Understanding Sustainability Means Talking About Colonialism

by MR Magazine Staff

I speak frequently about sustainability in fashion, whether at conferences or in an educational context, and I often hear the same question: “It seems that to have a sustainable ‘lifestyle’ — air quotes around the word lifestyle — one has to be rich. If you can’t afford $600 sweaters, how can you be sustainable?” Whenever I’m asked this question I am reminded how the mainstream Western perspective on sustainability is focused on one small part of the problem, while ignoring most of the larger important global issues. Yes, clothing production with a priority to limit environmental and human-rights problems is much better than standard fast fashion (and is usually more expensive), but in fact sustainability is a spectrum, and doing less damage is still doing some damage. So you can’t solve sustainability by simply buying things. The game here is about reduction of harm, not binary solutions. Sourcemap has traced supply chains for most major clothing and apparel manufacturers, and the data mapping it provides show that world trade routes are mostly the same as they were 150 years ago at the height of European colonial exploitation. In the same way that colonized nations provided cheap sugar, chocolate, coffee, and fruit to the West, “developing” nations now provide cheap semi-disposable clothes to the West and global economic upper classes. Read more at The Cut.