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The life cycle of a t-shirt

The life cycle of a t-shirt

the-life-cycle-of-a-t-shirt

The Humble T-Shirt: A Global Phenomenon with a Hidden Cost

Consider the classic white t-shirt. Annually, we sell and buy two billion t-shirts globally, making it one of the most common garments in the world. But how and where is the average t-shirt made, and what’s its environmental impact?

Unveiling the T-Shirt’s Journey: From Farm to Your Closet

Unveiling the T-Shirt's Journey: From Farm to Your Closet

Clothing items can vary a lot, but a typical t-shirt begins its life on a farm in America, China, or India where cotton seeds are sown, irrigated and grown for the fluffy balls they produce. Self-driving machines carefully harvest these puffs, an industrial cotton gin mechanically separated the fluffy balls from the seeds, and the cotton lint is pressed into 225-kilogram bales.

The Environmental Cost of a T-Shirt

The cotton plants require a huge quantity of water and pesticides.

  • From Seed to Fabric: Water, Pesticides, and Pollution
    • Cotton Farming: High Water Consumption
    • Chemical Reliance: Pesticides and Insecticides
    • The Rise of Organic Cotton (but a Drop in the Bucket)
The Environmental Cost of a T-Shirt

Once the cotton bales leave the farm, textile mills ship them to a spinning facility, usually in China or India, where high-tech machines blend, card, comb, pull, stretch, and, finally, twist the cotton into snowy ropes of yarn called slivers. Then, yarns are sent to the mill, where huge circular knitting machines weave them into sheets of rough grayish fabric treated with heat and chemicals until they turn soft and white. Here, the fabric is dipped into commercial bleaches and azo dyes, which make up the vivid coloring in about 70% of textiles. Unfortunately, some of these contain cancer-causing cadmium, lead, chromium, and mercury. Other harmful compounds and chemicals can cause widespread contamination when released as toxic waste water in rivers and oceans.

  • Manufacturing and Dyeing: Machines and Toxic Chemicals
    • Industrial Yarn Production: Automated Processes
    • Fabric Treatment: Bleaches and Dyes with a Dark Side
    • The Issue of Toxic Waste Water

Human Labor in T-Shirt Production

Technologies are now so advanced in some countries that the entire process of growing and producing fabric barely touches a human hand. But only up until this point. After the finished cloth travels to factories, often in Bangladesh, China, India, or Turkey, human labor is still required to stitch them up into t-shirts, intricate work that machines just can’t do. This process has its own problems. Bangladesh, for example, which has surpassed China as the world’s biggest exporter of cotton t-shirts, employs 4.5 million people in the t-shirt industry, but they typically face poor conditions and low wages.

Human Labor in T-Shirt Production
  • High-Tech Manufacturing, Low-Wage Workers
    • Shifting Production Locations
    • Challenges of Factory Work: Poor Conditions and Low Wages

After manufacture, all those t-shirts travel by ship, train, and truck to be sold in high-income countries, a process that gives cotton an enormous carbon footprint. Some countries produce their own clothing domestically, which cuts out this polluting stage, but generally, apparel production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. And it’s escalating. Cheaper garments and the public’s willingness to buy boosted global production from 1994 to 2014 by 400% to around 80 billion garments each year.

  • Global Transportation and Carbon Footprint
    • Shipping Finished Products: A Polluting Journey
    • The Rise of Fast Fashion and Increased Emissions

The T-Shirt’s Final Stop: Your Home

The T-Shirt's Final Stop: Your Home

Finally, in a consumer’s home, the t-shirt goes through one of the most resource-intensive phases of its lifetime. In America, for instance, the average household does nearly 400 loads of laundry per year each using about 40 gallons of water. Washing machines and dryers both use energy, with dryers requiring five to six times more than washers. This dramatic shift in clothing consumption over the last 20 years, driven by large corporations and the trend of fast fashion has cost the environment, the health of farmers, and driven questionable human labor practices. It’s also turned fashion into the second largest polluter in the world after oil. But there are things we can do.

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The Price of Fast Fashion: A Triple Threat

  • Environmental Damage: From Farm to Consumer
  • Health Concerns for Farmers and Workers
  • Questionable Labor Practices in Garment Factories

We often take our clothes for granted, but the journey of a simple t-shirt is far from simple. This blog dives into the hidden environmental and human impact behind this everyday garment.

  • Life Cycle Exposed: Explore the resource-intensive process, from water-thirsty cotton farming and chemical-heavy dyeing to global factory production.
  • Fast Fashion’s Dark Side: Discover how our love for cheap clothes contributes to pollution, worker exploitation, and an unsustainable cycle.
  • The True Cost: Learn about the hidden costs of your t-shirt, going beyond the price tag and considering the impact on our planet and people.
  • Empowering Change: We don’t have to be bystanders. Gain insights on how to make conscious consumer choices and support sustainable fashion practices.

This blog is a wake-up call, encouraging you to think twice before grabbing the next trendy t-shirt. By understanding the true cost, we can move towards a more ethical and sustainable future for fashion.

Click to read this article in Hindi

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