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Do You Know Where Your Clothes Were Really Born?

This week’s Photogenie theme is titled "Less to Impress". Through visual stories, our curators research the question “How are you impacting the clothing industry?”.

In Where your clothes were really born, Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong depicts the different impacts the clothing industry has on the environment.

Since the 1990s the production of clothing has boomed exponentially. The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, which is 400% more than what we consumed 20 years ago. The fact that clothes are produced more quickly and more cheaply than ever makes this boom in production and consumption possible. This growth is not without problems. The increased production takes its toll on the environment and on humans and therefore raises both environmental and social issues. The facilitation and acceleration of clothes production has allowed fashion retailers to quickly bring the latest fashion trends to the consumer at a low cost. This concept is described as “fast fashion”.

To visualize this pressing issue, Von Wong traveled to a clothing factory in Cambodia, which was abandoned in 2009 leaving behind all the clothes that were produced but never exported. Van Wong saw this setting as an opportunity to bring the issue of fast fashion to light in an artistic form.

Van Wong succeeded in gathering a group of volunteers who helped him to turn the factory into a work of art. The idea was to use the abandoned clothes to portray where clothes are really born and subsequently how unsustainable the clothing industry is. In the picture below they have made the clothes into a waterfall to symbolise the amount of water involved in the manufacturing process. The fashion industry relies heavily on water, from the irrigation of cotton crops to the domestic washing of clothes. The clothing industry is one of the largest users of water. It is estimated that they use around 80 billion cubic meters of water per year, which is around 2 percent of all freshwater extraction in the world. For reference, it takes 6800 liters of water to produce a single pair of jeans. Unfortunately, is estimated that this amount will double by 2030 if widespread action is not taken to curb this trend.

The picture below shows how the abandoned clothes are turned into a tree. Similarly, this symbolises how trees are chopped down to create fibers needed to manufacture certain items of clothing. It is estimated that every day 120 million trees are cut down, which among other materials are used for the purpose of manufacturing clothes. However, it is important to note that there has been a shift from natural fibers for clothes production such as wool, cotton, and silk to synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon. These are cheaper but also more environmentally harmful. There has been a 157% increase in polyester clothing consumption from 2000 to 2015 and can be found in 60% of all clothes found in retail stores, to the detriment of the environment.

Synthetic polyester is created by a chemical reaction of coal, petroleum, air and water. The burning of petroleum and coal emit heavy amounts of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants. The last artwork depicts a tornado, which represents the damage that the manufacturing industry causes to the atmosphere: it has negative effects on the air we breathe.

Overall, the United Nations estimates that 10 percent of global emissions come from the fashion industry. Needless to say, it is important that the world becomes more environmentally conscious when it comes to the clothes they wear. Thankfully there are ways in which you, as a consumer, can become more sustainable in your choice of fashion. Second-hand clothing shops are a great way to recycle your clothes. In Amsterdam, Laura Dols and Episode are trendy vintage stores where you can find all the outfits you need, or visit the Ij-Hallen in Amsterdam NDSM, the biggest flea market of Europe. Furthermore, if you decide to buy instead of recycling clothes, pay attention to what brand you choose, like Nudie Jeans and Veja. Even though we are still far away from a sustainable clothing sector you can contribute to making it better by changing your consumer behavior and encouraging others to do so too!

Check out Benjamin Von Wong’s full body of work at www.vonwong.com and on Instagram @vonwong.

Let us know what you think in the comments! Our weekly themes always include three photo series by different photographers.

Are you interested and do you want to stay posted? Make sure to follow PhotoGenie on Instagram @wearecurators.

Written by Max Zarzoso Hueck

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