For my final project for Data Rep, I want to do a project on clothing consumption and the size of fashion’s eco footprint. Inspired by the book Overdressed, and these articles:
We now own and buy more than we ever have as a society. On average, Americans buy around 68 new articles of clothing a year, and 7 new pairs of shoes a year and we consume over 20 billion garments a year. Americans also spend around $1,100 a year on clothing (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/high-price-cheap-clothing) but we own more than we have ever owned before. Much of this clothing is considered “throw away” clothing, made cheaply, purchased cheaply, and then promptly disposed of. Much of this clothing ends up in thrift stores, then turned into rags for stuffing and cleaning and then shipped off to third world countries. But what happens after that? It ends up in landfills or falling apart.
Creating this clothing is destroying our environment: World fiber production is now 82 million tons, which requires 145 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water to produce.
I want to do a project that addresses these issues. I want to create a series of visualizations I can put onto an iPad or iPhone (via a website) on the waste factor involved with clothing production but, additionally, I want to create a physical project. I’d like to show how differently we consumed in the 1900s (it’s hard to find an average but people spent about 15% of their income, which at the time was around 750 dollars annually. A ready to wear suit, for example, cost 15 dollars back then, and 15 is more than 15% of the annual income. So a person probably owned…a handful of outfits- most likely 5), with the 1950s (somewhere around 11 outfits) and today, where we own anywhere from 100-300 articles of clothing. I would show case these either in stacks to represent physical bar graphs or with 3 different rolling clothing racks. I would like attach tags with QR codes that tell stories about where the clothing would have or could have come from (i.e. in the 1900s, it was the rise of the industrial revolution, ready to wear and easy to manufacture clothing was being invented but it was still made well with wool, velvet, and cotton. The average consumer would still gone to a local dress shop to have things assembled and then reassembled with the styles changed, in the 1950s- it was the beginning of the department store area but we still owned between 9-11 outfits, and now, we own clothing that is made internationally in sweatshops. Just last year, over 100 Bageldashi workers burned to death in a factory fire that produced clothing made for WalMart. Forever 21 has been accused of paying well below minimum wage and having sweatshop like conditions in their Los Angeles factory in addition to plagiarizing designs from independent designers.) How we consume clothing is now a political and environmental issue- if it’s made overseas, produced in bulk, and has a cheap price, more than likely it is made in a sweatshop and with materials that destroying the environment.
This project is not just about creating awareness but showing how much our clothing consumption has changed. We own more not because we always have but because of low prices and the rise of sweatshop culture from the ’90s. Gap and Old Navy redefined how we shopped but also how much we owned. If it’s below a certain price point, it’s considered disposable. If it’s under twenty dollars, psychologically a consumer does not even consider if they need it or not. If it’s priced low enough, we purchase it because we can and because why not?
That thought is something we, as a culture, were taught to do. Being taught to purchase things monthly simply because the clothing colored changed, new styles appeared, and the prices were low enough altered our relationship to buying clothing. Our society was retaught how to shop and that changed how we related to clothing. The problem with clothing consumption is as much as a culture issue as it is an environmental issue.
Low priced clothing reduced garment factory jobs that existed in America to overseas factory, effectively destroying a large chunk of middle class work. While low priced clothing seems like symptom of a recession, an answer to democratizing fashion, it’s actually hurting our economy and our work force more than helping it.
Since October 2000, the U.S. lost 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs, which translates to 5.5 million layoffs. (October 2000, the U.S. lost 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs, which translates to 5.5 million layoffs. )
This article really highlights my thoughts on the issue:
“…You can try to transform the system through law, politics, activism, or a lot of cash. You can try to change the culture, through exposes, stunts or celebrities. Or you can try to create a robust alternative.
…Since the advent of offshoring, Americans have mourned millions of lost jobs, and hundreds of shattered communities. But at the same time, they have been trained to expect the dirt cheap clothes that globalized production makes possible. In fact, many families, plunged into poverty by a shuttered factory, have come to rely on them.
We live in an age of throwaway consumption, where clothing is not expected to last. At the turn of the century, “ready made” clothes were often way out of the price range of the average American. In 1902, a knockoff French “lingerie style” dress at Marshall Field’s started at $25 ($621.50 in today’s dollars), according to Cline. These days, you can get a Tie Lace Dress at Forever 21 for $29.80. A smocked flutter-sleeve dress from Walmart will set you back $4.”
By using QR codes I’d like to create stories (based on data) that illustrates how we’ve changed as a culture in the way we approach buying and owning and how that has changed. This is not just a economic or environmental issue, it’s a cultural issue as well. And the paragraph above is not just a story but a real representation. It’s an example of how we shop and how that is not sustainable.
I really want to illustrate how we relate to clothing and how we cannot, environmentally, keep doing this. The earth cannot support this type of consumerism. By giving people tangible and relatable stories, I hope to help illustrate how we created this problem but how we can solve it.
The data visualizations on an iPad or laptop can also help illustrate what we are doing to the environment (showing the amount waste from cotton, how much we import, how many people have died in the past decade from manufacturing fast fashion overseas).
I…okay, this sounds very extreme in nature and I realize that. I’ll most likely be blogging about this a lot. But, I want to highlight ways, ways that have been outlined in Overdressed the book, the we can combat this. It’s buying less, buying only what you need, buying locally, and buying second hand (does this sound familiar? It’s kind of similar to how we should approach food). See this example as well “But these clothes aren’t always the wisest investment. “My pair of Allen-Edmonds has lasted for 20 years,” says Joseph, speaking of the high-end Wisconsin-made menswear brand. Spending $250 on a pair of shoes might seem extravagant to most Americans, but it’s cheaper than buying a new pair of Payless cap-toe oxfords, at $39.99, every two years.” (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2011/10/04/we-can-make-usa-but-will-we-buy-it/)
If Americans spent one percent more on U.S. goods, it would create over 200,000 jobs (according to a Moody’s analytics report from here http://savethegarmentcenter.org/help/)
I’ve never done an overly didactic project before but this is something that has been really weighing on my mind a lot.
Some interesting data sets (I’d like to make a few of these…but in more “design-y” way)
The 1950′s marked the beginning of one of the biggest economic booms in US history and spurred the rise of consumerism and American excess that has defined a lot of our culture in the US and worldwide for the past sixty years. Style Clothing became an important part of culture in the 1950s, with the country going through many societal and cultural changes. It would showcase one’s place in society more so than ever before and became a way to express conformity and individual identity.
the ecological effects of producing billions of garments a year- http://www.alternet.org/story/69256/dress_for_excess%3A_the_cost_of_our_clothing_addiction
less of our income is spent on clothing but we own more clothing than ever before
a list of where to buy US made clothing – http://savethegarmentcenter.org/madeinusa/
Reduce Waste Initiative by H&M (trying to fix the problem but they are part of the problem). http://hmconscious.com/#panel4 http://www.hm.com/us/longlivefashion