The Crisis We Wear

by Nicholas Preda

My name is Nicholas Preda, I’m a 2018 John Jay graduate with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Environmental Justice.

I’m in the blue hoodie alongside some wonderful volunteers! To the right of me is our Community Coordinator Annie Keating. To the left of me is one of our long-time volunteers, Georgia Piazza. Credit: FABSCRAP

My journey started when Professor Tausch (SCI 112) opened my eyes to a global crisis pervading almost every aspect of the biosphere and atmosphere. I also want to thank Professor Conrad (SCI 112 Lab), Professor Swenson (Urban Ecology), Professor Struhl (Environmental Ethics), Professor Chua (Environmental Psychology), Professor Siegel (Environmental Sociology), Professor Popov (EJS 200), and Professor Ting (EJS 300).

Professor Ting forced me to look at the goods around us and wonder: who or what has suffered or died to produce this, what is the impact of said suffering, and who profited? These brief guidelines can never touch Professor Ting’s extensive knowledge and proven experience delivered with an empathetic induction as well as a reaffirmation that these issues have a solution. One of the biggest lessons I drew from her class was from the “who profited” guideline. While the general population is encouraged to reduce, reuse, and recycle, the top 100 polluting companies will continue to contribute to 71% of global emissions. Our planetary disaster is being fueled by exuberance, decadence, greed, and the inability or disregard to view resources in finite terms. There is also the matter of public opinion manipulation via: “donating” to politicians, a subtle coup of industry groups masquerading as civil liberties organizations, certain media groups being controlled by polluters, and in today’s brave new world, using U.S. government channels to disseminate climate propaganda. Professor Ting has shown many students that climate change/mass extinction is not an invisible enemy but an enemy we can tackle through awareness, alerting consumers to nefarious companies and governments, legislation, community organizing, and a sustainable mindset. Professor Popov is also an excellent instructor, EJS 200 serves as a stepping stone for environmental awareness. Through the use of governmental reports, creative thought experiments, observational tours, and, like Professor Ting, guest speakers on the front lines, she is able to paint a clear and concise roadmap of global issues. In Fall of 2018 Professor Popov had invited a guest speaker, Jessica Schreiber, the Executive Director of FABSCRAP.

Jessica is a visionary with a startup mindset and can do attitude which immediately drew me in.

Jessica Schreiber on bags of material ready to be sorted by volunteers Credit: FABSCRAP

Jessica and FABSCRAP’S innovative and driven co-founder Camille Tagle (as well as the wonderful FABSCRAP team!) welcomed me with open arms for a once in a lifetime internship. FABSCRAP is a pre-consumer textile recycling non profit that works with designers large or small (300 clients and growing), interior designers, and home sewers. Textile and garment production is one of the top three most globally polluting industries. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans, organic fibers are very resource intensive. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, require massive amounts of energy to convert PET (plastic used for bottles and food containers) into a soft fabric. Since most textiles are made in countries with zero to little environmental regulations, the remnants of the dyeing process are disposed of in bodies of water. Yellow dyed garments contain PCB-11, a chemical cousin to the famous PCB. FABSCRAP, in its two years of existence, has diverted a little over 300,000 lbs from landfill. This is just fabric from the design process. We have a steady stream of volunteers (3,111 as of April) that sort fabric at stations with bins for: trash, spandex, 100% polyester, 100% wool, 100% cotton, mixed fabrics not containing even 1% spandex, and paper recycling. We are also able to collect and reuse almost everything from buttons, hardware, and trims to rubberbands. All of these metrics are meticulously tracked and delivered yearly. Pieces that are at least one yard are sold or given away for creative reuse.

