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The Value We Place on Material Objects

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A scene from The True Cost

A few months ago, I saw a remarkable documentary on the fashion industry called The True Cost. It had a similar kind of chilling effect on me as Earthlings. Earthlings is not the type of documentary for people with a faint of heart. It has very explicit, unapologetic, heartbreaking scenes, and not for someone who wants to watch something light-hearted and entertaining to unwind after work. For the record, I saw Earthlings for the first time earlier this year with my father, and I'll never forget what he told me: "Humans are the cruelest animals."

I think as consumers of products, we are primarily concerned with cost-value and oftentimes, we don't think about the production process behind the items that we buy, and we often never think about the people who made them. The True Cost weaves a narrative around the world of fashion: its production, its consumption, and the current world we live in; in which there is a distinct separation between producer and consumer.

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A textile worker in Bangladesh who has brought her young son to work

Currently, eCommerce startups have been on the rise. Since 2011, there have been an influx of funding that has been given to eCommerce startups- that which have effectively doubled in the last few years alone.

We have an entire ecosystem of differentiation between eCommerce startups- and there are around 4K startups in Northern California alone that revolve around the reselling of inventory that gets unsold in larger fashion brand companies. In the UK, there is more of an emphasis on luxury brands, as the UK is home to the most high net income individuals in the global world with China as second, and the US as third in rank.

London based startups such as FarFetch (with a current valuation of $1 billion+) not only sell new luxury items, but second-hand luxury items.

Then there are companies that aggregate inventory from thousands of brands such as Lyst, Nuji, Girl Meets Dress, Secretsales, Mallzee, Grabble and others. Then there are companies that aggregate inventory from brands via a stylist or AI recommendation: Chic by Choice, The Chapar, Thread etc. Then there are a relative few moving into the realm of on-demand fashion: UK's Wool and the Gang, SavageLondon, MyOwnShirts, China's Modern Tailor, Canada's Indochino andand even 3D fashion such as Metail with virtual fitting rooms. The list goes on and on. 

But the question still remains: of where was it made, and who made them still come to mind.

One of the biggest problems with the fashion industry is that since the era of fast-forward fashion, a business model started by Zara in the early 2000s in which propagated a high turnover of new clothes on an annual basis (52 seasons per year) - landfill waste has exceeded tremendously in that the current business model has no longer become economically feasible nor environmentally unsustainable.

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2 million tonnes of textile waste are disposed of in the UK annually, 15 million tonnes in the US and 20 million tonnes in China

It used to be fashion only had 3 seasons per year- 1) fall/winter 2) spring/summer and 3) cruise- now, with the advent of fast-forward fashion, there are now 52 seasons in a year- with new inventory changing on a weekly basis and as much as 30-65% of fast-forward's unsold inventory going directly into the trash.

Since now clothes are made cheaply, with low-quality materials, and often with sweatshop labour, we could accumulate all the junk from fast-forward fashion's high street shops via non-stop ongoing sales and even buy them from a multitude of different mobile apps that aggregated all their unwanted inventory, and even though perhaps more than half their inventory went directly into the trash, they are still able to become profitable companies because so little went into the actual manufacturing of their products.

However, the injustice ultimately went to us, the consumers, who would buy these environmentally unsustainable, cheaply made products, and the producers, the women exploited in the process; the ones who worked 60-80 hour shifts per week outputting these poor quality products in unfathomable working conditions.

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Textile building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. Many textile workers complained about the cracks in the building months before. 

In an era of instant gratification, we often don't think of where our items come from; where our clothes and shoes and bags were made; but we should all think for a moment, and ask ourselves, "Who is the person who made our shirt? Our dress? Our bag? Our shoes?" And if we don't know the answer, we should think twice before pressing BUY. Caveat emptor.

According to CB Insights, the current funding for eCommerce startups soared 136% in just the last 5 years alone.

eCommerce has disrupted the way we shop. I hope that eCommerce can also disrupt the way we produce those goods that we shop for so that we may know all the people who worked to make those goods for us, so that they are no longer just the "faceless people" behind a label.