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The Truth Behind T-Shirts

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T-shirt production - what's the cost?

For many of us, the plain white tee represents a wardrobe essential and an effortless sense of ‘cool’. But while the style may be simple, a lot goes into t-shirt production – and the costs are much higher than you think.

T-shirts are a staple of the ‘fast fashion’ industry. Every year unfathomable amounts of t-shirts are produced and sold. This requires a range of resources found across the globe. Recent studies estimate that we buy and sell two million t-shirts worldwide annually.

The industry is lucrative by design. T-shirts can be sold for up to £100, and cost far less to produce. There is an enormous amount of profit to be made. Yet there is a stark contrast between those who receive these profits and those tasked with producing the clothes. As will become clear in this article, the costs of this industry are more than just fiscal.

One of the biggest impacts of ‘fast fashion’ is on our environment. Climate change has been on the radar for quite some time now. But 2019 has seen the fashion industry being placed under the microscope like never before. T-shirt production and sales are so vast, they’re a fitting entry point for us to examine fashion’s detriment to our natural resources. This article will delve into the dark side of the t-shirt industry – with the aim of telling some overdue truths about fast fashion and its effect on our earth.

Workers hanging by a thread

‘Fast fashion’ is a term used to describe a profit-generating machine. Clothes are produced and sold in staggering numbers to keep up with ephemeral trends. And what of the clothes that don’t cut it with consumers? They end up going to landfills. With such large amounts of waste to be expected – costs must be slashed where possible.

Bangladesh recently surpassed China as the hub of global t-shirt production. As of 2013, the nation had over 5,000 garment factories. These factories employ close to 4 million people, the majority of them being women.

Women’s rights are a prominent issue in Bangladesh. The current adult literacy rate is around 70% for women. The rate of adolescent pregnancies is also one of the highest in Asia, with only a 3% decline over the last 20 years. Garment factories employ women from low-income backgrounds, who lack educational opportunities and often have families to support. Common complaints in these factories include overcrowding and unsafe conditions. There are also often severe sanctions for factory workers struggling to meet production quotas. These issues have led to criticism from human rights groups for some time now.

However, one particular case recently thrust matters back into the spotlight. This case was covered by The Guardian and focused on the production of Spice Girls t-shirts for Comic Relief. These particular t-shirts were retailed for nearly £20. The proceeds went towards a Comic Relief campaign aimed at “championing equality for women”. Yet the women who were making these t-shirts are overworked and underpaid, working for up to 16 hours a day for less than 35p an hour. The scenario is cruelly ironic, to say the least.

Fast fashion and the environment

The cost of cotton 

Most of the world’s t-shirts are made using cotton. Cotton is what makes the fashion industry go round. This means it also plays a huge part in damaging the environment. Raw cotton is quite unlike the fabric we see and feel in t-shirts - and this is where the problems start.

As we discuss in our article ‘Natural Fabric Series: Cotton’, over 16% of insecticides in agriculture are used to grow cotton. These insecticides are damaging not just for the earth, but for farm workers. Long-term exposure to pesticides and insecticides has been linked to asthma, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. And that’s just growing the cotton.

The dark side of the white tee

Ever wondered what makes the plain white tee so white? Once raw cotton is farmed, it is taken to textile mills to be processed. This involves bleaching and dying the cotton with chemicals containing lead, mercury, and cadmium. People who work in these mills, often found in China and India, could develop one of many health problems from exposure to these chemicals. These chemicals have also been known to drain into local water supplies.

On the subject of water, you may be shocked to learn how much water is used in t-shirt production. Cotton production requires an exorbitant amount of water. In fact, it takes nearly 2700 litres (713 gallons) of water to grow enough cotton for one t-shirt. All of this water needs to come from somewhere. Less than 1% of the world’s water is both clean and accessible, making it a finite resource. Yet a large amount of this water is going into – you guessed it – t-shirts.

Globetrotting apparel

We’ve mentioned quite a few countries over the course of this article. T-shirts build up a significant amount of air miles before they even hit the store. This makes for a rather large carbon footprint. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for over 10% of global carbon emissions. It’s apparent that even if it comes from a discount rack, the costs of your t-shirt are high.

Archie Foal – quality down to a tee

At Archie Foal, we don’t think it takes travelling across the world to make good t-shirts. To tell you the real truth, we make great t-shirts. 90% of our clothes are made right here in Britain, using quality materials and stellar craftsmanship. Our t-shirts are made using sustainably sourced organic cotton in Portugal using fair-trade practices. They are then printed in Leicester. Our focus on quality ensures our t-shirts are durable yet comfortable and can remain in your wardrobe for years to come.

For us, making good clothes means no cutting corners. We have no interest in ‘fast fashion’. Instead, our collections are concentrated on premium pieces, with designs and styles handpicked for long-lasting quality. We hope you browse our website and discover our quality for yourself.


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