Floating, waterlogged up to a shore piled with trash is nobody's dream unless that dream is a nightmare. It's not what the people of Ghana want to see, either. Having never been waterlogged myself, I can only speculate on the discomfort, but that's what Chorkor beach welcomes daily.
Dead White people.
Except it is not actually people but their clothing. The "clothing of dead white men," as they say in Accra, the capital of Ghana in Africa. Chorkor beach, off the coast of Ghana, has, for years, been the destination of scores of dead white men's clothes. They float up, mysteriously, from presumably richer countries, washed by the tide – ironically, not the laundry detergent, but the incoming waves.
Over the Christmas season, my wife and I planned a themed cocktail party at our house. It was a classy event with charcuterie, cocktails that flowed like wine, and wine that flowed like water. The water flowed like hand sanitizer as it turned out.
In search of a nice holiday outfit, I was on a quest for a garment of top-notch quality. Something that would be a statement piece every time it finds its way on my back. Something that will wear me into the party as opposed to me having to get all the attention as I usually do. I wanted to focus on quality and project a keen sense of fashion.
So, naturally, I opened up the Amazon app to see the best Prime has to offer.
After a few scrolls, a swipe right, another left, I landed upon a piece that hearkened unto me as the light shone upon my face. The light of Old Glory.
A patriotic cowboy button-down that looks like an American flag made its way into a gay bar? Count me in – Please! Nothing like a handsome imported shirt made of "skin-friendly fabric," as the description clearly bragged, delivered in a matter of minutes on a last-minute decision. It's a perfect choice for a theme night cocktail party or a movie night if you're country singer Porter Wagoner (laundry day for Vince Gill, I assume).
It fit great for the evening, and I will, without question, never wear the shirt again. Nor will it wear me, as it were. I've not contributed the product to Chorkor beach just yet, but that's the plan if the guilt doesn't get me first. After all, the earth isn't going to destroy itself. The only way to skin this cat is beach by beach and one theme party at a time.
Before the 1900s, the concept of fast fashion barely existed. Clothing had always been a signature of one's personality, and wealth if you had it, but the masses had less to choose from. When factory-produced clothing became a more viable option after World War II, the masses could rely on mass-produced garments and still be happy with the product. This shift in manufacturing and distribution to retail began making off-the-rack clothing not just an option but progressively more practical. Still, the highest fashion was for the wealthy until the 90s when fashion show scouts would peep the latest fashion looks and produce cheap knock-offs faster than you could say silver lamé evening dress. It has changed the way we fill our wardrobes and, as a result, changed the expectations we have of our clothing.
We expect much less and also much more. Less quality and more quantity. And we want it with rush delivery double packed in cardboard and plastic.
The impact is seen at Chrokor beach and perhaps a whole cross-section of the economy of Ghana, to name one community. Clothing is almost universally produced by low-wage workers in countries that don't have another choice. The product is barely valued above that of a sandwich and leaves our wardrobe at the speed of digestion of the same, only to land in a second-hand store to assuage our glutton for excess and eventually, if not sooner, to join the population of Dead Whites in a landfill.
Clearly, I don't do themed costume parties every day. And unless you're Ghislaine Maxwell, you probably don't either – even in prison as Ghislaine does (or perhaps I should refer to her by her new name, the socialite and etiquette coach of Tallahassee prison, "Prisoner 02879-509"). But since I am not Maxwell, and because Christmas only comes once a year, I tend to opt for more practical options. Like clothes that are not the new black but the original black. Garments that will last me beyond the first wash and, if possible, don't need to be washed just because someone looked at them while having a dirty thought (note: thought not included with purchase).
Furthermore, I look for something that is going to last me a long time, specifically because it is indeed not my goal to destroy the earth, beach by beach, or theme by theme.
For me, this means finding a product that is made out of sustainable material. Its worth in my wardrobe is measured in years, not wears, and it can be buried in the dirt if indeed, it ever does need to retire. This is difficult to achieve when quality products are difficult to find since the business is barely sustainable because of the economic cycle we've created for ourselves. But if I can find it, I do.
Listen, I've always explained that my closet is merely a row of many of the same items, like Superman's, except I wear a black T-shirt because not all heroes wear capes. Improving our children's lives can often come in the form of improving our own image. Or at least the fabric that helps us make it. It doesn't feel like enough to be "skin friendly" when you've had "second skin" quality. For me, it's achieved one piece at a time, and it's made of Merino Wool or Selvage Denim for everyday wear. It always costs more, and usually, it's worth it.
I don't mind coloring outside the lines here or there for a special occasion. But in an effort to save the world, I'll start by trying to trim my share of waste that finds its way to the beach. Because, after all, if there's one place we should have less clothing, it's on the beach.