Abuja, Nigeria: When I was a kid, my siblings and I would play a game with our clothes labels, a guessing game we labelled “guess the country”. One person would hold out a number of clothes and another would try to guess the countries where these clothes were made. The clothes we possessed were mostly “second-hand” clothes which were imported (sometimes illegally) into our country.
In retrospect, I realise that one of the reasons why we found this game interesting was the fact that at our ages, the “Made in” was one of the few simple things we could understand on the label because almost everything else was complicated jargon and strange symbols. It’s been years since I’ve played this game, and now, I own a fashion line myself. I keep my labels simple because I still can’t figure out what most of the words and symbols on many clothing labels mean.
The advantages of transitioning to simpler garment labels are numerous and far-reaching, the most obvious of which would be to reduce the incidences of shrinkage and white shirts fading to pink (the latter actually inspired this article). You see, most labels can be compared to the copious “Terms & Conditions” that tech platforms present to their users; people who often find it easier to just go ahead and click the “I agree” button. It took the intervention of the EU’s new data protection and privacy laws called General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) to get tech companies to issue their instructions in plain, easy-to-read language, and today, most of us are the better for it.
This same kind of intervention is overdue in the fashion industry; between fashion brands and garment labels. A lot of the relevant information a buyer needs is already contained in existing labels, but the reality remains that they are written in such a manner that the brands may as well tell customers not to bother reading them for its unnecessary complexity. There are websites that exist to further explain the garment label’s directives (this goes to show just how complicated these instructions can be) but most will agree that it’s a long shot to expect consumers to visit websites simply to understand the labels on the clothes they buy.
A better approach, for us all might just be the issuance of these clothing wash and care instructions in languages simple and easy-to-understand. What if clothes made of polyester had their labels read “Made of 100% polyester” on one side, followed by “Too much washing can release microplastics into the ocean. Please wash only when necessary and use a specially designed laundry bag when you do” on the other? Surely then it would be easier for people to do what is necessary to maintain and care for their clothes and our planet? If people are told more plainly the relationship between their daily personal choices (in this case how they care for their clothes) and their environment; they would be better informed of the impacts of their actions or inaction.
Maybe then my white shirts would stand a fighting chance and the Earth along with it.
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Title image photography by Jennifer Nini.