PERSONAL: CONSCIOUS CLOTHING
It feels like I've been on a journey for nearly a year now with learning about the fashion industry and changing the way I see and buy clothes. I've always known the fashion industry was messed up but had no idea how much corruption, greed, injustice, and waste there really was until I watched a documentary called The True Cost (available on Netflix if you're interested in looking it up). It was the start of my interest (and truly, disgust) with the fashion industry and its social and environmental impacts. Large western brands like GAP, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Zara, H&M (I could go on) outsource production to developing countries, taking advantage of cheap labor and materials before selling the product back to the American at a price that's low enough to feel like we can throw it away and not think twice. There's little to no oversight in the factories (leading to incidents such as the Rana Plaza Disaster where a collapsed factory killed over 1 thousand workers due to building neglect), low pay (the average Chinese worker making a little over 1 USD/hr according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and exposure to harmful chemicals (because to top it off most of our clothes are actually mostly made from plastics such as polyester, rayon, nylon, etc.). To finish this insidious cycle we see prices low enough to make us feel like we can buy things we don't even really need or want - we'll simply throw them away and buy more. This has caused the clothing industry to become the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil.
I can't stand by idly knowing what happens behind the curtain. Like it or not, if I'm buying a shirt, I'm supporting everything it takes to get that product to me and I'm just not okay with promoting that kind of greed and injustice. The good news is that there are incredible companies that are changing the industry and an amazing movement of people who won't stand for corruption and are changing the way they purchase clothes. It's a different pace than what most of us are used to. Many of us don't think we can spend $150 on an ethically made shirt and I honestly get that (seriously, I do) but for some reason we feel better about spending $150 when we get 5 shirts, a pair of pants, and shoes for it. However, saving up for something you really love can be so rewarding. You're investing in fewer, higher quality items and supporting the entire chain of thought and ethical effort behind that company. I still get the urge to binge on a trendy outfit from Urban Outfitters but it becomes so much easier to wait when you think about the people behind that shirt on the rack and what you want to support with your purchases. Even if it means that I can only buy a couple articles of clothing a year, it's worth it.
To clarify, this is not a call to throw away everything in your closet and blow thousands of dollars to get new clothes from ethical companies. It's really the opposite; here are a few easy and practical ways to be ethically conscious with your wardrobe:
- Take care of the clothes you already have (this is the first, and most conscious of all). Find new ways to wear them and wear/wash them with care.
- Purchasing clothes second hand or from vintage/thrift stores. If you're like me, you can't casually spend $300 on a new dress. When you're on a budget and in need of a few new items, hit up your local thrift store or order clothes second hand (there are many online vintage shops that make this easy). The clothes are still super cute and reasonable, only instead of supporting big business, your money goes towards small and local businesses.
- Buy from small and local shops who make their own clothes domestically.
- Buy ethically. Below is a list of just a few brands that are ethically conscious. Save up and invest in something that you're really going to love and support someone that isn't just taking the cheap and easy way out. Do your own research and don't be afraid to ask questions on a company's production process and standards. If you have any suggestions on other cool brands, I would love to hear about them!