Since my childhood, I helped my mom unpack clothes and store them on the shelves of the shop. At that time, the vast majority of the clothes sold were produced in Belgium. Thirty years later, the origin of the clothes took on a more Asian appearance.
Meanwhile, in the West, the trend is over-consumption. Although prices are more democratic, the price of a garment does not correspond to the real cost of its production.
So what’s the real price of a garment, and what are its hidden costs?
The environmental and sanitary cost. In 20 years the production of clothes has doubled. This obviously creates a huge impact on our planet. To keep up with the current demands of the textile sector, all resources must be multiplied. In Uzbekistan, in the early 1960s, the Aral Sea covered an area of 66.458 km2, more than twice the size of Belgium. The intensification of cotton farming, which is very demanding in terms of water, has seen the Aral Sea lose 90% of its surface area. The use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, as well as dozens of toxic chemicals used in dyeing and spinning factories, are disastrous for health and the environment. In India, the number of workers with cancer is increasing, as well as many cases of infertility and children born with disabilities. Most of the clothes we wear contain chemicals that can have adverse health effects.
The human cost. Big brands subcontract their productions in countries with low-cost economy where labor costs almost nothing. Workers are under pressure and are obliged to reach production quotas. The factory managers respond to the directors of major brands, which in turn respond to a growing demand in the West. In Indonesia, workers have joined forces to demand decent minimum wages, better working conditions and, above all, a change in legislation at the national level.
Meanwhile, in Belgium, we face a major problem: the lack of transparency in the textile industry. Whatever the brand, regardless of the price of the product, it is impossible to know whether the garment was produced in good conditions or not.