The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world; the oil and energy industry is the first.
The UN Environment Programme's 2018 article Putting the brakes on fast fashion, said: "The fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global waste water and ten per cent of global carbon emissions."
This waste is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Approximately 2,000 gallons of water is used to make a pair of jeans, making textile dyeing the second largest polluter of water.
Textile workers are also paid paltry salaries to mass-produce clothing which are then sold at a marked-up price.
The core challenge with the fast-fashion industry is that it is based on selling more products, so designers and retailers must produce and sell more clothing to make a profit. Recycling, reusing and not throwing away clothes is one of the UN's solutions to mitigating the waste in the industry.
A 2015 article by Fashion Revolution, Exploitation or emancipation? Women workers in the garment industry, said female garment workers make up 70 per cent of China's labour force, 85 per cent in Bangladesh and 90 per cent in Cambodia. But these women and girls are underpaid.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest clothes exporter and a garment worker's minimum wage is 5,300 taka or TT$424.91 per month. The women often work between 60 and 140 hours of overtime per week, for which some are not paid. Brands that are manufactured in Bangladesh include H&M, Gap and JC Penny.
To combat the problems of fast fashion, Sarah Agostini and Cashell Watsun created Up Boutique to support women and girls while being environmentally friendly. Up Boutique opened at the Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain in November 2019. It's a not-for-profit thrift store that sells women's clothing and accessories.
Business Day spoke to manager Alana Ramlal, who said the founders wanted to combat fast fashion and give back to society.
"Among their circle of peers and other like-minded businesswomen they recognised that the fashion industry generates a lot of waste and some of the most affected people are women and children."
After salaries and overheads are paid, the profits from Up Boutique are donated to charities including the Living Water Community and homework centre Eston House.
Up Boutique is at Beyond Yoga Studio at the Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain. The yoga studio is a hub for environmentally-conscious people.
"We are ideally poised with the location and affiliation to Beyond Yoga. Because of the mindset of anyone who comes through the door – those going to the cafe for healthier choices or to support Junckollage, the local artisan store. Already you are encountering like-minded people who believe in ethical shopping, who love the idea of giving back to the less fortunate, especially women and children."
Ramlal said the boutique aims to reduce waste created in the fashion industry while reducing the exploitation of women.
"The fashion industry is woman-driven. Women are the bigger buyers of clothing, women are more targeted by marketing and women are also amongst the most exploited in garment manufacturing."
Ramlal said the fashion industry does not just exploit women labourers, but also customers, as many garments are produced inexpensively, but have exorbitantly marked-up prices.
"The goal of Up Boutique is to raise ethical awareness of the real ills happening behind the scenes, encourage and empower people to make better choices in fashion decisions and encourage women to choose something that is stylish instead of just in style and spend less in the long run than buying for the short term."
In February 2020, many people were shopping for lower-priced items for Carnival parties, beach fetes and J'Ouvert. However, with no Carnival in 2021 and no where really for anyone to go, there has been a slow trickle in the store.
Ramlal said the initial support was overwhelming from customers and people who donate items. The clothing is usually in good condition, and some pieces have never been worn and are donated with tags on them.
Some people wear clothes once and never use them again. Some people who donate clothes buy clothes and don't use them for years, others' body size changes, or they are public figures who may not want to reuse an outfit. Some donors are women who travelled or lived abroad and brought clothes home.
Ramlal said many people during the pandemic were going through their wardrobes and decluttering their closets. They wanted to take part in reducing the waste in fashion and donated items they weren't using. People have even donated brand-name items such as Jimmy Choo, Ray Ban and Michael Kors.
For those who buy clothes, she said it is an affordable way to switch up a wardrobe.
"You don't need to wear it brand-new. People come in to say they prefer to buy a broken-in jeans, it's more comfortable...
"That's the value we are hoping to capture from the whole supply chain: pass it on from donating. Sell the same item multiple times and the item lives."
If items are not sold in the store, they can be upcycled. Ramlal turned a T-shirt that had not sold into a pillow, which was then sold in Junkollage.
For covid19 safety, any item donated, touched or worn is quarantined for two days and then laundered and steamed.
Up Boutique has affordable prices for anyone's price range. Ramlal said people who are job-hunting and may not be able to afford professional attire can get work shirts for $75, a jacket for $80 and pants for $100 or a work dress for $80. For more festive occasions there are cocktail dresses for $60. There's an extra thrifty bin with $20 items. They have a range of dress sizes from extra small to plus size.
One good and ethical decision, Ramlal said, leads to another once someone builds awareness around reducing waste.
"They make better choices in life. Once you build that awareness of zero-waste policy, you start to practise in your other everyday practices. That cyclical type of behaviour we are hoping to encourage and perpetuate in the consciousness of people. When you know better you can do better. If you know that this exists, then you can donate items or thrift-shop yourself."