The Shocking Truth About Fast Fashion
For Carmen Reed, fashion is in her blood. Her mother and grandmother grew up on farms, making all of their own clothing, and she graduated with honors from FIDM in Los Angeles with a degree in Fashion Design in 2008. After interning for well-known designers and working behind the scenes at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, she moved to NYC on a dream, where she started her own fashion collective with two friends. Handmade clothing from printed leggings to festival bikinis (as she said, “back in those days…”) led to the launch of their very own clothing line, Bohemian Bones.
The instant success was exciting, but little did they know what they had gotten themselves into… Here is Carmen’s own account of what’s hiding behind the curtain of the glamorous fashion industry, how it changed her outlook on clothing and her career, and what you can do to support the “slow fashion movement”.
We did not realize what door we had opened once we started our new clothing line, Bohemian Bones, but we dove in head first. We were represented by one of the best women's contemporary showrooms, and our first season saw large orders that ranged from small boutiques to major retailers like Revolve, Urban Outfitters, and Nasty Gal in its heyday. Our production numbers were high, and we were surprised to find out that the cost of everything we had to put upfront was astronomical.
No one knows what they are getting themselves into starting a serious clothing line.
We sold out of our “Festival Romper” in one day on Urban Outfitters, and they instantly placed a huge reorder. We had to create a Kickstarter video just to raise the $20,000 we needed to fund the sale, and while we were able to do it, we still couldn't keep up. After what seemed like a dream come true, we decided not to produce our Resort 2015 collection and have been on a soul-searching journey ever since. Looking back, I realize now it was for the best.
There’s an ugly side of fashion that’s seldom talked about.
Being in the heart of mass garment production in India and China, we saw the ugly side of fashion firsthand.
Fashion is one of the highest-polluting industries in the world. The amount of water, energy and chemicals used and (more importantly) wasted is unbelievable, and the often-overlooked labor laws are upsetting. You wouldn’t believe the bargaining that goes on behind closed doors just to save 25 cents on a zipper. The corners and costs keep getting cut... but at whose cost?
I urge everyone to watch the 2015 Netflix documentary, The True Cost. It is an eye-opening account of the negative impact fashion is having on our world, especially in places like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and as you’ve likely heard, China.
Here are the cliffnotes:
“I believe these clothes are produced by our blood. It’s very painful for us. I don’t want anyone wearing anything that is produced by our blood.” - Garment worker on The True Cost documentary
We all need to be asking ourselves, who made my clothes? And there’s one more problem.
Synthetic dyes have become popular in the past hundred years, and many of them are made with an ingredient called azo dyes, which release amines containing ammonia, which is linked to certain types of cancers. Our skin is the biggest organ in our body and soaks up anything it comes into contact with. Naturally, it comes into contact with our clothing everyday, so it’s important to understand which kind of dyes have been used to make our clothing. We care about what we put in our body, why not care about what we put on it?
It has been a struggle trying to find my way in fashion again.
I love it, so I can't give it up, but the industry is crowded with so many problems that I can't stand behind mass production anymore. It was about a year ago when I stumbled across a Natural Fabric Dyeing class at a little art studio in Silver Lake, California called The Makers Mess. I had been dyeing my own fabrics for years, but we had always used synthetic dyes. I never even knew natural dyes existed! It was like everything in my life had led up to this point.
I now know how bad synthetic dyes are for our skin and the environment. The good news is, we have no need for them. The options for natural dyes are endless. They can give us the same colors (if not better), and they can even have medicinal effects on the skin. For instance, turmeric creates a beautiful bright yellow color and is also an anti-inflammatory, so it can calm your skin down after a hot day in the sun.
Even the most unsuspecting kitchen ingredients can be used to dye old clothing. Dried-out avocado pits create a beautiful peach color, yellow onion skins create shades of purple and green!
With a few official natural dyeing classes and countless hours of practice under our belts, Bohemian Bones started a new project called Bare Bones, a line of upcycled vintage t-shirts that have been stripped of all chemicals and naturally dyed with extracts from various plants, fruits and vegetables. We have vowed to create zero waste and use zero chemicals in our entire process. That means using old t-shirts instead of new ones, giving them salt-based baths and using all natural dyes on everything.
You can help too.
Things you can do to support the slow fashion movement
NEVER BUY NEW If there’s something you have your eye on, think about it for a few weeks before purchasing. Check thrift stores or ebay to see if you can purchase it secondhand. Even newer items can be found used on amazon and ebay nowadays! If you can avoid giving in to purchasing anything new, it gives you a whole new outlook on shopping and helps you realize just how much waste is really involved in fashion.
RECYCLE The average American throws away around 80 lbs of clothing a year, and 95% of this ends up in landfills. But did you know that 85% of textiles are completely recyclable?! Look up local textile recycling plants in your neighborhood, and make the extra effort to recycle your clothing, accessories and shoes. You could even be the ambassador for your neighborhood and start a textile recycling project for everyone to be a part of.
EDUCATE Be an advocate. Inform everyone of how bad synthetic dyes are for your skin and for our environment. Spread the news about what goes on behind closed doors in the fashion industry. Talk about the labor laws, building restrictions and pesticides causing birth defects in local children, everything that goes into the cost of our clothing.
SUPPORT local businesses that are practicing natural dyeing and organic farming. Get involved on social media with pioneers of the slow fashion and natural dyeing movement: www.botanicalcolors.com, www.thedogwooddyer.com, www.fashionrevolution.org, www.maiwa.com, www.naturallydyedgoods.com, and follow our movement at www.bohemianbones.com.
More than anything, we need to
ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM. Companies like H&M make us believe that we’re saving money with low prices, but they are really just getting us to buy more, low quality clothing made from toxic dyes. Let’s shift our values from consumption and materialism to equality and sharing the wealth with all who deserve it.
“Will we continue to search for happiness in the consumption of things? Will we be satisfied by a system that makes us feel rich while leaving our world so desperately poor? Will we continue to turn a blind eye to the people behind our clothes? Or will this be a turning point of change?”
- The True Cost