Sorted fabrics ready to be sold or given away to shoppers, volunteers, or other non profits. Credit: FABSCRAP

Scraps not containing spandex are shredded and downcycled into industrial felt which is used for insulation, stuffing for interior furniture, lining within car doors to reduce outside noise, dust blankets in warehouses, etc. Spandex cannot be shredded but spandex scraps can be reused by: artists, art projects for students, and there is a company using scraps to fill punching bags. FABSCRAP, to my current knowledge, is the only organization in the world engaging in the gargantuan task of textile recycling at this high a level in terms of efficiency and data orientation. I have met a couple of executive directors from similar sustainability non profits/businesses (Decorate Our Home Planet, Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange) across the country who come to learn from the best. I’ve met zero waste designers upcycling discarded fabric, (ZeroWasteDaniel, Sheet Shirt, Taz the Tailor) these are designers who are fundamentally altering the fashion landscape. I’ve met menders who teach people that garments are like Play-Doh, we can make them into what we want (Jessica Marquez [Miniature Rhino], Kate Sekules [reFashioner]).

Mending can be sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. Credit: Jessica Marquez (Miniature Rhino)

I’ve also met artists who have shown me that fabric can just be (foodbabysoul). All of these individuals are lighthouses on a stormy night. They’ve all shown me that sustainability can be fun, aesthetically pleasing, and a business model.

It was not fair for me to keep this knowledge to myself so I recently teamed up with Jessica to give a presentation to Professor Ting’s spring EJ class. Staying true to my roots, I covered Professor Ting’s guidelines of who suffered for most of the textiles and garments we wear and who profits. Jessica honed in on the impacts of said suffering but also how to combat it.

The following text was presented by Nicholas Preda on May 1, 2019 as his part of the FABSCRAP presentation for Professor Ting’s Environmental Justice class.

“Fast fashion, a lack of corporate transparency, a lack of corporate accountability, and authoritarian governments are fueling a barrage of human rights abuses across the globe. The majority of fabric/garments imported to the US originate from China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, and The Philippines. All of these countries have two things in common: documented human rights abuses from local/federal governments and widespread corruption. The US market generates $170 billion in profits for China alone and this covers clothing, knits, and accessories. The fabric industry and the US market is providing billions in funds to a country currently placing over a million of their muslim minorities into internment camps and “re-educating” them simply because of their religious belief. Almost every garment you own had to be handled by someone in these countries. The easiest way to cut production costs is to underpay workers and that is why fast fashion brands like H&M are able to put out low quality and cheap clothing at an alarming rate. Rana Plaza in Bangladesh is an infamous example of what the true cost of fast fashion is. The building was an industrial garment factory that many western brands, like Nike, had contracted. The building was zoned as a residential structure and therefore an industrial weight load was not accounted for in the support beams. The building was supposed to be 6 floors but they built 8 floors which increased the weight on already strained support beams. The building was visibly crumbling in the moments before disaster and many workers wanted to leave, but it was the end of the month which was their pay day. The bosses threatened to cut that month’s pay for anyone who left, which, for many workers, is the thin line between poverty and full-on homelessness. There was a power outage in the city and the industrial generator on the roof sputtered on as power was restored, the rough start shook the building vigorously leading to a full collapse. The final count was 1,100 people dead with 2,500 injured. The social movement called Fashion Revolution formed shortly after this horrific act of criminal negligence in an attempt to address human rights abuse in the textile/garment industry. The workers also face: being laid off for becoming pregnant, being denied maternity leave, retaliation for forming and joining unions, forced overtime with the threat of being fired, and a blind eye to sexual harassment of female workers by male managers. Over time there have been hand-written notes found tucked within garments in which workers tell the world of physical abuse and borderline slave labor. Famous notes have originated from Turkey and China, the most recent note from China pleaded with the West to stop buying from their country. The good thing about living in the US and being consumers is that companies will listen to us when we raise concern or boycott them. Fashion Revolution suggests taking a picture of your favorite garment, tag the company, and ask them ‘who made my clothes?’  We can use social media and conscious awareness to tackle these human rights abuses that do not need to be happening.”

The exemplary and knowledgeable faculty of the John Jay Environmental Justice program laid the groundwork for my environmental awareness. FABSCRAP gave me my professional foundation, and while my internship has come to an end, I am now a part-time team member! I plan on continuing my activism and searching for another part-time position at an environmentally-based organization. Let’s keep up the good fight!

People/Organizations listed in order:

  9. @foodbabysoul on Instagram