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The unsustainable costs of cheap & fast fashion (review of Fashionopolis)

sweatshirts-428607_1920Want to save the planet? Start with your closet and skip next week’s Boxing Day sales.

We’re making and buying more clothes than ever before. Between 2000 and 2014, worldwide production doubled to 100 billion items. Twenty per cent of those items go unsold and get buried, shredded or incinerated.

And we’re not holding on for long to the 80 billion clothes that we do buy. On average, we wear clothes just seven times before burying them in our closets, giving them away or tossing them in the trash. Each of us throws out around 36 kilograms worth of clothes annually.

We’re on an epic shopping spree thanks to fast fashion. Our malls and big box stores are continually restocked with trendy and inexpensive clothes made and shipped at lightning speeds from subcontracted sweatshops that run on the cheapest labour in the world’s poorest countries.

fashionopolisThe clothes may be cheap but they come at a steep and unsustainable cost, says Dana Thomas, journalist and author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

“Every day, billions of people buy clothes with nary a thought – nor even a twinge of remorse – about the consequences of those purchases.”

Fashion is big business. It’s a $2.4 trillion industry that employs one out of every six people around the world. Yet less than two per cent of those workers earn a living wage.

“Since the invention of the mechanical loom nearly two and a half centuries ago fashion has been a dirty, unscrupulous business that has exploited humans and Earth alike to harvest bountiful profits. Slavery, child labor and prison labor have all been integral parts of the supply chain at one time or another – including today.”

Along with exploiting the poorest of the poor, we’re wrecking the planet every time we buy yet another cheap t-shirt, hoodie, dress or pair of jeans.

The World Bank estimates that manufacturing clothes accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all industrial water pollution and 10 per cent of carbon emissions.

One-fifth of all insecticides are used to grow cotton. Manufacturing a single cotton t-shirt requires nearly half a kilogram of fertilizer, 25.3 kilowatts of electricity and 2,700 litres of water.

Synthetic fabrics are no better. Up to 40 per cent of microfibres from these fabrics wind up in rivers, lakes and oceans and worm their way up the food chain. Nearly 90 per cent of 2,000 fresh- and seawater samples tested by the Global Microplastics Initiative contain microfibres.

“We, as consumers, play a pivotal part,” says Thomas. “It’s time to quit the mindless shopping and consider what we are doing, culturally and spiritually. When we ask ourselves ‘what am I going to wear today?’, we should be able to answer knowledgeably and with a dash of pride. We have been casual about our clothes, but we can get dressed with intention. It is time to really care.”

We can show we care by joining the slow fashion revolution. Thomas showcases a growing movement of makers, designers, merchants and manufacturers who are championing localization and regionalism, honoring craftsmanship, respecting tradition, embracing modern technology to make production cleaner and greener and treating workers well.

Yes, we’ll pay more for slow fashion clothes. But it’ll be worth it if you care about the planet and the people who do the work. And really, how many t-shirts, hoodies, dresses and jeans does one person need?

This review ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. I’ve reviewed business books for the Spectator since 1999. By day, I’m communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton, Ontario home.

Want us to share your online content? Make it all about us and not you (review)

Take three minutes and watch Kraig Reinhart get offered his dream job in a pretty remarkable recruitment video.

Kraig’s a student in Conestoga College’s Advanced Police Studies program. Kraig and his classmates are being interviewed on camera by the communications manager with the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Kraig is talking about his dream of working for the service so he can give back to his hometown.  A uniformed officer then walks unannounced into the classroom and presents a job offer to the shocked and speechless student.

Kraig pulls himself together, shakes the officer’s hand, thanks his cheering professors and classmates and then steps out into the hall to call his mom with the news.

This video checks all the boxes when it comes to shareability.

break“Being shareable means that you create content with such high value for the people viewing it that they are compelled to share it with their friends,” say Tim Staples cofounder and CEO of Shareability and author of Break Through the Noise.

“Being shareable is all about making people lean in rather than click off or swipe past.”

You need to create highly shareable content because nobody cares, says Staples.

“Nobody cares about that video you just posted, that photo you Instagrammed last night, and especially not that commercial that your brand just pushed out. Really, nobody cares.

“It’s nothing personal. People are so bombarded by messaging that they tune out nearly all of it. This is the reality of the internet world.”

But we can be made to care and then share. The key is to realize that we’re sharing your content for selfish reasons. “People like and share internet content not for others, but rather to define themselves and for how it makes them look and feel. In short, they do it for self-serving or selfish reasons.

“If you want people to share your content, it has to be about them, not about you.”

According to Staples, there are five emotions that drive a disproportionate number of shares online: happiness, awe, empathy, curiosity and surprise. The Waterloo Regional Police Service video will make you feel happy and leave you with a smile.

Regardless of what emotion drives your video, you must offer value to viewers.  Give us content that we actually want to watch.  Offer value without asking for anything up front. Continue to lead with value until you can identify the people who enthusiastically interact the most with you.  Eventually, those are the people you can ask to part with their hard-earned dollars or join your organization as a freshly minted college grad.

Instead of focusing on what you want to tell us in your next online video, figure out what we’d want to watch and what we’d consider to be valuable.

“If you can determine the answers to these questions, and deliver something of true value, the audience will love you for it. Then, maybe you can ask them for that dollar in their pocket.”

So resist the urge to create yet another unwatchable and unshareable “five reasons why you should work, study or spend money with us” video with obligatory aerial drone shots. And aim higher than a gimmicky lip synch video that may go viral for a day on Tik Tok and then disappear.

Instead, watch the Waterloo Regional Police Service video for inspiration and then read Staples’ book to learn the nine rules that’ll get us caring and sharing your content.

This review was published in the Dec. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. By day, I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and call Hamilton home. I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.