You know that plain white T-shirt you have in your closet? You know, the one that you pair with those ripped jeans, daisy dukes or your trusty leggings. The truth is, that T shirt is probably better traveled than you. It has also had a greater social and environmental impact than you could ever imagine. It probably looks pretty innocent hanging in your closet, but don’t be fooled. Here’s where it all began:
Most T shirts are made from cotton, which is grown in farms all over the world. If its fair trade cotton, great! It’s probably not exploiting the hundreds of farm workers who pick cotton every day for a nominal wage. Sadly though, most T shirts aren’t fair trade, and they aren’t produced by farmers who are fairly compensated for their work.
As a double blow to the farmers who aren’t paid enough, cotton plants are often doused in pesticides which can be carcinogenic to those handling them. It can also damage ecosystems around it. If your T shirt is made from organic cotton, good job, you’ve avoided this problem too. However, again, less than 1% of cotton produced worldwide can class as organic cotton. Moving on from the farms, the cotton for your Plain White Tee is shipped, flown, trucked or even cargo-railed across the sea to reach its factory. The transportation of cotton itself pumps tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, making our current situation of melting ice caps and the dwindling population fluffy polar bears even worse. Look for “locally-sourced” on labels to try to cut down on the carbon footprint of your clothes.
Check out the Fashion Revolution for fashion transparency
Since the cotton produced at these factories is more greyish than perfectly white, the material is often bleached using chemicals that are, you guessed it, highly carcinogenic. To make matters worse, the waste bleach is often released into rivers, adding to the toxicity of the water (which may even find its way into the salmon you’re planning to have for dinner!). However, it is certainly possible to get crisp white tees without the use of bleach, just look for “unbleached” on the label. your T shirt was made? Countries like China and Bangladesh are the world’s biggest exporters of cotton, but often use sweatshops to sow the T shirts together. Many companies, such as Nike, have come under fire for using workers in such countries without providing them with safe conditions or a fair wage. Try to look for “ethically sourced”, “locally sourced” or just see if the T shirt was “made in Canada”.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are many things you can do to avoid the issues that are caused by the Plain White Tee. Here’s a simple list:
1. Read the Label! As mentioned before, look for things like “organically sourced”, “unbleached”, “fair trade” or “ethically sourced”.
2. Recycle your Plain White Tees when they no longer tickle your fancy. You could use them as cleaning rags, woven belts or even some dapper-looking scarfs for your dog.
3. Try buying second hand! Thrift shops, vintage shops and upcycled clothing shops have something for everyone and you can buy your style guilt-free, knowing that your clothes have not had the same detrimental environmental/social impact as the ones in the mall. (Also, since it’s sweltering outside, try hanging your clothes out to dry instead of using the dryer!)
Step into Filthy Rebena Vintage to fill your closet with Earth-friendly and impossibly stylish pieces of clothing!