Monday, May 25, 2015

Why do I bother....

I have been asked many times since I started my business 'why I bother'.

I find this a very hard question to hear for many reasons. I also find it a very complex question to answer.

I love what I do. It also challenges me on many levels. I get to indulge in something that I love but also I hope I create a small amount of change or to provide an option to mass produced fabrics. To foster and interest in the history of fabric and its design and to find beautiful and unique fabrics for people to love and create with.

First and foremost I love textiles. They have been a part of my life consciously since I was 13. I remember buying my first piece of fabric, a deep burgundy 70s style paisley. Then through my teens op-shopping and finding amazing fabrics and clothes that were to me unique.

I followed my love of design and fabrics into the fashion industry. It was a great time to be there, many Australian companies manufacturing locally. It was great to go visit your makers. Then slowly but surely the influence of China changed the way the industry operated. All of a sudden it became more about how cheap things could be rather than making a quality product. No more visiting your maker or overseeing a print job at the local screen printer. Slowly but surely these businesses disappeared and now I can count on one hand how any are left.

I too have become redundant in this world of fast fashion. My last full time job was outsourced to China. I am on the scrap heap of the destruction of the juggernaught of consumerism and throw away clothing. It's cheaper and easier to send a swatch to have copied in a factory in China than it is to design something. My 20 years of experience down the gurgler, now I fight to get what little work is available but there is another problem out there, junior 'designers' offering to do the work for next to nothing or companies getting 'interns' to do the work for close to free for experience. There is not a lot of work left and at times, I don't have it in me to fight anymore. It's soul destroying; almost offensive.

(There are also major issues with copyright all bundled up in here as well. From the organised counterfeiting operations to the manufacturers copying product on behalf of companies here to ones who copy product from images online and sell via trade fairs into western markets.)

So back to the 'why do I bother' question. This is a really achingly hard one to answer as it has so many facets both political, environmental, humanitarian and personal aspects to it.

I bother because I don't want to add to the problem of mass production of textiles.

These problems include environmental issues from water use to grow cotton to the pesticides used to 'push farm' cotton for greater yield. Then there are the issues of cotton harvesting, from children being forcibly removed from schools in Uzbekistan to supply cotton to the maw of Chinas manufacturing system to spit out cheap goods for 1st world countries.

Other factors are environmental. Chinas ground water is contaminated by heavy metals from dye run off from textile production and automotive industry/component manufacturing.  Now, think about those cheap groceries our large supermarket chains are selling that are grown in China. Grown in this contaminated ground water full of carcinogens. Then, think about all the food China purchases from us and other countries because it's not….. Just mull on that for a little while. (Or the farming land China is buying up here to produce food)

Have we become so obsessed by 'cheap' that we no longer care where it comes from or what it actually is or what it could be doing to us in the long run?

And if you have children or grandchildren, what about the dyes used to make those cheap cheerful clothes you don't pay much for, yep, they cause cancer and because our clothing companies don't do adequate checks, the factories in China wanting to cut corners use dyes that are illegal and cheap to make that cheap product that you think is a bargain.

This is a dual problem. The clothing companies push so hard for cheaper prices every year. The Walmart model, each year must be a % cheaper. So over time the factories cut more corners. The buyers here push harder for cheaper prices so they can get their sales bonuses and what we get is shitty toxic product that we wear a few times before it sags, fades, splits or goes out of fashion and ends up as a rag at the op-shop that they can't sell and have to find ways of disposing of it.

Oh, and that lovely little bit of text on the clothing care tag…Wash before wearing…
Thats because most product imported to here from China is laced with formaldehyde, also a carcinogen. And often when you open shipping containers full of product there are often a few dead rats in there too. They came over for the ride.

I laughed at that news story a few weeks ago that they shut down an illegal condom making operation in China that was making condoms out of materials that were toxic.

But as China changes we are seeing more countries emerge as manufacturers who are offering even cheaper production like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia. They are also happier to take on smaller orders making it even easier for businesses here to take advantage of cheap production.

Cheap is not cheap.

There have been a few docos made on the issue of fast fashion and clothing production in emerging economies over the past few years and another is about to be released on the 29th of this month - The True Cost.

After the destruction of Rana Plaza there was a flurry of conscious activity but again the noise has died down. There have been some positives come from that shocking industrial disaster - to put into context, Rana Plaza was the greatest industrial accident, even worse than any that occurred during the Industrial Revolution. But the dialogue needs to continue.

It needs to continue for many reasons. Not just global ones that are around environment, human rights and economic factors. We also need to think how this effects us here in Australia.
We have lost our manufacturing industry and we are also losing skills. We are losing jobs to China and they are in turn infiltrating our economy in a way that is making us far too reliant on them. Under the guise of 'free trade' that has in fact been very costly.

I find it very interesting and heartening that the USA is bringing manufacturing back. They know that they need jobs and to not be reliant on other countries for their goods. Yes they have a larger population but it does not mean that we can't look at them as a model to make some changes here. I love it that when I goto the USA I can buy Made in USA goods that are affordable and good quality. Undies, socks, tee shirts and quality outerwear. I stock up when I go. I wish I could do the same here like before.

I have a few pairs left of the older Bonds undies that were made in Australia. They are still going strong. I have pairs of the newer made in China ones and the elastic has gone and the fabric got holes in it after a few wears. And to add insult to injury, they off-shored manufacturing to make economic gains but put their prices up and lowered the quality.

So why do I bother, I bother to try and make a small difference, even if its just a drop in the ocean. Maybe that drop might create a small ripple. And maybe that ripple might make even just one person opt to not buy another cheap t-shirt or some more cheap fabric that was milled in China out of short staple cotton grown in Uzbekistan and harvested by children and dyed in a factory where the dye run off was tipped into the local water way.

There are other options out there that are better quality and are less resource intensive and are manufactured in a better supply chain.

One small change or action is a start. It all adds up.

I'll get off my shipping container full of soap now.