Violence and the Philosophy of Consumption

part 2 – violence against the environment

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art two of a three-part series exploring the relationship between fast fashion and different forms of violence. This article discusses the environmental implications of polyester clothing. 

This article touches on broad concepts such as capitalism, environmentalism and sustainability in the hopes that readers will begin or continue research on these important fields. This article is not encyclopedic, but it is a starting point. 

Model: Shamiso Chirimuuta

Photography: Catherine Baker

Consumption. A philosophy I am well acquainted with.

Faster fashion. Shop till she drops.

Shop till she drops.

This dress is forever. 

This dress is forever. 

This dress was purchased two years ago, and remains one of my most reached for items. I like the sophisticated femininity of its cut and scalloped details. Apparently, this particular shade is called Duck Egg, which I appreciate. 

This is one of my most worn dresses and it will outlive me.

Long after it no longer fits, long after I fall out of love with it, this dress will exist. Long after it has been donated, handed down and discarded, this dress will exist. 

93% Polyester

Polyester is the Queen of fast fashion. 

The popular material is a plastic polymer that is synthesised from fossil fuels. Polyester is more durable, colour intense and inexpensive than other, natural materials such as linen or cotton. Thus, it is no surprise that such a material, seemingly advantageous to both manufacturers and consumers, is used in over half of all clothing.

It is also no coincidence that the adoption of polyester by large clothing manufacturers occurred at the same time that fast fashion took off. As described by writer Tamara Jones, fast fashion is “affordable clothing that is pushed from conception to retail availability as quickly as possible.” This contemporary phenomenon, which is widely believed to have boomed during the 1990s, exploits the system of globalised capitalism, manufacturing and distributing garments all over the world at a rapid pace. Fast fashion is all about providing new items to new customers, as businesses compete with one another in a sort of hypercapitalistic frenzy. Integral to the fast fashion business model is the introduction of new stock every week. 

At the core of this business model is the notion of disposability. Items are made to be replaceable, and are indeed replaced.

Polyester is the tyrant of the Earth.

The issue with polyester…

– it is non-biodegradable

– production is energy-intensive

– it releases microplastics into the water system

Fashion has become the second most polluting industry in the world, behind oil. 

A large contributor to this statistic is the use of polyester in over half of all clothing. The use of Polyester in the apparel business is an act of violence against the environment. 

To unpack this notion, it is beneficial to look at the life cycle of polyester and its implications for the environment:

Production

Care 

Disposal

PRODUCTION 

The form of energy used to produce the majority of polyester clothing is among the most polluting. Not only is the energy being used an extreme pollutant, but it is being used heavily; polyester production is incredibly energy intensive. In fact, the process requires 8 times more energy than the production of linen. 

The production of polyester is often outsourced to countries with cheap labour and little regulation. These countries, mainly poor and developing, do not to have the money or facilities to use clean energy, and instead rely heavily on coal. Of all the fossil-fuel sources, coal is the biggest pollutant as one of the major producers of CO2.

CARE

As we wash our polyester garments, microplastics are released from the garment. They remain in the water, entering the global water system as one of the greatest fresh water pollutants. 

The violence of polyester towards the environment is insidious.

These microplastics that exist in our water are inadvertently consumed by fish, which are then consumed by other species. Microplastics exist within our food chain.

DISPOSAL

Polyester is a synthetic polymer produced from fossil fuels. It is a non-biodegradable plastic.

This dress is forever.

“If the girl who made your skirts not paid

you cannot say its beautiful

if the pay is less than living wage

you cannot say its beautiful

if the coloured dyes now lie in rivers

poisoned fish, polluted waters

there’s no sick pay, no toilet beaks

if the factories are in decay

no matter what your mirror says

or ho stylish you might look today

you cannot claim its beautiful” 

     – Hollie McNish 

Cheap clothing comes at a cost.

The use of polyester in the fast fashion industry is a form of violence against the environment, and we need to understand it as such in order to galvanise in an effort to change it.

Themes explored within this article have been researched extensively by a wide range of artists and academics. My aim was to introduce key concepts in this first article, and so I encourage you, reader, to explore and meditate over the plethora of research that exists on these topics

PART 1          |          PART 3 (coming soon)

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