There is no such thing as a cheap t-shirt.
The white t-shirt is a fashion icon, and perhaps the most produced garment in the world. But although fashion-wise it is considered to be the “easy choice”, the life cycle of a white t-shirt is actually a complex question, both in human and ecological terms. Starting with the material and human recourses needed for the growing of cotton, and continuing all the way through the production, transportation and washing the garment, the effects of this global industry are considerable – and often hidden from sight.
In the industrial process of making a garment approximately 15% of the used fabric becomes off-cut waste. While some of this waste is recycled, a large amount is still thrown straight to landfill: on the global scale this adds up to a massive pile of fabric.
Today many of the world’s garments are produced in sweatshops, where the working conditions and the safety of the buildings often leave room for improvement: in a seven-month period from September 2012 to April 2013, 1535 workers died in three garment factory disasters in Pakistan and Bangladesh. And at the same time that the average salary for a factory worker is less than 40 dollars a month, the average American buys more than 60 garments every year.
As the debate about the global economy accelerates and understanding about its effects increases, one should take a closer look, not only towards Wall Street, but behind our cotton-covered shoulders: what percentage of the world’s wealth does each one of us occupy?
15% is a performative installation addressing the global fashion system: an industry interconnected with both human and ecological systems. The installation creates a production line in a gallery. A performer, working on the production line, makes white t-shirts. The whole process, from cutting the fabric to ironing the final product, is put on display. Each shirt is numbered, the off-cut waste is packed boutique-style and the shirts prepared for retail – as a by-product of the waste.