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    Fashion and climate - how green is your T shirt?

    Wednesday, 3 November 2021  |  Joanna

    Fashion and climate - how green is your T shirt?

    Fair trade is about making the global trading system work better for people and planet. As COP26 continues in Glasgow and politicians and bankers argue about who is going to pay for the vital changes we need to make to tackle the climate emergency, those who have done least to cause the issue are being hit hardest by it.

    In a panel discussion yesterday Andrea, a Paraguayan Fairtrade sugar farmer took part in a panel discussion with Mary Kinyua of Fairtrade International and Benjamin, a cocoa farmer from Cote d'Ivoire. the whole conversation was very interesting (I would urge you to watch again here)

    One comment stood out for me. Andrea said that we cannot afford to put on our dark glasses and choose not to see the climate emergency happening in front of us. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, land slips - all of these are happening now, to some of the people who grew the coffee you buy at Greggs, the bananas you pick up at Sainsbury's or the chocolate you grab at the Co-op. But you know when you choose a product with the Fairtrade mark that some of the money you pay is going to help those farmers and their communities to mitigate the effects of climate change, to support communities to find different ways to live, thrive and survive.

    But fair trade is about much more than food, transport and heating our homes. Did you know the fashion industry is one of the top 5 emitters of greenhouse gases with a carbon footprint bigger than the UK. France and Germany combined. Most of this is due to over-production. We buy four times as many garments as we did in the 1990s and they are of much lower quality. The average fast fashion buyer takes home over 60 garments a year - more than one a week. An item of clothing has to be worn at least 30 times to cover the environmental "cost" of manufacturing and shipping it to the UK. And giving it to the charity shop doesn't necessarily mean that the top you've only worn four times will have a second life in your home town. Around half of all the items we donate to charity shops are not sold in that shop, but bundled up and sent to places like Kantamanto market in Ghana, where an estimated 15 million items a week end up. Around 60% are sold by traders there - who take home on average £5 a day for their work - and the rest ends up in landfill. Ghana's infrastructure, like a lot of African countries, is not designed so that landfills are out of sight out of mind, and people live in slum dwellings next to the dump. Quite often the piles of polyester heat up so much that the whole pile catches fire and acrid smoke billows across people's homes. That's if it doesn't end up in the ocean, polluting the shores and choking marine life. It has so stop. 

    This week I have been reading the fantastic new book by Aja barber: ConsumedThe need for collective change; colonialism, climate change & consumerism which takes us through her journey in fashion and how she became convinced that fast fashion is one of the most damaging aspects of modern capitalism.

    As Fair trade campaigners we have been talking about climate change for a while now, and as part of this September's Great Big Green Week I helped organise the How Green Is Your T-shirt project which asked craftivists and textile artists and students around the country to upcycle a green Fairtrade cotton T shirt left over from this stunt I organised to celebrate 25 years of the Fairtrade mark:

    Our fantastic Hull Absolutely Cultured volunteers wore the T shirts for around half an hour over their coats that chilly October morning in 2019 and the shirts were carefully packed away for future use. I was just waiting for the right opportunity and when I heard about the Great Big Green Week, remembering I had a stash of great big green T shirts the idea started to form. 

    Over the summer 30 T shirts were sent out and 20 returned. I contacted the World Fair Trade Organisation who asked their members to donate items that fit the brief of climate friendly fashion. By the end of August in my new house I was getting exciting squishy parcels every week. I had always envisioned that the end of the project would be a fashion show and had secured a venue - Reading International Solidarity Centre whose World Shop is a fellow member of BAFTS. I had started inviting people but partly due to covid I was finding people were reluctant to come to an in-person event so the WFTO agreed that I could live stream the event over their Facebook page. A local film graduate Macaulay Hines agreed to video the whole thing professionally and the plan was hatched - live stream on the night to make sure the event was part of Great Big Green Week and photos and video top be edited down and used later. One of the volunteers at RISC - Adam Harris is a keen photographer and he took around 500 images of our models - Ed, Junhavi, Helen, Alice and Arushi. 

    We were able to tell the story of how fast fashion is killing our world, how fair trade can be part of the solution and what we as customers and citizens can do about it.