Can Clothing Be Made in the US Again? Osmium Says Yes

by RP Siegel
Apr 25, 2014 10:45 AM ET
Campaign: CSR Blogs


When we think about consumer goods, it’s hard to think of a category that is less inherently sustainable than clothing. The very notion of fashion encourages us to discard clothes at the end of each season in order to “keep up with the latest” trends. On average, every American buys 64 garments and throws out the equivalent of their own body weight in clothing each year. A full 98% of clothing purchased in the country was produced in China or Bangladesh where labor is cheap and laws regulating working conditions and environmental practices are far more lax. Incidents like the building collapse in Rana Plaza are the result, along with massive pollution, not to mention the exploitation of millions of child laborers.  

Much of our clothing is made of cotton, the crop that receives more pesticide treatment than any other. Others use synthetic fabrics and chemical coatings like flame retardants that cause pollution both during production and disposal. The Clean Clothes Campaign, which specializes in supporting textile workers and exposing abusive practices that keep people trapped in poverty, wrote a paper on the respiratory health hazards in China’s factories.

Then there are the second order effects which are not often considered. For example China currently generates 69% of their electricity using coal. That’s almost twice as much as the US which is now getting only about 36% of its power from coal. That means significantly more GHG emissions when an item is made overseas.

Another impact that has gone under the radar is the way that the drop in employment here in the US has reduced the buying power of the middle class. This means lower sales. People have focused on the idea that the poor economy has led to massive unemployment, but it actually works both ways. This is something Henry Ford recognized a hundred years ago when he decided to pay his workers well enough so that they could afford to buy the cars they were building.

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RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. He has been published in business and technical journals and has written three books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an eco-thriller that is being adapted for the big screen. RP is a professional engineer – and a prolific inventor, with 50 patents, numerous awards, and several commercial products. He is president of Rain Mountain LLC and is an active environmental advocate in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. In addition to Justmeans, he writes for Triple Pundit, ThomasNet News, and Energy Viewpoints, occasionally contributing to Mechanical Engineering, Strategy + Business, and Huffington Post. You can follow RP on Twitter, @RPSiegel.