic fibers in our oceans and toxic byproducts in our water and soil.
And so now when I look at something like a pair of inexpensive shoes that are made with memory foam, or a pair of inexpensive jeans from Walmart, or inexpensive yarn with nylon or polyester, now I can’t help but see the toxic cost, the distance that these items have traveled, the toxic footprint they’re leaving behind.. What’s been seen can NOT be unseen.
A Note About Economic and Social Justice
One important point I really want to make here at the beginning of this blog is that as I move into a more sustainable fibershed-centered wardrobe, I do realize-I am aware, that there are many many people in this country (let alone this planet) that can not even think of participating in this type of thing because of poverty and economic instability. These definitely impact people of color more than the white and the well off. There are thousands-probably millions of working poor in this country who are lucky if they have decent, clean clothes to wear to a job that doesn’t pay them enough to survive. There are millions of people every day who have no choice but to buy cheap clothes over better quality clothes, because even if they had access to them, they can’t afford them. There are millions of people in this country for whom buying an $80 pair of jeans rather than a $19.95 pair of jeans is not an option. I deeply understand that. So I am conscious of the fact that my even participating in this shift is a privilege. I have been, and to a large extent still am part of the money-poor in this country. But at this point in my life, with all of the stuff I have in my posession, I realize that I can take the large quantity of stuff I have and sell some of it on eBay or Etsy, and turn around and buy a very few quality garments. So I am conscious of the fact that my even participating in this shift is a privilege.
To the extent that I’ve mostly always been on the poorer side of the population, I’ve always been one for recycling, sewing, shopping at thrift stores-all of which now are cool. Now-days they call it “Making.”
It’s like what I learned in my Permaculture course-the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle, in that order. Or as my grandma used to say, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
My point here is to acknowledge the people that are oppressed by these mass production systems and cannot fight these systems. Seeing the work that Fibershed is doing, listen to the 2017 symposium videos online (thank you Fibershed for videotaping these!), I can see that the people working with Fibershed are working to change things that affect the working poor, and the non-working poor. The people in Fibershed are working to change the textile industry in America, local economies, changing the way that farmers produce wool (carbon farming, intensive grazing, lots of things I will talk about in the future), and more. They are doing so much to change things and I am excited, and inspired, just like I was when I found the Georgia Organics group, to jump in and help out in anyway I can. This is good, important work. It’s not just about obtaining some new clothes.
Time to Change
The first thing I can do is change myself. I’ve been so inspired, and then awed, and then horrified by Rebecca Burgess’ 150 mile radius wardrobe challenge. I say horrified because now every time I look at a piece of clothing, every time I do laundry, I see the synthetics, the stuff that will end up in whales. I see how far some of my clothing has traveled, I see the slave labor, I see that I’m supporting the industries that manufacture $20 tops versus supporting, literally my local sheep farmer, or cotton grower. I see how far I’ve slipped (I blame menopause) into spandex jeans and rayon skirts and cheap shoes. I see how much stuff I’ve accumulated, and how I might not ever reach 100% US Organic natural, non-toxic, economically just clothing. Horrified. And ready to change.
I am just so inspired by Fibershed and as I go on this journey, me and my clothing, and by extension things like shoes, bedding and the stuffing in my pillowcase, I’ll be writing about it here in hopes that I can inspire someone else.