Guest blog by Jen Perry, President of Jelt Belt
So many of us are looking for a good deal when it comes to buying everyday essentials like food and clothing. We believe that we are being overcharged for everything in our lives, so finding a good deal, a huge sale, or a freebie makes us feel better about all the money that flies out of our pockets daily.
However, have you ever truly thought about the costs involved with growing your food, manufacturing your clothing, transporting these items to the warehouse, then the store, and the number of humans involved with these processes? Farming and manufacturing are not cheap in the United States because we have laws protecting our citizens, such as minimum wage requirements and human rights laws. That is why, in general, items made in the United States or other developed countries cost more than items made in China, India or Mexico. Some farms and factories in third world countries do not pay a livable wage to their workers and subject them to toxic, highly dangerous work environments because there are no laws to protect that class. I may be stating the obvious, but if you are buying a new swimsuit for $10 or a bunch of bananas for $1, something is wrong.
As a clothing accessory brand, my focus has been on the apparel industry for the last decade. I am always competing with fast fashion and their deep pockets that drive up the prices of advertising, while simultaneously driving down the price of clothing. Fast fashion is cheap fashion made in huge overseas factories with no regulations, making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
In addition, fast fashion is crushing to the environment. Because fast fashion is considered disposable as new trends come along and because it often falls apart after a few wearings, there are vast amounts of bulk clothing waste in landfills. The huge loads fabrics and materials contaminate our planet and emit toxic carbon into the atmosphere. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions each year.”
I believe that we all need to educate ourselves and the younger generations about the hazards of fast fashion because that is all they know. When I was a kid riding my bike to Target to buy a new t-shirt with my babysitting money, it never crossed my mind that the $7.99 shirt I was buying was made by people in China getting paid 15 cents an hour or by children getting paid less than that. (Though, I do remember my mom telling me to eat all of my broccoli at dinner because there were children in China who were starving.) It also didn’t occur to me that the material the t-shirt was made from was flimsy polyester or cheap cotton produced in the most environmentally destructive ways, as cheaply as possible with zero concern for their workers or the end consumer.
Well, I’m not a child anymore. Now, I know that fast fashion is cheap, disposable clothing meant to self-destruct so you have to buy more. The gigantic corporations like Shein need you to buy as much as and frequently from them as you can to sustain their monster factories in China. They actually want your clothes to fall apart. Think about that.
When I started Jelt in 2013, there was no place to access the rPET yarn I use to make my belts from recycled plastic, other than China. That is because for decades, the United States has shipped used plastic on barges to China. Therefore, I had to buy my raw materials overseas. But, I had a choice of where I bought my elastic from to make sure the factory treated their employees well with livable wages and good, ethical work conditions.
I then moved every other aspect of manufacturing to Montana—cutting, sewing, packaging, etc., are all done in my home state, where I can control the quality, pay my employees thriveable wages and help bring job security to underserved communities. I never wanted to be associated with fast fashion.
The gigantic corporations like Shein need you to buy as much as and frequently from them as you can to sustain their monster factories in China. They actually want your clothes to fall apart. Think about that.
There was a time when I believed that fast fashion would be a thing of the past—especially here in the United States. Younger generations were looking more closely at environmental and human rights causes and putting their money towards responsible brands. Lately, however, I am seeing a trend back to fast fashion, driven by social media influencers being paid by wealthy overseas conglomerates to promote clothing made by irresponsible manufacturers making wearable crap. It’s truly a 180 turn to where we were headed as a society and a generation who cared about the future of the planet and the people on it.
I hope that one day, we, as a society can change our mindsets. We don’t need to be hoarders of cheap clothing, but instead curators of well-made, responsible clothing and apparel that will last the test of time—clothing that you are proud to have paid a little more for because you know the brand is good for the world.
Jen Perry is the founder of Jelt, a social enterprise that produces retro-inspired belts made from recycled plastic bottles. Beyond its environmental mission, the business is dedicated to empowering women and supporting local too.
Jelt was established in 2014 as a cause-driven business. Our purpose is to create sustainable products that everyone needs, then use the proceeds to give back to people in need and the planet.