In my last post, Why I'm obsessed with knowing who made my clothes, I discussed my deep concern over our detachment from our belongings. I hope you'll check it out. In the meantime, here's a quick recap:
Factories abroad are unimaginably awful. A lot worse than you probably think. Americans are buying more than ever before but we are spending less. Our shopping habits directly contribute to people dying of starvation and preventable catastrophes in developing nations. All of this real human suffering is financially beneficial to fashion brands that rely on us being uniformed about the unethical process under which our clothes are produced. Oh, and our clothes are destroying our planet.
Here are the 4 steps I took to break free of this destructive cycle of disconnection and disposability:
The first time I took a peek behind the fashion facade was when I stumbled upon a Norwegian docu-series called Deadly Fashion in 2013. It documents three adorable teenaged bloggers who promoted fast fashion for a living. Total trend junkies, you know the type.
The bloggers embark on a trip to Cambodia to see how the clothes they endorsed were actually produced. For a month, they live with the garment industry workers and on the garment workers' salary. They sleep on the floor, eat food covered in bugs and do back-breaking manual labor for 12 hours a day, 7 day a week. They endure the normal conditions under which our goods are produced. And it breaks them.
One Cambodian seamstress tells the bloggers about her mother, also a garment worker, who died from starvation. The mother's full-time salary wasn't enough to feed her family. She chose to feed her children instead of herself and she starved to death. Her young children were then thrust into the work force just to survive.
The series is moving and sad. It changed my perspective. But it wasn't enough. I continued shopping at corporate retailers and told myself the stores that I relied on for my fashion fix couldn't possibly be that bad.
It’s difficult to take a deeper look at our own life and say "Wow, I’ve been doing a really shitty thing for a really long time.” It's even harder to admit fault or stop ourselves from doing something that society deems totally normal and acceptable. I kept shopping.
But I couldn't shake the idea that I was hurting people. I felt compelled to continue researching mass-manufacturing abroad. Eventually after watching The True Cost and some episodes about manufacturing on Vice, it became ridiculous to deny that almost everything I owned wasn't produced under harrowing circumstances. Even high-end, luxury items in my closet had labels saying they were made in China, Cambodia or Bangladesh. There was no evidence that a higher price tag meant better conditions for the workers or the environment.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand the idea of contributing to such a broken system.
So, I made the commitment to demand that the businesses I interact with are ethical. I mostly purchase items that are made in America but I will buy imported goods if there is transparency in the production line to prove that the workers are treated fairly.
Most businesses have a bottom line that won’t allow them to engage in higher production costs - ie. ethical production - unless the market absolutely demands it. Unless we stop buying products that aren’t fair trade, ethical and sustainable, businesses aren’t going to stop exploiting their workers or the environment.
Even well-meaning emerging brands often outsource production to loosely regulated, unscrupulous factories to keep their start up costs down while breaking into the competitive market. By buying imported goods, we are telling independent brands and corporate retailers alike that exploitation is an acceptable practice. We are supporting continued injustice.
It's up to consumers to change our perspective and our habits. We need to use our purchasing power to demand an end to the commonplace practices that perpetuate human suffering to boost corporate profits.
It can be overwhelming to say "no" to unethically produced goods when every billboard, magazine, and tv ad are encouraging us to do the polar opposite. But we must say "no.".
At times I've felt like my actions would never make a difference in such a largely unjust system. As I continued my research on the movement for a more sustainable industry, however, I came to realize that not only am I not alone - I am part of the revolution!
Hashtags like #whomademyclothes are trending. The movement towards fair trade practices is growing with each passing day. Ethical fashion is the future. The most cutting-edge trend right now is to actually care.
People are waking up. Apathy is turning into empathy. We are discussing the production of our goods, and not just in fashion. We are talking about where our food came from, where our beauty products came from and where our home goods were made.
I feel confident that as we push each other to learn more, as we educate our peers, as we use our buying power to demand the type of world we want to live in - we will bring the positive change we want to see. The future will be a better place because of our refusal to participate in the abusive, detached, industrialized global fashion industry we were handed by our predecessors.
I feel proud and happy to be part of such a powerful movement, however small my part. I still shop. I’m just more thoughtful about the impact of the products I choose to purchase. It actually makes shopping more enjoyable! I don't feel bogged down with lust, wanting every new trend from every department store window or editorial spread.
Instead, I feel connected to my carefully chosen goods. I feel connected to the process they underwent to make their way into my home. And I feel connected to the people that make them, even if we've never met!
I no longer see my belongings as disposable. I’m ok with owning a little less. I’m ok with wearing the same thing twice!
I hope you’ll join me in my pursuit to ask with every single purchase, “Who made this?” If a full-fledged fast fashion addict can transform her ways to become a conscious shopper, so can you.
For more info on why this movement matters so much, please watch The True Cost, Deadly Fashion and Minimalism, included in the links below. And don't forget to check out my post Why I'm Obsessed With Knowing Who Made My Clothes.
Have you committed to shopping ethically? If not, what's holding you back? I'd love to hear back in the comments!